Who Is A Christian?
Kevin Allen · May 12, 2013
Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick is Kevin's guest as they discuss what it means to be a Christian in light of the thousands of Christian denominations. Fr. Andrew is the host of two podcasts on AFR and the author of the Conciliar Press book Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy.
Kevin Allen: Christ is risen! Truly he is risen! I hope all of you had a joyous and illumining Pascha, and let’s not forget to wish all of the mothers out there listening a happy Mother’s Day. We wouldn’t be here without you. Welcome to Ancient Faith Today. We’re Orthodox Media’s live listener call-in program on contemporary issues through the lens of the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and we’re streaming live right now. We’ll be opening the phone lines and taking your calls in just a few minutes. The call-in number is 1-855-AF-RADIO. That’s 1-855-237-2346. Our chat room is now open as well, at ancientfaith.com/ancientfaithtoday. That’s, once again, ancientfaith.com/ancientfaithtoday. You can follow us on Facebook at Ancient Faith Today, and while there, please click “like.” We’d appreciate it. It gives the program some visibility, and you’ll get our AFT updates and can follow the sometimes interesting threads.
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Tonight we’re going to walk some interesting ground. Our topic is: Who is a Christian? And we’ll be talking about how this was understood by the ancient Christian Church and how we’re to understand that today in light of the Reformation, the growth of denominationalism and post-denominationalism, within a culture of religious pluralism. Just a disclaimer: there will probably be something said tonight for everyone to be a little upset about at one point or another, but that’s not our intention, nor is it to trash anyone’s personal faith. The subject is difficult, and, as I mentioned, tricky precisely because there are no fully agreed-upon standards, or at least it seems to me, on who is a Christian today or what exactly Christianity is, so the best we can do is to try to navigate these theological waters fairly, and we’ll try to do that, of course.
Remember, this is a call-in program, so if you disagree, you can call us at 1-855-237-2346. Again, that’s 1-855-AF-RADIO. My guest on the program tonight is the Reverend Father Andrew Stephen Damick, an ex-Baptist and pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Christian Church of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, author of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: Exploring Belief Systems Through the Lens of the Ancient Christian Faith. That book, by the way, is available, and it’s a best-seller from Conciliar Press, and you can buy it through conciliarpress.com and amazon.com. He’s also the host of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and Roads from Emmaus which are podcasts you can hear right here on Ancient Faith Radio. Fr. Andrew Damick, it’s great to have you as my guest. Welcome to Ancient Faith Today.
Fr. Andrew Damick: Thank you very much. It’s an honor.
Mr. Allen: It’s my privilege to have you. You know, Father, let’s begin. We have a lot of ground to cover and we’ll be taking a lot of calls and maybe we’re a little nuts, both of us, for even attempting to address this topic publicly, but we’ll try. What I find interesting in this question, “Who is a Christian?” and had to confront, as perhaps you did, when I began my personal journey out of Evangelicalism and not knowing really where I was heading, when I started to read was the consensus of the Church Fathers of the first millennium, that in addition to believing the doctrines handed down from the apostles and believing Scripture, that being Christian also means or meant at least in their view being sacramentally connected to the one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, which weren’t just sort of invisible; but they were visible communities, connected to the apostles, again through visible apostolic successions. So here’s my question to that long prelude: Are you even aware of any Church Fathers of the early centuries, East or West, who even conceived of the idea of being a Christian outside of the boundaries of the visible and particular church communities that were under the authority of bishops in succession to the apostles without the sacraments of baptism, holy eucharist, etc.?
Fr. Andrew: No, I honestly have never read anything from the early Christian writers indicating that there’s any sense that you could be a Christian outside the actual church community. For them, to be a Christian is to be a part of the Church. It’s not something that one does alone; it is something that one always does in community.
Mr. Allen: The question that I really had to confront was my own largely subjective view of what the Christian faith was. I realized after reading that there was something that they agreed upon that was outside of their heads. It was not only my interpretation of the Bible or my own construct of what church meant or why or how I did worship the way I did, but I agree. Why was it so important, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, for the Christian to be part of these visible communities?
Fr. Andrew: If you look at the New Testament especially, you see that as people, Christians, they are immediately incorporated into the church community. It’s not something that one does on one’s own. So why is it important? I think that comes down to the question, really: What is the Church? For the early Christians, and also for the Orthodox Church as well, which sees itself as the continuation of the early Church, for all of them, to be in Christ is to be in the Church, that there is no radical disjunction between those two ways of speaking about it. There is no disjunction, in fact. To be in Christ is to be in the Church, because the Church is his body.
St. Augustine, who is sometimes not well liked by some Orthodox Christians, but I think that’s really too bad, he has a wonderful phrase that was a favorite of Fr. Georges Florovsky, who often thought about these questions and wrote about these questions. Augustine used this phrase in Latin: “totus Christus caput et corpus,” which means “the whole Christ, head and body.” So therefore to belong to Christ is to belong to the Church, that there is no disjunction between the two, and that indeed in being in the Church, you are in Christ. Really it’s not a question simply of how one defines the Church, even though I kind of began by saying that, but it’s really about who is Christ; it’s a Christological question. If you have an understanding that it’s possible to be a Christian outside of the Church, then what you really have is a deficient Christology, a deficient way of understanding who Jesus Christ really is and what it means to be saved, what it means to be in Christ.
Mr. Allen: Of course, we will have to come back to the question, at some point, of what is the Church, because there will be listeners thinking, “Yeah, we get that, but we just don’t get why it’s the Orthodox Church,” and maybe we can get to that, too, but Church Fathers like St. Cyprian, Irenaeus, and Augustine, that you mentioned, confronted many Christian movements in the third and fourth centuries whose faith, theological doctrines, and practices conflicted with the majority Church. Academics call them “proto-Orthodox.” They call those who were in the eventual majority and who became, eventually, the Orthodox Church, the “proto-Orthodox” before the split.
So before the early councils were called, these groups were labeled (those that were in opposition to them or who had deficient theological or ecclesiological views), they were anathematized and labeled as sects, s-e-c-t-s, to differentiate them from the Church, its doctrines, its rites, and its hierarchy. Would you say today, Fr. Andrew, rather, that it was the process of confronting the doctrines of the sects and the variant views of theology and ecclesiology within the Christian communities where maybe for the first time boundaries of an inside and an outside of the Church really began to develop early on?
Fr. Andrew: I think that’s probably a correct way of describing it. When Christ founds the Church through the apostles, the notion that there would be multiple competing Christian bodies that have different doctrines, it’s not even conceived of in the New Testament. Certainly some of the apostles write about people who were preaching other gospels, and even you see, for instance, in the writing of St. Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostle John, he talks about people within the Church that preached things that are contrary to the Church’s faith, but he also talks about them in some sense as being inside the Church, but he takes note that they’re not receiving communion—the particular ones that he’s thinking about, the Docetists, the people who believe that Jesus only appeared to be a man but was not truly a man.
I think early on there was this notion of kind of dissenters within the Church community, people who were there, but over time some of these dissenting groups start to be large enough that they actually separate themselves out, and that happens pretty early on. There are indications of it in the New Testament, and we see it specifically really clearly in the second century. This notion of the boundaries of the Church needs to be addressed as a practical problem that confronts the Church early on when you start to have competing groups that claim to be just as legitimately Christian as those who are directly connected to the churches founded by the apostles.
Mr. Allen: But you know what’s so interesting about that statement—and I appreciate that—is that even these groups that were eventually anathematized and separated out—the Gnostics, the Docetists as you pointed, the Arians, and others—they felt the need to affirm their connection to the apostles to their bishops. They even had competing lists of their [succession], so they even understood that there being an apostolic succession, an apostolic tradition, was key to being Christian.
Fr. Andrew: Exactly, and I think part of that is that, even in the earliest years of the Church, you don’t see anyone presenting this idea that we see nowadays, where it doesn’t really matter what body that you belong to, that you can be a Christian independent of any kind of church. In the earliest years, when you start to see these competing groups, the question is not, “How can one be a Christian outside of the Church?” but rather, “Which one of these groups is really the Church?” That’s really the question for them.
Mr. Allen: The whole subjective and individual kind of view that we tend to hold of Christianity today is really very modern and post-modern, not at all ancient.
I’m speaking with Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick. We are discussing the subject who is a Christian and how one is to understand that here in the 21st century. Our lines are wide open. Please give us a call if you’d like to pose a question or make a comment. Our number is 1-855-AF-RADIO, 1-855-237-2346. The lines are open; we’ll be very happy to take your call.
Fr. Andrew, obviously there was a standard, though, of measurement, as we’ve been discussing, that was applied to the word “Christian,” different from today, and, again, a visible Church with authority, also very different from today, by which these sects and heresies were measured and judged. What were they?
Fr. Andrew: The biggest questions in the first several centuries of the Church were to get down the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which is summarized in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and we can briefly say it’s three divine Persons in one essence, and also to get down the doctrine of the Incarnation, that Jesus Christ is one Person in two natures. Usually those two questions were the thing that was brought up when various competing bodies were examined by the Church. It should be said, and I think this is a really important point, actually, in all of this discussion, that this question comes up in two kinds of contexts. One is an apologetical context where there are members of the Church who are defending against heretical doctrinal ideas and are speaking about what’s true and what’s false, but then the other context is when people from those other groups decide that they want to leave those groups and become part of the mainstream Church.
Then the Church starts to ask questions about how do we deal with different kinds of people who come from different kinds of groups with different sets of doctrine, and there have been multiple standards in that regard, even from very, very early on. You see that different kinds of groups are treated differently with regard to how their members are received into the Church. That’s really the main question in all of this.
The main question for the Orthodox Church has been: What do we do with converts? The question has almost never been: What do we think about these other groups as they exist apart from us? The question is almost always in the context of when someone comes from one of those groups and wants to join with us. Like I said, there is also an apologetical side to this as well, but it was not in an attempt to define what it means to belong to one of those churches, but simply an attempt to speak what the truth is and how to defend it against certain kinds of misleading doctrines that were also being preached.
Mr. Allen: Let’s see if we can maybe wrap this up, and then we’ll move on to how we apply these standards today, Fr. Andrew. From the ancient patristic standard, as you understand it, could a non-Orthodox body be the Church, or someone outside the boundaries of the visible church community be considered Christian?
Fr. Andrew: Well, those are two different questions. I think that they would say that a body that has fully separated from the Church is not part of the Church, and that’s speaking on the corporate level, but the question becomes a little bit more complicated when you’re talking about individual people. It’s really within the context of how we understand how God deals with human beings and how he works for their salvation. I think that one of our basic principles is that we believe that God judges people according to the light that they have received, so if you walk according to the light that you have received in a way that is godly, then God accepts that.
Is it possible that someone could exist simply in ignorance of what the fullness of the Christian faith is and still be saved in the end? I think the answer to that question is yes, but at the same time, we don’t know what the precise delineations of how that works really are. We have a whole theology about what it means to be an Orthodox Christian, about how salvation works in the Church, but if you start to ask, “What if you take away this, what if you take away that, or if you take away something else, then is it still possible to be saved?” and ultimately we have to say we don’t really know. Ultimately, the question is: who is going to be saved in the end? So is it possible that someone who is not currently part of the visible Orthodox Church can be saved at the end, according to what the early Church Fathers would say? I think it’s, yes, it is possible, but for us to make a judgment about that in the moment I think is impossible. We can’t say that any individual person is necessarily going to be there in the end.
Quite frankly, the same standard applies to people who are visibly part of the Church now. Are they going to be within the Church at the end of time? I don’t know. Is it possible that some who are in now will be out later? Absolutely. Absolutely possible.
Mr. Allen: Of course, that rubs against the contemporary view of the absolute assurance of salvation that some groups, especially foreign groups, have. Father, I have a call from Bruce from Honolulu, Hawaii. Bruce?
Bruce: Hi, Kevin. How are you?
Mr. Allen: I’m doing just great. How are you?
Bruce: I am well. Fr. Andrew, wonderful to hear you speaking on this. I have a comment that I’d like you to comment on. Actually, you guys in this last little segment have addressed it a little bit. I know that from the Evangelical point of view, people tend to think of it in terms of who’s in and who’s out. “What are you saying? Are you saying I’m going to hell?” I think you addressed this a little bit just then, in that we’re not necessarily saying that unless you receive eucharist in an Orthodox church that you’re in danger of Hades. I do love the fact that each year, towards the end of Lent, we celebrate St. Mary of Egypt, so I think you get what I’m talking about here, and again you guys were kind of on this vein, talking about this before, and I just hope you elaborate a little bit more, lest we sound like these people saying, “Outside of Orthodoxy, everybody’s lost,” and I know you’re not really saying that. Thank you so much.
Mr. Allen: Thanks, Bruce. Father, if you want to elaborate on that?
Fr. Andrew: Yes, certainly. I think there is a temptation to sort of want to make these things mentally easy, to identify church membership with salvation, to say if you formally belong to a certain body that in the end you will be in heaven when you die, and from an Orthodox point of view, that’s simply not true. Human life, human existence, is very dynamic, and therefore any group that has humans as its main constituent is also going to be dynamic. It is possible to be in one day and out the next. It is possible; it certainly is possible. While Orthodox Christians would identify the Orthodox Church as being that Church that Christ founded, uniquely that Church, at the same time, we would not say that if you are not at this moment formally part of that Church that you are going to hell. We do not know that.
It’s interesting that as strong a denunciation as many of the Fathers of the Church made against particular kinds of heresies, there’s no point at which they say, “And we know that everyone who believes this is definitely going to hell.” That’s not stated. Even that kind of language is not usually used in reference to Judas, the one who betrays the Lord Jesus. This notion that we know so-and-so is in hell, usually that kind of absolute language is used with reference to the saints: we know that they are in heaven, because God has revealed them to us in that way, but that kind of absolute knowledge is not really available for everyone else. So we have a hope of salvation for every single person, and we don’t know that they’re going to hell. We don’t know that. I don’t even know that I’m going to heaven. I have a great hope and a great assurance, but not an absolute certainty.
Mr. Allen: I think, Father, in your book you quote Paul [Evdokimov] who makes that famous quote about “we know where the Church is, but we don’t know where she isn’t”?
Fr. Andrew: Right, and so Evdokimov makes that comment, and it gets quoted, if I remember correctly, by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) in his book The Orthodox Church, and that has sort of become popular in English-speaking circles. I think there is a great truth to that phrase, although there is kind of a danger in turning it into a glib slogan, a way for Orthodox Christians to say, “Well, we’re definitely the Church. We’re not sure about you, and that’s okay.” I think at the same time, we have to say, “While I agree logically with that statement, we also have to believe that if Orthodoxy is actually the Church, then people remaining outside of it is not okay.” We want people to be inside of it, not because we want to conquer them, but because we can’t bear to be apart from them.
Mr. Allen: Good point. I want to come back to that idea of fullness of faith. That’s a big question that I want to get to, but we do have Alex from Philadelphia. He’s been holding for three minutes, and he’s got a great question that I think works now. Alex, how are you this evening?
Alex: I’m doing pretty good. How are you?
Mr. Allen: Doing very well, thanks. What’s your question for Fr. Andrew Damick?
Alex: Hello, Father. Christ is risen!
Fr. Andrew: Indeed he is risen!
Alex: My question is, I have the Bible online open here, Mark 9:38:
Now John answered, saying, “Teacher, we saw that he who does not follow us cast out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us,” and Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in my name can soon after speak evil of me. He who is not against us is on our side.”
So what would be the Orthodox interpretation of that towards people who are not Orthodox? We want them to be Orthodox, we want them to be in the fullness of the Church, we want to engage them, and even, if we have to, debate them. If they’re spreading lies or untruths or half-truths, but how does it apply? I know we’re not supposed to combat them or go into their Evangelical churches and start telling people to leave and disrupt them. I understand all that, but how would that quote have to apply to how we define Christians?
Mr. Allen: Great question.
Fr. Andrew: That’s a great question, and I’m really glad that you brought up that passage from the Scripture, because it’s something that I know that a lot of people look at, and from that they would essentially say that denominationalism must be okay with regards to what the Lord himself is saying, that is to say, how I’m defining denominationalism is this notion that there can be multiple, competing groups that have contradictory doctrines between each other that are all somehow, legitimately, fully the Church. That idea you don’t see in the New Testament; you don’t see it in the early Church.
Certainly some people have interpreted that passage as meaning that, but how I would see that as an Orthodox Christian is that Jesus is essentially recognizing that God is working even outside of the visible boundaries of the community that he has established, because even though the Lord Jesus says that, he doesn’t then say, “And those people over there, they also are legitimately the Church. Those people over there are legitimately able to ordain,” and so forth. You don’t see the apostles in that way after that, so clearly they don’t have that sense from Jesus that the particular authority that he gave those twelve men somehow can exist apart from that.
Whenever it came time, for instance, to ordain someone in the new Church, to ordain a new bishop, the apostles traveled to go do that. They did not send a letter, which would have been much easier, especially at that time, saying, “Well, you’re not against us so you’re for us, just like the Lord Jesus said, and so therefore just pick the man among you who is going to be your bishop, and we will recognize him as a bishop.” They went there, and they laid hands on him directly. There is that physical, communal connection that is always there. While one could certainly read that section from Scripture in the sense of saying it legitimizes denominationalism, one doesn’t see the Church actually functioning in that way. Therefore I think it’s only correct to say that interpreting it in that way is really inconsistent with the apostolic faith itself. The apostles did not behave according to that notion, that there were people beyond their own boundaries that had a true ecclesial authority. They would certainly not say that they are against them, just like the Lord Jesus says, but they would also not say that they have churchly authority at the same time.
Mr. Allen: Father, if I can just add something, and, Alex, you’re still on the line, the explanation of Mark by Blessed Theophylact, which is one of the line-by-line interpretations of the gospels and the epistles—Blessed Theophylact comments on that specific gospel text, Alex, that you quoted, by saying this:
They were permitted to work miracles because the Lord wished to spread abroad his preaching, even by means of those who were unworthy.
So I think that is very clear, as Fr. Andrew was saying. Thank you for your call. I appreciate [the] great question.
Alex: Thank you.
Mr. Allen: Father, let me take us off-track for just a brief minute, and then we’ll get back to it, I promise. There are many ancient Christian churches going back to the apostolic and subapostolic era with whom Eastern Orthodox, for various reasons, historically and so on, theologically, of course, do not share sacramental communion, and some of these—and we’re talking now [about] the Roman Catholics with whom there was a separation in 1054, Oriental Orthodox at Chalcedon in the 450s and so on—but they also laid claim to apostolic succession, apostolic tradition, valid sacraments, valid priesthood, etc.
So my question is: for people looking today for true, historic Christianity and the true Church, how would they judge whether a particular group of believers or church, like these, is truly in apostolic succession, with so many making the same claims?
Fr. Andrew: That’s a great question, and I think one of the things that’s implied in what you said is saying before I attempt an answer to that, and that is that for one thing, if you’re looking for historic Christianity, if any group does not have that continuity, necessarily cannot make that claim in any believable way. There has to be that historical continuity in order to be consistent with what the early Church was talking about in terms of where that authority comes from. For one thing, that really narrows down the choices a lot. You don’t have to choose between hundreds or even thousands of denominations. There’s really only a small handful.
So the question is, when you’re presented with this small handful, how do you choose between them? Well, I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question. I wish there were, and I used to kind of think that there [was], but I don’t think there is an easy answer to that question. I’d like to be able to say that anyone who makes a study of the writings of the early Church Fathers and compares them against the Scripture and looks at Christian theology throughout 2,000 years, at the end they’re going to believe that only the Orthodox Church has truly preserved the faith of the Fathers of the first few centuries. That’s certainly what I believe.
I believe that the Orthodox Church has uniquely preserved that faith, but is it possible that someone could look at all of that exact same evidence and come to the conclusion that Roman Catholicism is correct or that the teachings of the non-Chalcedonian, the so-called Oriental Orthodox churches, are correct, even though they’re, by most measures, only slightly different from the mainstream Orthodox Church? Could someone come to that conclusion? Yes. And could they come to that conclusion and be honest? Absolutely. Could they come to that conclusion and be extremely well-read? Certainly. Could they come to that conclusion and be intelligent enough to make these kinds of determinations? I think so.
Not every difference of belief can come down to someone being either too intellectually challenged to understand the problem, too badly informed to have read enough about it, or somehow being dishonest. It is kind of a problem, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer to it, because what it comes down to is, as you’re reading along, whom do you believe? Whom do you believe? Some people are going to be convinced by some arguments, and some people are going to be convinced by other arguments. If I knew a kind of a magical answer to get people to be convinced by all the arguments I’d want to advance, then, well, we’d probably be doing extremely well!
But I don’t know a magical answer to all of those questions. When someone asks me that question—I get asked that question occasionally—I just say, “You know, examine it as well as you are able, and try to proceed in humility and honesty and love for God.” I think if you do have those things in your heart as you go, that where you go is going to be God-pleasing. Does that mean I don’t think people should become Orthodox? Of course it doesn’t mean that. I think they should, but at the same time, there’s a kind of a mysterious space in which people convert, and if it were understood in some sort of mechanistic or even rational way, then the whole world would probably become Orthodox almost instantly, but it doesn’t work that way, unfortunately.
Well, perhaps fortunately, because, ultimately, God wants people to proceed along their path to him in honesty and in integrity, and if someone does that in honesty and in integrity, and they come to a different conclusion than I’ve come to, then even though I may disagree with where they’ve gone, I at least respect it and believe that God is nevertheless working in them, even if I do not… if I cannot affirm the particular doctrinal or communal choices that they have made. So, yeah, that’s a great question, and I don’t think there’s any easy answer.
Mr. Allen: I think you’re right on that. There is no “silver bullet” answer for that one.
We’ll be taking a short break, and when we come back I’d like to talk about St. Cyprian, who famously said, “Outside the Church there is no salvation,” which is a provocative and strong comment, especially for our ears in the modern or the post-modern era. Our numbers are 1-855-AF-RADIO, 1-855-237-2346. We’ll take a short break, and when we come back my guest is Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, and our topic is: “Who is a Christian?”
Mr. Allen: Welcome back, and thank you for joining Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick and myself on Ancient Faith Today, and we’re speaking on the subject of who is a Christian, obviously a sensitive subject, but we’re taking a fair and balanced approach on it, and I’m enjoying the conversation greatly.
Fr. Andrew, getting back on track on the trajectory of this topic, St. Cyprian in the third century famously said, “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” I wrote it down in Latin, but since I’m not a Latin writer, I don’t want to try to pronounce it, but it’s something along the lines of: extra ecclesium nihil salus. As you know, this statement, “Outside the Church there is no salvation,” is used quite candidly by some Orthodox in applying the idea of salvation or no-salvation to those who are not part of the canonical, visible boundaries of the Orthodox Church, i.e., to Protestant Christians or non-denominational Christians or even here, frankly, it extending on to Catholic Christianity.
Let me just ask the question directly: In your view, does Protestant Christianity or Roman Catholic Christianity—we’ve talked about this some, but let’s hit the nail right on the head—lack grace, in your opinion, as some of the sects were considered to be graceless according to St. Cyprian?
Fr. Andrew: I think that’s a great question. St. Cyprian’s main concern when he’s writing… His piece is called On the Unity of the Church, so his main concern is the question of the unity of the Church, that the Church is one. Certainly it’s one of the most ancient beliefs about the Church, that the Church is one, that the Church is unified, that there are not multiple churches; there is only one Church. So when he says, “Outside the Church there is no salvation, that’s something I absolutely agree with, but the question is: exactly what does that mean?
I think that ultimately we have to understand the full implications of that statement as not being fully answerable until the end of time, because for Orthodoxy, for the early Church, salvation is to be part of the Church; to be part of the Church is to be saved. These are really the same thing. So the question is: can you be outside of the canonical boundaries of the Church and yet still somehow be saved? And I think the answer to that is yes, if we understand that, in the very end, at the end of time, that everyone who has been saved by Christ belongs to the Church, even if, in this life, they did not belong to her canonical boundaries.
While sometimes Cyprian seems to make the conclusion that canonical boundaries equal also the charismatic boundaries of the Church, that is to say, the boundaries of grace, the Church largely has not really accepted that conclusion of what Cyprian wrote. It certainly agrees with his statements about the unity of the Church and that outside the Church there is no salvation, but at the same time, the actual practice of the Church has not indicated that we regard the canonical boundaries of the Church as being the true horizon of grace, that they’re not. Indeed, I think one only has to ask this question: how could anyone ever be drawn into the Church if there’s no grace outside the Church?
If grace is not operating outside of the canonical boundaries of the Church, how could anyone ever come in? because they would be devoid of God’s working in their lives. I do not believe it’s correct to say that God is not working in the lives of people who are outside of the canonical bounds of Orthodoxy. That’s nonsense. If I believed that, that means that I myself would never have become Orthodox, because I was not Orthodox when I was a child. Somehow I was drawn into the Church, and I believe it was the workings of grace that brought me there.
So I think there is certainly grace outside of the canonical boundaries of the Church. This question of how exactly that works has been approached by the Church in a number of ways, but as I said earlier, it’s largely in the context of receiving converts that this question comes up most often. St. Augustine deals with it a little bit, especially when he’s talking about the Donatist schism in his time. He has this question of whether sacraments exist outside of the canonical boundaries of the Church, and he says that they do, although for him, actually, they damn you.
Mr. Allen: Have we lost Fr. Andrew?
AFR: Yes. We’ll try to get him back.
Mr. Allen: I will pick up the trajectory that he was on, because I have a couple of great quotes here. One from Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), probably the best-known English Orthodox writer who writes:
We are not to imagine that because Orthodoxy possesses the fullness of holy Tradition that other Christian bodies possess nothing at all. Far from it. I have never been convinced by the rigorist claim that sacramental life and the grace of the Holy Spirit can only exist within the visible limits of the Orthodox Church.
Then Fr. Andrew was referring to Fr. Georges Florovsky who, in his very well-known essay, “On the Limits of the Church,” wrote:
As a mystical organism, as the sacramental body of Christ, the Church cannot be adequately described in canonical terms or categories alone. It’s impossible to state or discern the true limits of the Church simply by canonical signs or marks.
Having said that, I think that it’s consistent with what Fr. Andrew was stating, but when he gets back on the phone, or when we get him back on the line, I’m going to ask him this question, and that is: there are some priests and theologians that I know of who see all those outside the Orthodox Church as schismatics or even heretics. One priest I know requires… Father, do we have you back?
Fr. Andrew: Yes, I’m back. Sorry about that. I’m not sure where you lost me.
Mr. Allen: I followed up on what you were saying with some quotes by Metr. Kallistos and Fr. Georges Florovsky, confirming what you were saying, that neither of them deny that there is grace outside the Church. I want to follow up on that and ask you this. One priest I know requires, as an example, catechumens to list all of the heresies they were taught in their former communions, according to Orthodox doctrine, and to renounce them in the rites of reception into the Orthodox Church. I know others that very specifically call those that are outside the boundaries of the visible Church schismatics or even heretics. I wonder if you might comment on that.
Fr. Andrew: Certainly historically the Church has at a number of times required people who are converting to Orthodoxy to explicitly reject the heresies that they previously believed. Certainly that’s been part of various kinds of services for the reception of converts, so that’s definitely a legitimate practice. I think in many ways it’s really a question of what’s pastorally most appropriate for an individual convert, whether that makes sense for them in the context of their becoming part of the Church or whether it doesn’t.
Quite frankly, there are a lot of people who convert to Orthodoxy who may have belonged to another body that believes x, y, and z, but those people may not even be aware that their body believes those things, and may not agree with them themselves. If you look at the Protestant world, there are many people who belong to churches… In fact, I would even venture to say that maybe most people belong to churches where they might say, “I don’t agree with everything my denomination teaches.”
Mr. Allen: Yeah, you hear that.
Fr. Andrew: So the question is really: what does this person believe and where have they been? Yeah, I think sometimes specific renunciations of particular doctrines that are not true is needed, but other times I think it’s less needed. This actually brings up a larger question which is the question of, when the Church receives someone from another Christian body, by something other than baptism—say, they receive them by chrismation, or in some cases by a profession of faith, by renunciation of heresies—whether that’s legitimate. There are some people who would say that that’s not legitimate, that really everyone is supposed to be being baptized. Then there are some who would say, well, not everyone needs to be baptized, but we’re going to make a sort of canonical exception, and we’ll receive some people by chrismation and some people by a profession of faith. And they’ll say that that’s the practice of oikonomia, which is a term that refers to adjusting of canonical requirements for the sake of the salvation of an individual person.
But I think both of those arguments are problematic historically, and here’s why: it’s actually in the canons that different kinds of converts are supposed to be received in different ways. It’s not an exception to the canons. This is the canons. This is actually what it says. St. Basil in the fourth century, for instance, has a rather detailed list of how different kinds of Christians are supposed to be received. Also you see this same kind of thing even in the canons of the Ecumenical Councils. In the Second Ecumenical Council, in the seventh canon, there’s a detailed list of different kinds of non-Orthodox people and how they’re received into the Church. That same canon, with just a couple of additions, gets completely repeated at what is called the Quinisext Council, the Council in Trullo, whose canons are also received ecumenically.
The tradition of the Church really is to treat these people who are converting into the Church, in many cases, as though they already have something. Related to that, actually, I had a Florovsky scholar who just emailed me as he’s been listening to the program, who sent me a couple of really great quotes from Florovsky, talking about this. As you know, Florovsky was highly involved in the ecumenical movement and constantly was talking to other Christians, to non-Orthodox Christians, about their theology, and commenting on it and comparing and contrasting and so forth. Here’s a couple of quotes. If you don’t mind, I’ll just read them on the air here:
Mr. Allen: Go ahead.
Fr. Andrew: These are both from an unpublished manuscript, actually. One is this:
Christian unity implies two things: unity in faith or doctrine, and unity in the Church or in sacraments.
So, for Fr. Georges Florovsky, he’s talking about what does it really mean to be united, and if we do have a unity in faith, even if only partially, incompletely, then there is a kind of a unity there. Here’s another quote from him:
Either all separated bodies do not belong to the Church and therefore are spiritually and not only historically outside it, or they are still, in some sense and under special conditions, related to the Church existentially.
Mr. Allen: That’s sort of like what the Catholics say, Father, isn’t it?—I’m sorry to interrupt—where the Catholics talk about any truth, any true church or any true Christian doctrine is true because it subsists, if you will, in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church?
Fr. Andrew: I think that, especially in Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church made explicit these kinds of ideas, and actually put forward a kind of theology of what it means to be a church outside of the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodoxy has never really put forward a theology. The most you get are these kind of hedging statements, like those we just read from Florovsky, where he says that there is some kind of unity there, that there is some kind of relation to the Church, between people who believe that Jesus Christ is God. I think that, while Rome is ready to make those things very explicit, Orthodoxy has kind of hedged itself on that. For those two quotes, I especially have to thank Seraphim Danckaert, who is a Florovsky scholar, and he works at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. Thank you, Seraphim, very much for emailing that stuff to me right now. It’s very relevant.
Mr. Allen: We’re ready to take a call. Mary from Los Angeles has been faithfully holding for about 11 minutes. Appreciate you holding, Mary. Are you there?
Mary: I’m here.
Mr. Allen: Well, it’s great to have you on the line. Please ask your question of Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick.
Mary: It’s more of a comment than a question. I’m an Evangelical convert. I converted a couple of years ago after having been one for 30 years, if you can believe that. You’re talking about unity, and you’re talking about—I was listening to the comments by the Metropolitan Kallistos, but my question is this: I find it hard to think about being unified with a group of people that do not believe in infant baptism, that do not honor Mary, that do not believe in confession, that believe that our icons are idolatrous, and don’t even believe that the sacraments are the true body and blood of Christ. Yes, they do believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior, and they believe he is God, and they believe in the Trinity, but I guess my question is… I mean, I know they’re important. Obviously, they’re important to me, or I wouldn’t have become Orthodox. I would just be like all the other Evangelical Protestants and go to the church whenever I feel like it and listen to the rock music or even stay home and listen to TBN and do all that, but… Sorry I’m not too subtle; I know that.
Mr. Allen: No, you’re asking a great question.
Mary: Do you understand what I’m saying]? Having been Orthodox, it’s not getting less confusing; it’s getting more confusing, because I really do believe that this is the truth and this is the original, the original Church is what I should say. I can’t bring myself to believe that these people I know, these Evangelical Christians—because some of them are absolutely wonderful and do so much for the poor and everything like that&madsh;and yet some of them are extremely hostile towards anything that’s non-Protestant. They don’t even know the difference between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. They think it’s all the same, most of them. They’re incredibly ignorant about Church history, and yet I am finding it more and more difficult to think of myself as being unified with them. Does that make any sense?
The more I read, the clearer it gets that I was in a group—and I’m not going to tell you the denomination, because it’s a non-denominational denomination so that you’d know what it is—they’re extremely anti what we do.
Mr. Allen: Right, like Calvary Chapel.
Mr. Allen: We won’t mention names. Thanks, Mary. Let me let you go. You can listen on air, because we’ve got tons of calls coming in. It’s a great question. Thank you very much.
So the Calvary Chapel approach is what she’s positing. So, Father, the question that she raises is really a great one, and that is, yeah, we’ve talked about—I think you and I have kind of tried to be kind, and I think kindness is good. We’ve quoted Metr. Kallistos, and several quotes from Fr. Georges Florovsky, but the question is: how do you speak of unity and faith and doctrine with those who reject so many of the doctrines which the early Church believes are salvific?
Fr. Andrew: That’s a good question, and I think it ultimately comes down to the context in which one is having the discussion. If we’re talking about big, apologetical questions or especially about ecumenical engagements, where there’s official theological dialogues, then I think it’s especially important to be very, very explicit about these things and to say, “This is what we believe is the truth, and whatever’s contrary to it is not the truth,” even at the same time as we would say, “Look, we agree on this, so therefore we both believe in this part of the truth.”
So when we speak about a unity that exists between Orthodox Christians and non-Orthodox Christians, we have to be clear on what kind of unity we’re talking about. Are we talking about unity in the sacraments? Certainly not. Are we talking about unity in all of what it means to be a Christian in terms of doctrine? Certainly not. There’s lots of criticisms that we would have for a lot of different kinds of Christianity that are not Orthodox.
If you know of any of the work that I’ve done, you know that I often like to go on at length about some of the difficulties that we see in non-Orthodox doctrine and practice. We have to say that there is a kind of unity, but it’s not a full unity. It’s not a full unity. There are still some problems that exist, and we have to be honest about what they are. To gloss over the problems that exist is not fair; it’s not really loving, because it’s not based in truth. There has to be a love of truth that exists there, but if I can also… I mean, I’ve been referring to Florovsky a lot, but I think he’s someone that really engaged these questions, so I hope the audience will forgive me for talking about him a lot.
Florovsky at one point says that charity should never be set against truth. That is to say, just because you love someone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about the truth. In fact, to really love them is actually to speak the truth very clearly. There is a unity, but there’s also not a unity. There’s definitely a disunity. The fact that we can talk about different kinds of Christians is an indication of that.
Mr. Allen: The question I’m going to get to in a couple more [minutes], because we have two calls coming in and I have one I want to pose first is going to be: how important are those differences? because there are going to be some Evangelicals listening tonight who are going to say, “Gee, that’s really nice that you have all these ancient customs and you go back to 2,000 years and so on, but the question that I would ask would be: does it matter?” But let’s not answer that question, because I’ll come back to that. We have Gabe from Washington who’s been holding for about seven and a half minutes, and I’d like to get him on. Gabe, good evening.
Gabe: Good evening, Kevin, Fr. Andrew. How are you?
Fr. Andrew: Thank God. How are you?
Gabe: Good, good. I just have a question about… I wonder how much some of the difficulties we might have with this discussion are related to semantics or an understanding of “What does the word ‘Christian’ mean?” What did it mean historically, how was it used? Much like the way we might look at the word “martyr” and “witness.” Coming from an Evangelical background, we would use the term that we are going to “witness” to people as going to proselytize, essentially, but historically that word is connected with martyrdom. Christ is called the great witness or martyr in the Apocalypse. I wonder if you could talk about, Fr. Andrew and Kevin, the origin of the word “Christian,” where that originated and how it was used, and maybe how looking back to the history of that word could help us to understand this dialogue today, what those who are asking us, “Do you believe I’m a Christian or not?”
Fr. Andrew: I think that what really matters with regards to the question, “What is a Christian? Who is a Christian?” is the purpose that one asks that question for. What do I mean by that? If someone says, “Do you recognize me as a Christian?” My question to them is going to be: “Are you asking me whether I think you’re going to heaven? Are you asking me whether you can come to communion at my church? Are you asking me whether I recognize in your life a dedication to Jesus Christ?” These are all different questions and different issues that don’t all have the same answer. So I want to probe a little bit more when they ask that question.
Ultimately I think that the best we can do is a kind of what I refer to as a sort of a short-hand—for me, if I’m going to ask if someone’s a Christian, then I’m going to base it in two big doctrinal questions. Do they believe in the Trinity as expounded in the historic Christian faith, and do they believe in the Incarnation as expounded in the historic Christian faith? If so, then I will say, “Yes, I recognize you as a Christian,” but essentially that’s just a recognition that they believe in what are the two central doctrines of the Christian faith. That doesn’t necessarily mean I believe that they are bound for heaven. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they can receive communion in my church. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I see that they are people who really love God.
It’s interesting: the word “Christian” actually doesn’t have a technical meaning in Scripture. It’s used as sort of a nickname for the disciples of Jesus in the city of Antioch. It’s not a word that Jesus himself ever used, and it took a while before it was begun. Its essential meaning is it means “little christ.” It’s possible that it was a kind of a derogatory nickname, actually, but then later on it’s really received by the Church and used a lot.
It does come up in one of these canons that we mentioned: the seventh canon of the Second Ecumenical Council, the Council in Constantinople in 381. It’s a canon that talks about how to receive different kinds of non-Orthodox Christians, and there’s a whole class of them who have basically deviant teachings about the Trinity, and those, it says about them, when we receive them, we receive them as heathen. In other words, we treat them just like they’re pagans, because they don’t really believe in the God that we believe in.
Then it says about them, in the process of receiving them, “On the first day, we make them Christians.” I saw that, and I was really struck by that, that there’s this sense in which the Church is not saying it recognizes Christianity by virtue of someone’s choices, but rather it’s an act of the Church to make someone a Christian. When that canon is being interpreted, many, many, many centuries later, one of the interpreters says that what that refers to is that the Church questions those people about what they believe and asks them whether they truly believe in the Trinity as expounded by the Church, and the Incarnation. Once that’s been established, then [it’s] the next day that they’re made catechumens.
There’s a sense in which the Church is actually what makes someone a Christian, but at the same time, for us to conclude from that that means that no one who has had that experience with the Church is a Christian, I think that that’s not entirely useful, because the word “Christian” doesn’t have a theological definition to it, really. Traditionally [it refers] to someone who’s part of the Church, but now we have a situation in which there are multiple competing groups that claim to be the Church. It’s a basic definitional problem that I don’t think there’s any easy answer to. Like I said, I think the best we can do is appeal to a kind of short-hand and say, “Well, I recognize that you believe in the Trinity that I believe in; you believe in the Jesus I believe in. So therefore, yeah, I’ll recognize that you are a Christian.” What we do with that is another question.
Mr. Allen: Thanks, Gabe. Appreciate the call. Before we take a break, let’s go to Miles from San Diego, who’s been also patiently waiting for about ten minutes. Miles, are you on the line?
Miles: I’m here.
Mr. Allen: Great. Thanks for holding so patiently. Appreciate it. What’s your question for Fr. Andrew Damick?
Miles: My question is more along the lines of how we Orthodox understand our identity of Orthodox Christians. I was just chrismated into the Church over this last Palm Sunday.
Mr. Allen: Congratulations.
Miles: Thank you. We take the name of a saint, and I still haven’t really come to understand that practice. I know that it imparts something of an identity as coming into the personation, so to speak, with this end of heaven, so we kind of have an identity amongst one another, and I want to know the meaning behind that particular mark.
Mr. Allen: Good question.
Fr. Andrew: Well, for Orthodoxy, the identity is belonging to the race of Christians or the Christian nation. These are phrases that are in our liturgical services. It’s really about belonging to that community. You’re bringing it up within the context of taking the name of a saint, and that’s a wonderful and very traditional practice, but it doesn’t exist everywhere in Church history. Certainly there’s no references in the New Testament to most people’s names being changed. We’ve got a couple of them: Simon Peter gets the nickname Peter, and Saul becomes Paul, but there’s not an emphasis on changing people’s names early on.
When we see that a practice doesn’t exist universally throughout the history of the Church, then that means it doesn’t have a dogmatic absoluteness to it, but it’s something that we see as being very helpful for our salvation. It helps to define us with a new identity, that we really have become a new person in Christ. Therefore the name can be changed, and in many cases is, but in many cases when people are converting to the Orthodox faith, they already have a Christian name, so there’s no need to change it. I was born with the name “Andrew Stephen.” Those were the names that my mom and dad gave me, so they weren’t changed when I became Orthodox. Certainly I think that it connects with the notion of a new identity, that we are in Christ a new creature.
In the Book of Revelation there [are] references to those who [are] redeemed having a new name; a secret name is referenced, in the very apocalyptic imagery that John has in there. It’s a great practice, and it definitely helps to underline the fact that we really are part of a real community, and it’s not just a sort of philosophy or a movement idea that I hold on my own apart from real participation in that community.
Mr. Allen: Thanks, Miles. Appreciate the question. We’re going to take a short break, and when we come back, we’ll ask the very tough question about patristic quotes about sectarianism, heresy, and schism today, with regard to those who are not in the Orthodox Church, and how those are to be applied, and how, in fact, they are being applied. My guest is Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, and we’ll be back in just a short minute. Stay with us. Thanks for joining us.
Mr. Allen: Welcome back to Ancient Faith Today. We’re speaking with my guest, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, the author of the excellent book, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy. He’s also a podcaster here on Ancient Faith Radio. Before we go to the question that I provocatively put out there, which I do want to get to, we have another patient caller who’s been holding for about nine and a half minutes. I want to make sure that I’m getting the name correctly, so when you come on, let me know. Is it Tierra, or is it Tirra?
Tierra: Hi, Kevin. It’s Tierra.
Mr. Allen: Tierra, great. Nice to have you.
Tierra: Thank you. You, too. Hello, Father. How are you?
Fr. Andrew: Thank God. How are you? Christ is risen!
Tierra: Indeed he is risen! Really quick, I do want to thank you very much. Your podcast, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, was my first stepping-stone to becoming Orthodox. I thank you so much for your work with that. I do have a question for you specifically regarding the Eucharist, and in talking about who’s a Christian and who isn’t a Christian. I’m from an Evangelical background, and newly chrismated, on Theophany of this year.
Mr. Allen: Congratulations.
Tierra: Thank you! Something that’s been pressed upon me is the importance of the Eucharist in the Christian life, and the true presence of the body and blood of Christ, and even in John—I think it’s John6—where Christ is speaking to the Jews and says, “Truly I say unto you, unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” One translation actually says, “You have no eternal life in you.” My question is, for our Evangelical brothers and sisters who do not partake of the Eucharist, how do we deal with that?
Fr. Andrew: That’s a good question, and I think it’s very much related to the ones we mentioned earlier. How do we understand the salvation of people who are outside the canonical boundaries of the Church? We have to understand it in a way that we really affirm that we don’t know. But is it possible that someone could be saved without ever receiving the Eucharist? Well, we absolutely know that’s possible because of what happens on the cross when there’s the two thieves next to the Lord Jesus, and the one reviles him and the other honors him, and the Lord says to the one who honors him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Did that man ever even receive baptism? No, he never received the Eucharist; he never received any of the sacraments, but we know he’s saved. We know he’s saved, because Jesus himself said it. So is it possible? Yes. Is it normative? No. It’s not normative. The norm is for people to be in communion in the Church. That’s the norm. Even though we see these exceptions here and there, if you look at the actual behavior of the Church, those exceptions are always looked upon as exceptions and not as establishing some kind of precedent. So even though the thief is saved on the cross, his experience is not normative. It’s not normative, but it does tell us that it’s possible.
Mr. Allen: Thank you very much, Tierra. Appreciate the question.
Tierra: Thank you. You guys have a wonderful evening.
Mr. Allen: Thank you. You, too. Father, let me follow up on this, because I want to kind of hit you with a couple of the hard ones now. Not that they all have not been hard; they all have been tough questions. You’re doing a great job of clarifying them and walking through this mine field, I think, rather well. I know we have to take the apostolic canons and other canons that the Church has used and defined, local canons, etc. I was going to say, “With a grain of salt.” I don’t say that. I’m not completely sure how, frankly, we apply them. Maybe you could even speak to that as well.
Here’s what I’m asking. There’s a lot that’s been written in these canons about sectarianism, heresy, and schism. We know that Evangelicals, while they may not be heretics if they accept classical and traditional Trinitarianism and Christology, but we know that they are in schism, so how do you deal with these quotes, for an example, canon 10 of the holy apostles, which writes:
If one who is not in communion prays together even at home, let him be excommunicated.
Or canon 33 of the local synod of Laodicea, that:
One must not pray together with heretics or schismatics.
What is a newly illumined person that just came in, like Tierra, to do when she’s at dinner with her evangelical family or friends and they want to pray for the health of a loved one? How far do we take these canons in today’s world?
Fr. Andrew: There’s multiple things at play here. One is how exactly the canons get applied. The basic pat answer that I think generally applies to this is that the application of the canons is made by the competent canonical authorities, and that’s the bishops. The bishops are the ones who really apply these canons, so the question is how would they have them applied. It’s varied in a number of cases throughout history, and sometimes some of the canons actually contradict each other, and sometimes later canons supersede earlier ones. So that’s why they have to be applied by someone, and the someones who apply them are the bishops.
That’s one question, but another question is the question of praying with heretics or schismatics. For that, you have to ask two questions. One is: who is a heretic? who is a schismatic? The other question is what is it to pray with them? To be a heretic is not just to believe something that’s heretical. In the history of the Church, to be a heretic is to be someone who has chosen what is against the Church’s teaching when offered that choice. The word “hairesis,” from which we get “heresy,” it actually means “choosing.” That’s what the word literally means. It doesn’t mean false doctrine. It’s someone who has chosen, so technically speaking you cannot be an [accidental] heretic, and someone who has never been Orthodox cannot technically be a heretic. It’s people who have departed from the Orthodox faith knowingly, having been given the choice by the competent ecclesiastical authorities.
Now, does that mean that the word “heretic” only means that. No, it’s been used wrongly in the history of the Church, but specifically when we’re talking particularly about these canonical questions, they do tend to use these words in very technical ways, so I think it’s important to keep that technical meaning in mind. Most of the time when a former Evangelical is at Thanksgiving dinner or whatever with their family who are not Orthodox, most of them are not really technically heretics. Most of them are also technically not schismatics, not ever having knowingly broken from the Orthodox Church.
But are they still heretics or schismatics in a kind of a general sense? There is a sense in which one could use those terms for them, in the sense that we’re talking about people who did not leave the Orthodox faith, who are not part of the communion of Orthodoxy. Then the question really arises: what does it mean “pray with them”? Generally speaking, when the canons talk about praying together with these other people, what they have in mind is celebrating Church services together. That’s generally what’s referred. Often we think about prayer in the modern world in terms of a sort of a private act between someone and God, but really most of the time in historic Christian literature when prayer is mentioned, most of the time they mean corporate prayer. There’s certainly other kinds of prayer that are talked about as well, especially when you read monastic literature, but a lot of the time what it’s talking about is corporate prayer.
When the canons make reference [to] people praying together with heretics or schismatics, what they’re essentially saying is, “Look, these divisions that have occurred, they are meaningful divisions. They are divisions that constitute a real problem, and we cannot pretend like they don’t exist. So you cannot go and attend and participate in the worship services of these other groups.” It’s simply not permitted.
One of the ways that this gets applied today, for instance: I have detailed guidelines from my archdiocese about exactly what kinds of things am I allowed to do in ecumenical contexts. Am I allowed to be present at certain kinds of things, what should I wear, what am I allowed to say—all that kind of stuff. These canons continue to get applied, and they’re being applied in ways [that] affirm that basic sense that these divisions matter and that we can’t pretend like they don’t exist. They really do exist, but in most cases simply praying over a meal at home together with non-Orthodox people, I wouldn’t see a problem there. I imagine there are probably some who would, but I simply don’t see a problem in that case and in most cases. Now, if someone has a very zealous anti-Orthodox family member who says, “If you love me, you’ll pray with me, and by that I know that you are rejecting your Orthodox faith,” then, yeah, you probably won’t want to do that, then, because they’re saying that they understand you to be rejecting Orthodoxy. But that’s almost never the case; that doesn’t usually happen.
Mr. Allen: Yeah, and you won’t be able to respond much to this because we’ve got Jared on the line who’s been waiting for 13 minutes, and I’ll get to him in a second. We’ve even had people, frankly speaking, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, that criticize the Ecumenical Patriarch for being at the Mass of Celebration for the new Catholic pope, quoting these very canonical restrictions on praying with those with whom one is not in communion. So that’s why I brought that one up.
Fr. Andrew: Yeah.
Mr. Allen: We do have our rigorists among us, but at any rate I’ll let you off the hook on that one.
Fr. Andrew: Thanks.
Mr. Allen: Jared, are you there?
Jared: I am.
Mr. Allen: Great. What’s your question?
Jared: Well, first: hello, Father.
Fr. Andrew: Hello.
Jared: My question for you is a follow-up to Gabe’s question regarding what do we do now, once we’ve established Orthodox and heterodox and at least our Trinitarian beliefs, in the concessions that we are willing to give towards mainstream Protestants to at least bring them closer into ecumenical dialogue? What would those be?
Fr. Andrew: I’m not sure I understand your question. Are you asking what it is that we’re willing to sort of concede doctrinally in order to [come] together? What are you getting at?
Jared: Not doctrinally, but at least to bring them closer into the table to talk to us with what we would consider to be dogmatics and what they would consider to be heresies. How can we bring each other to the table to converse about these better?
Fr. Andrew: The beginning should be to affirm the things that we both believe, because if there is no commonality, then there’s really no point in talking, right? I think that as long as someone is willing to talk to me, whether it’s privately or on an official basis or whatever it might be, I want to be there at that conversation. As long as there is something going on, as long as there’s exposure to Orthodoxy, there is hope for true unity, the unity in truth, the unity in the Orthodox faith. But if we act as though people outside of the canonical boundaries of the Orthodox Church are just totally outlaws or whatever, I think it’s not consistent with the love of Christ.
Like I said earlier, to love someone doesn’t mean to gloss over the truth, but it also means that we have to be willing to show up. If we’re not willing to show up, then do we really believe that this is the true faith that should be spread to every part of the world? The Apostle Paul went up to the Areopagus and talked with people that he didn’t have much in common with, doctrinally, but he went and spoke with them, and he found something to begin a common dialogue about. The thing that he found, of course, was the altar to the Unknown God. I think that’s a great model for dealing with people who do not believe the same as we do, is to begin in those places where we have something in common, and to talk about that and to go from one thing to the next. That doesn’t mean we have to concede anything, and it also means that we should proceed in humility.
Sometimes, though, because I’m not perfect and because I don’t really fully have the mind of the Fathers yet, sometimes I hear in the voice of someone who’s not Orthodox the Orthodox faith, and I learn a little something from them of Orthodoxy. There’s all kinds of possibilities there. I think the main thing [is we] have to show up. Actually speaking Orthodoxy for the past couple hundred years hasn’t been really showing up very much. We’ve seemed content to kind of stay inside our boundaries, and I think that’s a big, big mistake which is being remedied in some quarters, but we have a lot more work to do.
Mr. Allen: A big opportunity. Thanks very much for that call, Jared. Appreciate it.
Jared: Thank you.
Mr. Allen: Thank you. Father, you know, let me ask you this. We’ve talked a bit about, and we actually just have another ten or fifteen minutes to go, and I want to ask you several questions. We’ve got a caller holding. We talked a bit about the subject of fullness of grace, and fullness of faith has come up. This is something that many Orthodox, speaking with their Evangelical family and friends and others tend to rely on or use as a way of explaining why they became Orthodox because, in some cases as we pointed out in this conversation, there is no simple answer and there is no silver bullet.
So what are they supposed to say to someone who says, “What does that mean, fullness of grace? I already love Jesus. I’ve already asked him into my heard. I already read the Scriptures. I already live this faith out more, or as much as I can. I’m a good person. I go to my local fellowship. Does that mean I’m not going to be saved? I’m going to die and not go to heaven because I don’t have this fullness of grace?” Keep in mind when you answer the question that if the answer is “No, it doesn’t mean all of this stuff,” then someone out there is going to say, “Well, what’s the point of being Orthodox?”
Fr. Andrew: Yeah, what is the point? I think that when one begins to really compare theology—it’s really obvious when you start to compare Christian theology with non-Christian theology, but even when you compare different kinds of Christian theology together, one of the things that you eventually discover, sometimes it’s not just a difference in points of fact and different kinds of doctrinal belief and so forth, but there’s actually a different goal. There’s a different goal, like: what am I attempting to accomplish by being a Christian? For many kinds of Christians, what they’re attempting to accomplish is to go to heaven when they die, and I think almost all Christians would say that that’s one of their goals, but for the Orthodox Christian, that’s not the only goal.
Indeed, one of the things that I discovered about in my transition to Orthodoxy is that Orthodoxy actually sets the bar really, really high. We’re not satisfied with going to heaven when we die. I mean, that’s great. We want that, of course, but that’s not all we’re looking for, and indeed that’s just one piece of a much larger puzzle. For Orthodox, the question is how do we become totally like Christ. How do we grow to what the Scriptures say, the fullness of the stature of Christ. That’s not just going to heaven when you die. That’s a whole lot more. Sometimes when someone asks me, “What’s the difference? What does Orthodoxy [have]?” the question is really, “What does Orthodoxy offer that I don’t already have?”
To me, the answer is not, “Oh, we’ve got ancient chant and icons and incense. Come on in and have a big sensual experience.” No, that’s not what we have to offer. What we have to offer is stuff like this: you can physically touch God. You can become, as one of the Desert Fathers [says], all flame. That there is a possibility of being suffused with the presence of God that in my experience is almost never talked about in the Evangelical world, and often is not talked about in the [Orthodox] world. We hold out our idea of what salvation is, is to be like Christ so much that people look at us and when they see us they see Christ, and not just in that kind of a sentimental way and not just in a moral way, but that someone can really become like Christ such that they can do things like raise the dead and see the future and stuff like that. That that’s actually possible.
We set the bar extremely high, and that’s our goal. Our goal is to become like God. We use the technical term, “theosis,” for this, to be divinized or, some translations, deified. There is a different idea of what salvation actually entails. For Orthodoxy, when we see all these things that might look like sort of add-ons to maybe an Evangelical, we don’t look at them as simply nice, ornamental elaborations. These are the ways in which we really touch God. These things don’t get between me and God; these things connect me to God. It’s good to have Jesus in your heard, but you can also have him in your mouth and have him in your stomach. That’s a way of connecting, I think, that can be very appealing to our more and more disembodied world.
Mr. Allen: The way I tried to explain it to a person was: You talk about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, and we understand as ex-Evangelicals somewhat what that means, but what we are striving for is koinonoia, communion, and communion goes so much deeper and further in terms of these standards, I think. So thank you for that. That was excellent.
I have one last call before we’re going to ask one last question, and then we’re going to be done for this evening, I’m afraid. This one is from Mark from Nebraska who’s been holding patiently. Mark, are you still there?
Mark: Yes, I sure am.
Mr. Allen: Great.
Mark: Thank you for taking my call. Unfortunately I think a lot of what I was going to ask has already been answered, but still, from a practical standpoint, one of the things that I get drawn into frequently is that my Evangelical friends ask me [to come] to prayer sessions, and it’s mostly more of the social aspect of their faith, and asking for things that they pray in Jesus’ name, or things that we ordinarily know that we’re not supposed to pray for, like our better house or cars or things like that that’s not exclusive to that. I mean, there are some other things that that are multi-prayer requests. I’m sure you’re familiar with the format, but it’s how to act in love but at the same time not compromise what we believe in.
Mr. Allen: Right. That’s a good practical question, Mark. Thanks so much for asking it. Father?
Fr. Andrew: In fact, I asked that exact same question when I was a catechumen. I asked that of my priest, because at the time I had belonged to a college Bible study connected with my former church, and I asked the priest, “Should I keep going?” And he told me the question had been asked of their bishop the last time he was there, and the bishop said this: If you are strong in your Orthodox faith, it cannot hurt you. The priest heard those words, and said, “You know what the bishop said, and what he didn’t say is very important.” So I think the question is really: you have to ask yourself, “What am I doing at those kinds of meetings? [What am I] accomplishing there? Is this leading me away from Orthodoxy? Is it an opportunity for me to witness Orthodoxy? Is it a temptation for me in some way?” And those are questions I can’t [answer for you]. You have to kind of work that out with your own father-confessor, but you have to sort of examine and ask: is participation in those things well-pleasing to God, whether it’s serving the coffee, for your salvation, or whether it’s not. It could be a missionary opportunity, but it might also not be.
I witnessed to a local group of clergy here in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, that we have, that there’s informal prayer that goes along with it. I’ll be honest. Almost every time when these prayers are going on, I’m sitting there, and I’m not just sort of affirming and entering into what’s being prayed; I’m critically listening, which might sound a little bit cynical, but I never know what is going to come out of those people’s mouths, and at least one of the participants doesn’t even believe that Jesus is God, so there’s all kinds of possibilities there. But I still go, because it’s an opportunity to witness and maybe [collaborate] on things that we can work on together like charitable work and so forth. You have to just look and see what your participation is accomplishing. If it’s nothing or it’s a temptation, maybe it’s time to end your participation, but maybe if it is accomplishing something good, then thank God. But, yeah, that’s something that you’ll definitely have to work out with your own [circumstances].
Mr. Allen: Mark, thanks. We’ve got to let you go because we’re going to come to a close. Appreciate the call and the question. Thanks for holding.
Mark: You bet. Christ is risen!
Mr. Allen: Truly he is risen!
Fr. Andrew: Truly he is risen!
Mr. Allen: Father, a question-and-a-half here as we come to a close. One of the things that strikes me in this conversation and that, again, we’ve been treading lightly on is this kind of “mere Christianity” standard. The beloved and very popular and very well-known C.S. Lewis came up with this phrase as sort of deconstructing ecclesiology down to certain basic elements and so on, but what complicates this is we live in a world where many non-canonical Christians believe that this is simply all it takes to be Christian.
I’ve heard people say, “Well, I mean I believe the Jesus story,” or “I believe this or I believe that,” so my question is: is the “mere Christianity” standard, which I think leads to a “mere ecclesiology” or a “mere church” standard—I know people that are saying, “We don’t go to church any more. We just get together and have coffee and talk about Christ.” Is this a sufficient standard for defining who is a Christian? And my wrap-up would be: where do we end up as we come to close tonight, trying to get back to our original question: who is a Christian?
Fr. Andrew: I think that what Lewis is attempting to accomplish there does have a basis in Christian history. For instance, when the Creed is written in the fourth century in the two Councils that put it together, the purpose of that was to be a touchstone to, and in some sense answer the question, “Who is a Christian? What is real Christianity about?” So there is this basic statement of faith, this Creed that we have.
At the same time, when the Creed was put together, it was within a context in which that was not all there was. Belonging to the Church did not simply mean believing what was in the Creed. This problem that we have of being a true Christian, not involved in belonging to the Church, not involving much more than a sort of minimal kind of doctrine, that really came out of the second wave of the Protestant Reformation, in which there was a movement called [pietism]. The basic idea…
Mr. Allen: You broke up, Father. That was “pietism,” you said, correct?
Fr. Andrew: Pietism, yes.
Mr. Allen: Sorry.
Fr. Andrew: So the [basic idea of pietism] is that doctrine doesn’t matter. What really matters is if you [truly] believe and feel and are sincere. Pietism came up out of a political problem, which is that you had people living next to each other in Western Europe who had differences of [doctrine], and yet they still wanted to be one community, that they still wanted to be able to go to church together, to still pray together, and all that sort of thing. Rather than solve problems, they basically just decided that doctrine didn’t matter. That view of doctrine, that it’s really just sort of a mental exercise.
But Orthodoxy doesn’t see doctrine [that way]. Orthodoxy sees doctrine as being rather like the instructions in a lab manual. This is telling you how to become like Christ. If you change the instructions, then you could also change the result. If you’re in chemistry [and] tried to put an acid where a base should be, you might have very bad results. You might have neutral results, but you might have very bad results. So you can’t just change the instructions [without] changing the result. So this question of who is a Christian, it comes up in this way now because of pietism.
Mr. Allen: I agree.
Fr. Andrew: But if we agree that [doctrine] really does matter, that it really matters, [that] doctrine actually is the instructions on how to become like Christ, then that opens up a whole different avenue for pursuing these issues.
Mr. Allen: I think that’s a great way to close, because the way I see it, Father, is that pietism and piety is almost given greater priority in our multicultural, pan-spiritual world today than is truth faith. You hear this about people who are Mormon; you hear about this in people who are in other religious traditions. Well, they’re really good people, and they really believe it and so on. I agree, so that’s a great way to bring this to a close. Fr. Andrew Damick, thanks so much for bringing clarity to this very difficult subject tonight. I think you did a great job.
Fr. Andrew: Thank you very much. It was a real joy with you.
Mr. Allen: Thank you. Please listen to Fr. Andrew’s podcast, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, here on Ancient Faith Radio, and his book, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy is one of my workbooks. I’ve got it so marked up I can barely read it any longer, but it’s been very useful to me.
Before we sign off tonight, the winner of our Legacy Icons drawing is Tierra from Fort Worth, Texas. Congratulations, Tierra.
Please join me on May 26 on the topic “The Crisis of Beauty and Orthodox Christianity,” with the very excellent Fr. Stephen Freeman, who is also a blogger on “Glory to God for All Things,” and also an AFR podcaster on Glory to God for All Things there, too. You can leave us a pre-recorded question.
Many thanks to our production crew this evening: our engineer, Bobby; our producer, John; our call-screener, Troy; and my production assistant tonight, Colleen. Please tune in next week at the same time for Orthodoxy Live with Fr. Evan Armatas. Thanks for listening. Have a great week. God bless.