At the Intersection of East and West:
Dn. Michael Hyatt: Last week we dealt with kind of the aftermath of Nicaea and the run up in the Second Ecumenical Council, the first council in Constantinople. And just by way of review, the Nicaean Council was held in 325. By 327, Constantine is already regretting the decisions of the council, and he grants amnesty for the Arian leadership. And during that time, Arianism had also morphed into semi-Arianism. Basically, the Arian leadership, who were referred to as the Arians, wouldn’t consider themselves Arian because they weren’t quite willing to say what Arius said, and that was Jesus the Son of God was a creature, created by the Father, but he said that he had a “like” or similar substance to the Father. So, they felt like they had kind of moved toward the Nicaean Orthodoxy, but the Orthodox still considered them to be Arian, and Athanasius takes up a good deal of his book On the Incarnation arguing against them.
You also have, in addition to Athanasius, what are referred to as the Cappadocian Fathers, three brothers: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter of Sebaste, and then also Gregory of Nazianzus, Patriarch of Constantinople. Until about 360, all the debates were about the Son of God. You know, what is the nature, what is the relationship between the Father and the Son? Is the Son fully God or is he only God by creation, not God by nature? And then in 360, the debates took a turn and started dealing with the divinity of the Holy Spirit. This, also because the Council of Nicaea had not dealt with this explicitly, became a target for the heretics.
Last night, Gail and I had some friends over for dinner, and we got involved in this really theological discussion. It was kind of classic. You’ve probably been in the same discussion. I’ve had it numerous times. It was like a re-run. I don’t even know how we got into it except that a friend of ours, an evangelical friend of ours, a dear friend, said, “I don’t understand why everybody just can’t get back to the simplicity of the Gospel.” And you know, “Why does it have to be gunked up and made more complex than it needs to be and all these denominations?” He was lamenting all these denominations.
So, then he says to me, he says, “For example, you Orthodox, you worship Mary.” So, I didn’t take the bait. (Laughter) I said, “Well, not exactly.” So, I let him go on and on and on, and then he of course—that was like jab one, then jab two was: “And I don’t understand why people who aren’t Orthodox can’t take communion at your church.” So, he hits two major things. Y’all ever dealt with these? People come into the church and you’re trying to deal with these and it’s just: “Uh…”
Another friend of ours, the other couple who was at our house—he’s an Anglican priest, and honestly, we never argue. I can’t find anything to disagree with him on. I don’t know why he’s not Orthodox. He even started defending Mary with me—but at any rate, we both started laughing. He’s talking about 20,000 denominations, our evangelical friend, and all the confusion. So both of us said to him, said, “Well, who is Jesus?” As soon as you start answering that question, particularly if somebody that’s a heretic says something kind of cavalier like, “he was a creature” or “he only become God after his baptism” or whatever, you know, then you have to start defending the Faith.
I think there’s a real temptation for us as well as we look at these seven ecumenical councils and think that this is sort of unnecessary complexity that’s added on to the faith: that somehow can’t we get back to the simplicity of the Gospel? Well, the Gospel really is simple. No question about it. St. Paul makes that argument in Galatians 1 where he talks to the Galatians and says he was afraid they had been led astray from the simplicity of the Gospel. It is simple. It’s so simple that really the essence of it can be encapsulated in a document as short as the Nicaean Creed, or the Apostles’ Creed for that matter. But it’s also complex enough that we can spend a thousand lifetimes trying to understand it. And I don’t think that complexity has to be equated with confusion and that’s really what my friend was trying to do. He was trying to say that because the Gospels are complex and because there are parts of it that can be discussed and debated, that somehow that equals confusion, and he was kind of throwing up his hands.
But he’s also very much a product of post-modern thought and that is: that at the end of the day—he wouldn’t say this, but this is how he was acting—there really isn’t an objective truth. It’s really all subjective, and it really all is your experience. At the end of the day, what really matters is your experience. Now, we actually got into this debate last night, and to me, it’s not either/or, by the way. You don’t have to throw experience out the door just because we affirm that objective truth exists, but that has to be the engine on the train, and then we respond. Our experience is made valid and made legitimate by virtue of the fact that there’s an objective truth that we’re hooked up to. You know, you can have a wonderful experience as a Buddhist. You could have great peace and tranquility, joy, low stress, low blood pressure, all that stuff, but unfortunately that’s connected to a falsehood, a false truth, idolatry. It’s not connected to the truth in terms that it doesn’t correspond to reality, the world that God made. So, experience can’t be the final criterion. It can be a part of it. Certainly, I’d like to think that there’s some correspondence between this faith that we proclaim and our experience of it, but again, it’s one of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. They have to be in that order. The truth and then we respond to the truth, okay?
So, I know that we’re dealing with a lot of these heresies and these councils and it would be easy to just let the garage door of your mind come down and not want to try to look into it and see what’s there, but I really think it’s important not only for us, but our children, and for our children’s children, living in a post-modern world that doesn’t place a lot of value on objective truth, that we cling to it, that we hold it, and that we pass it on to our children. We have to acknowledge it, call it out, say what it is, you know, this whole post-modern idea and then provide an alternative without invalidating what’s true in that particular viewpoint. Before I get into this council, any comments or questions about that? Yes?
Q1: Did your friend leave muttering? How did he leave?
Dn. Michael: That’s a good question. Well, it’s not the first time I had this discussion with my friend. In this particular case, his wife is very pro-Orthodox, and he grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. So he’s still reacting to that. He’s got Rome-aphobia, and he’s reacting to it. So, he kind of wants to paint Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism with the same brush. And a lot of what he assumes we believe, even for example, about the doctrine of Mary—this is not part of our discussion, this was just a sidebar—but I told him the Council of Nicaea met before the Church had really acknowledged all 27 books of the New Testament. I mean, there wasn’t really an official canon of Scripture until really after the Second Ecumenical Council. If you want to look it up, [the] official local council in Carthage in 397 was the first really to recognize all the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament. And I asked him, “What do you think was guiding the Church?” And he said, “Do you believe that Mary is Co-Redemptrix? Have you ever had that discussion?” And I said, well, let me use the word that we use and let me just affirm&emdash;the most true word that we can use of Mary as Orthodox is “Theotokos,” and I said that was used early in the Church. And we’ll see in the Third Ecumenical Council, it was used specifically to refute those who wanted to deny the divinity of Christ.
So, it was used very anciently in the Church. And I said, “All of this tradition… How do you think the Church even evaluated the canon of Scripture to say, ‘This book’s in and this book’s out?’ There had to be some criteria.” There was a canon that existed before the canon of Scripture, and the canon was Apostolic Tradition. And so that even St. Paul says in II Thessalonians, I believe it’s 2:15, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” And I said to my friend last night as I was quoting this verse, “I’ll bet this is not underlined in your Bible, is it? It uses the ‘t’ word: ‘traditions.’ ‘Tradition’ in the Greek means ‘that which is passed on,’ like a relay race where you pass a baton on to somebody behind you. That’s a tradition: paradosis, pass on.”
Stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word, orally, or by epistle. The epistles were circulating also. There’s an oral tradition and a written tradition, and they encompass the Tradition, the Apostolic Tradition, that which is passed on. They were exhorted to hold fast to [it]. So I said to my friend, “These things were being passed along before there was a Scripture.” This is always unsettling to Protestants, but I said, “You didn’t have a canon really recognized and universally agreed upon until at least 397, maybe even later, and even if you had that, the practical effect of it wasn’t that significant because Gutenberg didn’t come along until the 15th century, so you couldn’t even print the Bible.”
Gutenberg, he had a very primitive press. It was a sheet-fed press, one page at a time. They estimated he could print about 200 Bibles a year. So, we’re not talking about mass production. I was just with my printing friends, being in the business, who were from Quebecor, and they can print at one of their plants, a million books a day in one plant. So, it’s really easy for us to look at that kind of capability: tens of millions, hundreds of millions of books published every year, but that wasn’t true. That wasn’t true until you had the rotary press, developed in the middle of the nineteenth century, that the cost of printing came down, and people were able to afford books. It really had a lot to do with lay people becoming educated and more schooled in the Scriptures, but that wasn’t possible before then.
So what was it? How did the Church exist for all these centuries? And it was because of that Apostolic Tradition that was passed down, and it was passed in the form of the creeds and the canons of the Church which were disseminated by the epistles which were in circulation by the hymnography and liturgy of the Church which was practiced. So all of this embodied the Apostolic Tradition. So, part of my friend’s argument was: “Why can’t we just get back to the Bible?” And I said, “Well, that’s nice that we live in the 21st century, and we could point to that and say, ‘yes,’ but Christians existed for hundreds of years without that benefit.”
We do probably tend toward error in the fallen state and the corrective to that is the body of Christ and the Spirit of God apropos our discussion this morning [about] the Spirit of Truth whom Jesus said the Father would send to guide the Church into all truth, which is also a very interesting passage. I think that’s in John 16, but he would send the Spirit which would guide the Church into all truth, and it’s a very difficult verse for non-Orthodox to believe. It’s sort of the conventional thing that we hear from some of our Protestant friends: “Well, yeah, we can get back to that New Testament Church, you know, that’s the golden age, and then somehow the Church fell into somehow immediate apostasy, and didn’t really recover until Luther, and even Luther’s a little bit suspect on some things.” So it really took, depending on which way you go on the Reformation, Calvin or Wesley or somebody later on, to really recover the fullness of it. So, the Spirit didn’t lead the Church into all truth. That had to come much later, over a thousand years later when God raised up these great leaders.
And our position is: No. You look at what the Holy Spirit did in the life of the early Church and even in people like Ignatius: St. Ignatius, living in the second century, second generation Christian. Amazing letters. Much of what he articulated there in regards to Church government we still practice today. That was all kind of a side-bar, but I just want to encourage us to stay engaged in this content and to understand, I know there are some big words, and it really is all important stuff. And it’s particularly important today as we talk about the Holy Spirit because there’s a lot of things that are taught about the Holy Spirit. Yes?
Q2: Well, my husband has a difficulty with the Orthodox Church in regards to intercessory prayer in asking the saints to intercede on our behalf.
Dn. Michael: Yeah, actually my friend last night, that was kind of the third salvo in his attack. You know, he went after the Mary thing, then the closed communion thing, and then he’s like: “What’s all this praying to the saints?” He said, “I can go straight to Jesus,” and I said to my friend, whose name I won’t use, I said, “Well, you asked me for prayer yesterday.” I said, “If you can go straight to Jesus, what possible advantage could my prayers for you be?”
And he said, “Well, but that’s different,” and I said, “How is it different? If I ask for the intercession of a saint who’s, by the way, not dead, but more alive than you and I could possibly imagine. ‘The prayers of the righteous man avail much,’ James says, so why wouldn’t we ask for the prayers, not only of our friends whom we can see, but our friends whom we can’t see?” Plus, the good thing about in the Church is that these—people are saints in the Church because the Church has come to some consensus about their saintliness: that they’re exemplars, that they’re to be held up as models. And so, the Church as it does that collectively, and it doesn’t do it impulsively, and if it does do it impulsively by the way, it doesn’t stick. Sometimes people are elevated or recognized as a local saint, but it doesn’t stick.
So the ones [who] are saints are the ones who end up being universally recognized in the Church and usually it’s a process because they’re recognized for their saintliness. And that’s our safeguard, to me, it all kind of points back to the Church. It’s a good question, though, and I get that a lot. And I think to me it’s a good line of argument, and it really reflects our view of the Church: that the Church just isn’t contemporaneous with us at this point in time, but the Church extends not only in the seen world but in the unseen world throughout time. It’s that great cloud of witnesses that’s talked about in the book of Hebrews. Okay, back to the Second Ecumenical Council.
The council of Nicaea didn’t really address the divinity of the Holy Spirit because they were so entangled with the doctrine of the divinity of the Son of God and his relationship to the Father. There was a group that arose after about 360 called the Macedonians. Also we get to learn that great big word today: the Pneumatomachians. Anybody know what that means? The Macedonians were also known as the Pneumatomachians. Pneuma: spirit, and the machian part of that: to fight. The fighters against the Holy Spirit. Obviously, they didn’t call themselves that, but they were called by the Orthodox “the fighters against the Holy Spirit.” But they denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and there are groups today that deny the divinity of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know if you’ve encountered some of them, many of them, like the Church of Christ, would deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit: “He’s simply an influence of the Father. He’s not a real person.”
Even I was just recently reading, don’t ask me why, but part of a committee I was on, we were reading—have you ever heard of a church called the Local Church? Watchman Nee and his disciple Witness Lee in the Chinese church? And Witness Lee taught this. So it’s a modern heresy as well as an ancient heresy. So, Theodosius the Emperor in 381 calls this council to deal with semi-Arianism. You know they kind of morphed off the strict Arianism that the Son was similar to the Father, but they weren’t willing to say that he was of the same essence, homo-ousia, same essence as the Father. So they moved a little bit. So Theodosius calls this council in 381, and it was presided over by several men including Gregory of Nazianzus. About 150 bishops attended. Interestingly, the bishop of Rome was not even invited, and as a result, this council, the Second Ecumenical Council, wouldn’t really be regarded as ecumenical until the Council of Chalcedon two councils later in 451.
First thing the council did was that they affirmed the original Nicene Creed, and this is a pattern that we’ll find in a lot of the councils is that they will affirm the work that’s gone before them. So they affirm the Nicene Creed, but they expanded it to include that part of the creed that begins, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life who proceedeth from the Father who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets” and on to the end. Now the council deliberately used biblical language here, the language of the letters that were then circulating in order to be conciliatory towards the Macedonians. And so for example, they said, the Holy Spirit is the Lord. In II Corinthians 3:17 refers specifically to the Holy Spirit being “the Lord,” and the “giver of life,” John 6:33 and II Corinthians 3:6.
And then, rather than saying that the Holy Spirit was created by the Father, which is what some were teaching, particularly the Macedonians, they picked another verb: that he proceedeth from the Father. And so, from an Orthodox perspective, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father. There was never a time when the Son of God was not, but he’s eternally begotten of the Father, and in the same fashion, the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. There was never a time [when there was no] procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father. Notice also, there’s sort of the implication—and the Macedonians, by the way, got the point that even though they were trying to be conciliatory, about 36 of their bishops at that council walked out and remained in schism for decades after this council. So they got the point that the council was saying that the Holy Spirit is God. He is also homo-ousia with the Father.
Note that the original creed, though, is really based on what Jesus said in John 15. I’m going to read this to you. John 15:26. Jesus says, “but when the Helper comes whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father.” It doesn’t say from the Father and the Son, it just says from the Father. And later on, in the 6th century in Spain, they would add that phrase “and the Son,” trying to combat Arianism in the region, trying to protect the divinity of the Son, without the benefit of the whole Church in council decide to add this phrase and really over-tweaked it, and created, from our perspective as Orthodox, a real problem in the doctrine of the Trinity. And so that was in the 6th century, and by the 8th century, it had spread to Gaul, and it wasn’t accepted in Rome until the 11th century. And that’s known as the filioque, right? “And the Son.” And we reject that as Orthodox, and we see that as an addition that was not only [not] arrived at in a conciliar fashion, but just isn’t true. Just isn’t true.
And it’s interesting to me, too, that part of what it creates when you say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son—and this is where I’m out of my league in terms of understanding this or certainly being able to articulate it—but you elevate the Son in a way that subordinates the work of the Holy Spirit. So that you look in the West, for example, and I’m not sure you could make a cause and effect. It’s just an observation, possible observation. You’ve had a lot of issues with the Holy Spirit in the Western Church and the charismatic movement and the reaction to the charismatic movement. And I don’t know that that’s really ever been present in the East. You’ve got a few parishes here and there that bought into the charismatic movement, but they really never got any traction. And that’s because the work of the Holy Spirit is really important in the Orthodox Church.
Did you hear what we prayed when we stood up? The very first thing out of our mouth—well, the first thing was “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and then what do we pray? “O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who are in all places and fills all things, the treasury of good things and the giver of life, come and dwell in us, cleanse us from every stain and save our souls, O gracious Lord.” Who’s that prayer to? The Holy Spirit. And every Orthodox Christian, every day, if he’s praying, begins with that prayer. That’s the prominence that the Holy Spirit plays in the life of Orthodox Christianity. And even in the middle of the Liturgy and what’s known as the epiklesis, the priest prays that the Holy Spirit would descend upon the gifts and change them into the Body and Blood of Christ.
So the Holy Spirit has a very real presence in the life of Church. Even “charismatic gifts” in the life of the Church have been present from the beginning. And the difference is between our view of the charismatic gifts is that they’re not just kind of given willy-nilly to whoever wants to exercise them. There’s a correlation with the exercise of those gifts and the devotion or holiness of the one who is given the privilege of exercising those gifts. But you read amazing things, and even when I was in Mt. Athos I saw amazing things. There were supernatural things. Those are a part of the life of the Church. It’s just in the Orthodox Church we don’t make it a circus where that’s the focus. Angela?
Angela: I was raised in a charismatic church where the gift of tongues was kind of a “coming-of-age” badge, as it were, and so that was actually large sticking point for me when we were thinking about becoming Orthodox. I said, “Well, I can’t be a part of this church if they negate the work of the Holy Spirit because I’ve just seen too much of that growing up.” And so, the priest that we were talking to at the time said something that absolutely blew my mind: in that the Orthodox view the Holy Spirit as so holy and even the speaking of tongues as something being so holy that people even don’t consider themselves worthy to acquire that, that it is such a great honor for God himself to be speaking through your mouth? You’d have to be the most holy of persons for that to occur, and so it was very validating for me to hear him say, no, we don’t think that’s all rubbish, we believe that it’s very, very, very holy. And so that was a major turning point for me.
Dn. Michael: Yeah, interesting. And that’s really kind of what I’m saying. You have great elders in the history of the Church, great monastics, people who have pursued the Holy Spirit and become like Christ [who] share in the life of the Spirit so that those gifts and manifestations are made present in their life. So, we don’t believe that they’ve died out. They’re still present in the Church today. It’s just that they’re not just given without discretion.
Notice also here that the Holy Spirit is worthy of worship and glorification. This is why—and really Theodosius after this council proclaimed the Trinitarian faith as the faith of the Empire and so that these Trinitarian formulae that conclude almost every prayer in the Orthodox Church really became the norm. I mean, they were already part and parcel, but he made it official. So that today it’s very rare for us—I mean you can do it, you can pray in the name of Jesus, there’s nothing wrong with that. Certainly there’s biblical example to that, but as Orthodox, customarily, we pray, we conclude our prayers: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” often begin our prayers with that, begin anything. You’ll hear Fr. Stephen or Fr. Bob when they preach and they usually begin: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen,” And then they begin to preach. It’s done in that Triune Name. And the Holy Spirit is every bit God as is the Son.
This is the same Holy Spirit that spoke through the prophets as the creed says. As I said, I don’t remember many bishops, but 36 Macedonian bishops walked out of the council, continued in schism. The same council also issued seven canons—and let me quickly give these to you. First, they affirmed the work of Nicaea, and they condemned the Arians, the semi-Arians, the Sabellians, the Macedonians, a whole list of people that they condemn lest there was any question coming out of Nicaea. They condemn them here, too.
The second canon renews the boundaries placed upon bishops by Nicaea. Bishops were not to operate outside the boundaries of their own diocese. Everyone was to play in their own sandbox. You couldn’t go stealing clergy from other dioceses. You couldn’t make decrees that would affect other dioceses. Everybody had to remain in good order and in their own dioceses.
Third—and this was a really controversial canon—it established that the bishop of Constantinople would have preeminence after the bishop of Rome. Now think about that. So, what’s the big deal there? Well, except that Constantinople was a brand-new city, less than 50 years old. And so, imagine Alexandria and Antioch and Rome, and all of a sudden this upstart new city gets the preeminence after Old Rome. Well, this created a kind of incipient psychological schism early in the Church where it really created some affront. This was controversial for hundreds of years afterwards.
The fourth canon declared invalid the consecration of Maximus of Constantinople who was a cynic philosopher and a rival of Gregory of Nazianzus and really a character. I went on Wikipedia this morning and just read his bio. Gregory calls him a sluggard and just basically one of these guys that liked to have the title of a bishop and wanted the income for life and all this kind of stuff, but was really a plotter and a deceiver, and the council just stripped him. They said, “You’re not a bishop. Anything you’ve done while you were a bishop is invalid.” Boom. End of story.
These first four canons for sure came out of this Second Ecumenical Council. A lot of historians believe the last three came a year later, in 382 at a local council. I don’t think any of them are really of any consequence in the sense that they’re that controversial. The fifth [canon] just… They went on record as accepting a book written by the western bishops about the doctrine of the Trinity. Canon six limited the ability to bring charges against bishops. You just can’t make a charge against somebody in leadership in the Church without corroborating it with appropriate evidence: more than one witness, etc., etc. It was basically designed to keep people from just leveling charges and slandering bishops. And then, Canon seven had details for bringing heretics back into the Church, which, again: the Church’s desire was always to define and then reconcile. So, just because it defined a teaching as heretical, it provided a way back, and this is grace. It’s not like we just write these people off, and there’s no way back. There’s a path of repentance for them to come back.
But I wanted to read this to you. This whole canon, it’s not that long, but I want you to keep in mind now. This is 381, maybe 382 if this canon came a year later, but the end of the fourth century pretty early, not even an agreed-upon canon of the New Testament and the Old Testament at this point. It’s not official. But here’s what it says:
Those who from heresy turned to Orthodoxy and to the portion of those who were being saved, we receive according to the following method and custom. Arians and Macedonians and Sebatians and Novatians who call themselves Kathari or Astori or Quartodecimans or Tetradites (that sounds like a dinosaur my nephew has) [or] the Polinarians, we receive upon their giving a written renunciation of their errors and anathematized every heresy which is not in accordance with the holy catholic and apostolic Church of God.
Now listen to this:
Thereupon, they are first sealed and anointed with the holy oil on the forehead, eyes, nostrils, head, mouth, and ears, and when we seal them, we say, “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
This is 381. The rite of chrismation which we practice today, and this is as ancient as the canon of Scripture.
But Eunomians who are baptized with only one immersion and Montanists who are called Phrygians and Sabellians who teach the identity of the Father and the Son and do sundry other mischievous things and all other heresies for there are many such here, particularly those who come from the country of the Galatians, all these when they desire to turn to Orthodoxy, we receive as heathen.
So all those who had been baptized according to the Orthodox form, we’re going to receive them by chrismation. But these other guys who have a really goofy doctrine of the Trinity, Sabellians and others who were Modalists: no. They haven’t been baptized. We’re not counting their baptism. We regard them as heathens.
On the first day, we make them Christians. On the second day, catechumens. On the third, we exorcise them by breathing thrice on their face and ears, and thus we instruct them and oblige them to spend some time in the Church and hear the Scriptures and then we baptize them.
These rites that we observe in the Orthodox Church are ancient. You know, this wasn’t something concocted by medieval Christianity. This is an ancient practice of the Church. That’s the point I guess I want to make. To me, it gives me comfort in the fact that this isn’t a faith that we invented. It isn’t a faith where we can point back a hundred years or 150 years or 300 years or 500 years, but well over 1000 years. Annabeth?
Annabeth: I just want to ask when you say those who were baptized according to the Orthodox rite of baptism do you mean specifically triple immersion or do you mean: “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”? Because I’ve heard different things on that, like a lot of priests will say if you were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then that counts, but do you actually have to be dunked three times like we are?
Dn. Michael: I would say, first of all, I’m not sure there’s consensus on that in modern practice, but I can say in our jurisdiction and most of the SCOBA bishops today that being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whether it’s triple immersion or single immersion is sufficient. There’s not consensus. You find others that disagree. But the key thing is: “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Okay? Thank you.