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Eastern Orthodox TheologyThe swing to Eastern Orthodoxy

Today there is huge and growing interest in the Eastern Orthodox Church, especially among evangelicals, who are transferring to it in significant numbers, particularly in America.

Eastern Orthodox Theology by Daniel Clendenin (Paternoster, 2003, ISBN 0-8010-2651-2) brings together a series of essays by Orthodox theologians on a variety of doctrinal aspects. These include the place of tradition, apophatic theology (defining God by what he is not rather than by what he is), the doctrine of theosis ('deification'), iconography, authority, the notorious filioque clause and the sacraments.

I found myself warmed by much of it while, at the same time, my warmth was tempered by what I know from experience to be some major outward manifestations of the EO Church: formality, ritualism, nationalism and arrogance. But you must read it for yourself and reach your own conclusions. Here are a few extracts.

The Orthodox approach to religion is fundamentally a liturgical approach, which understands doctrine in the context of divine worship.  (p13)

In no way is the efficacy of the sacrament contingent upon the faith or moral qualifications of either celebrant or recipient… The Orthodox Church believes that divine grace is not dispensed outside of the true church, and thus the church does not recognise in their fulness sacramental acts which are performed outside of her.  (p22)

Unshakable faith in Christ's divinity is precisely the reason why, in its icons, the Orthodox Church never represents him simply as a man who suffers physically, as is the case in Western religious art.  (p35)  —some icons are very beautiful indeed. To see some click here.

The church sees in her [Mary] the Mother of God, who, without being a substitute for the one Mediator, intercedes before her Son for all humanity. We ceaselessly pray to her to intercede for us.  (p66)

The veneration of relics…is founded on faith in a special connection between the spirit of the saint and his human remains, a connection which death does not destroy. In the case of the saints the power of death is limited; their souls do not altogether leave their bodies, but remain present in spirit and in grace in their relics, even in the smallest portion. The relics are bodies already glorified in earnest of the general resurrection, although still awaiting that event. They have the same nature as that of the body of Christ in the tomb, which, although it was dead, deserted by the soul, and awaiting resurrection, still was not altogether abandoned by his divine spirit.  (p71)

Tradition is not the content of revelation, but the light that reveals it; it is not the word, but the living breath which makes the words heard at the same time as the silence from which it came; it is not the truth, but a communication of the Spirit of truth, outside which the truth cannot be received.  (p133)

The fact that God himself becomes man and takes on human nature, making it divine by uniting it with his own divine nature and raising it up to the throne of God, cries out in the most eloquent manner the truth with Athanasius formulated: 'God became man, so that we might be made gods.'  (p185)

According to the tradition and teaching of the Eastern Orthodox Church, grace and human freedom are expressed concurrently and may not be understood the one without the other. There are not two separate moments. At the same time that a person freely makes the decision from within for the good and for the Christian life, at the very same moment divine grace comes and strengthens him.  (p190) —a nice way of dodging the Calvinist vs. Arminian controversy!

There is no separation, no division, between the church invisible and the visible church, the latter being the expression and the actualisation of the former, the sacramental sign of its reality.  (p198)

The most important reasons why evangelicals are leaving their churches appear to be a growing hunger for liturgical worship, a desire for connectedness to historic Christianity, and the search for a historic consensus of truth.  (p213)

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