I have great interest in Eastern Orthodoxy. I have no intention of converting but I would very much like to understand this particular manifestation of the historic Christian faith. There are things like their synergistic view of salvation that I completely disagree with but I would like to understand them better. Unfortunately, every time I think I am starting to understand them I run into a giant wall of mud.
My most recent attempt to understand Eastern Orthodoxy involved a conversation I was having on another blog about the Synod of Jerusalem (1672) which met to refute the Calvinistic teachings of The Eastern Confession of the Christian Faith (1629) by the Patriarch of Constantinople Cyril Lucar. Timothy Ware, Pelikan, and other Orthodox scholars that I've read write under the assumption that Lucar was a Calvinist and that he did author these documents. Other Orthodox scholars deny that Lucar could have ever written such a thing. After reading the arguments for and against I find the arguments that Hadjiantoniou makes that Lucar is the author of this document pretty strong. Kevin Edgecomb has a very interesting blog and disagrees with me but his argument that Lucar could not have written this confession seems to beg the question. Kevin argues that this is a forgery done by a Calvinist. But it seems to me that if this were so, the Confession would also conform to Calvinist teaching on sacraments and the icons but it definitely does not. Kevin says that an Orthodox writer would never write such a document with "bare listings of Biblical citations as evidence." But if Lucar was drinking from the wells of Geneva as those who believe he wrote this document claim, isn't it possible that he might start writing as they did? He seems to be someone who didn't buy into the entire Calvinistic system but who appreciated the reverence that they had for Scripture and came to believe certain things that they did that were not specifically addressed in the Seven Ecumenical Councils.
Perhaps I'm completely wrong in my belief that Lucar is the author of this document but that wouldn't make the wall that I ran into any less muddier. The Synod of Jerusalem not only addresses the false teachings of Calvinists, it also addresses the supposedly false teachings of Lutherans. I've often wondered what authority this document has for Orthodox Christians. Kevin Edgecomb claims that this is not considered an Ecumenical Council but it is ecumenically received and has ecumenical application. Decree 17 says:
In the celebration of this sacrament we believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is present, not typologically...nor by impanation, so that the divinity of the Word would be united hypostaticallly to the bread of the Eucharist that is set forth, as the followers of Luther most ignorantly and wretchedly suppose...
The Lutheran Confessions explicitly reject impanation. If I claim that someone else is ignorant because they believe something and they do not really believe that thing wouldn't that mean that I am actually the ignorant one? Later on Decree 17 says:
The body and blood are present, not by superhuman grace...nor by impanation, as though the body of the Lord, being infinite, perhaps by being united with the divinity of the Only-begotten, is also united to the bread that is set forth in the eucharist, so that the bread is body and the wine blood by a metonymy and not by a change (as the madness of Luther claimed)...
I can't find anywhere that Luther teaches any of this nonsense. This amounts to nothing but slander and if anyone reads a treatise by Luther on the Sacrament of the Altar and comes away thinking that Luther was teaching that "the bread is body and the wine blood by metonymy" then that person is truly mad.
Decree 15 says:
We believe that there are in the church sacraments of the Gospel, and that they are seven in number...any number of the sacraments other than seven is the product of heretical madness.
However, some Eastern Orthodox believe that numbering the sacraments is a false teaching. Wouldn't that mean that Orthodox folks who believe we should not number the sacraments are mad heretics?
Decree 18 asks the question:
Ought the Divine Scriptures be read in the vernacular by all Christians?
No. For that all Scripture is divinely inspired and profitable we know, and it is of such necessity that without it it is impossible to be Orthodox at all. Nevertheless it should not be read by everyone, but only by those who with fitting research have inquired into the deep things of the Spirit and who know in what manner Divine Scripture ought to be searched, taught, and read. But to those who are not prepared this way, or who cannot distinguish, or who understand what is contained in Scripture only in a literal way or in any other way contrary to Orthodoxy, the catholic church, knowing by experience the mischief arising from this, forbids them to read it. Thus it is indeed permitted to all Orthodox to hear the Scripture, that they may believe with the heart unto righteousness and confess with the mouth unto salvation; but to read some parts of the Scripture, and especially of the Old Testament, is forbidden for the reasons mentioned and for other similar reasons. For prohibiting unprepared persons from reading all of Sacred Scripture is the same as requiring infants to abstain from solid food.
I agree that Scripture should be read and studied within the context of the church but the above goes much farther and would seem to make both the EOB and the OSB heretical projects. Why would you want to encourage even more people to read the Bible in the vernacular if you believe what the Decree says above? Shouldn't Orthodox bookstores require people who buy Bibles to prove that they are under the guidance of a priest?
Article 17 teaches transubstantiation but I've heard modern Orthodox theologians reject the term for the same reasons that Lutherans reject the term.
There is even disagreement in the Eastern Orthodox church as to who is a "heretic." I've been listening to an interesting podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. In it, Fr. Andrew defines various terms and talks rightly defends the teaching that what we believe about determines what kind of god we worship. He explains that only someone who was once part of the true church can rightly be called a "heretic." Kevin Edgecomb applies the label to Martin Luther which would only make sense if the Eastern Orthodox taught that the Roman Catholic Church was the true church. Obviously, Edgecomb does not mean this but everything gets pretty muddy when different definitions are attached to the same word.
A convert from Lutheranism to Eastern Orthodoxy wrote "There is No Lutheran Church." But if the same type of criteria were applied to the Eastern Orthodox Church we would have to conclude that "There is No Orthodox Church." It is certainly true that the Eastern Orthodox Church has done a better job than any other denomination in adhering to its own confessions among very diverse peoples but it does not have the complete adherence that it claims to have. Those who confess "one holy catholic and apostolic church" will have to either conclude that it's a myth or that it's something other than what the Eastern Orthodox claim it is. The author of "There is No Lutheran Church" presents some legitimate problems within Lutheranism along with some misunderstandings. We should pray that these inconsistencies be removed from the Lutheran church.
Collectively, as church bodies we should never be gazing about the church bodies around us and saying, "Thank God that we are not like these other denominations..."
We must always be beating our breasts and saying, "God be merciful to us sinners. Purge out the heresies that we practice."