Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Response to Dr. Carson--Thoughts on the Orthodox Catholic Faith--Part II

Part II(of III)


by Sophocles Frangakis
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Much of what I wanted to explain in my essay to Jay involved the misunderstanding of the Eastern mind by the West and I faintly tried to build a bridge between our two camps stating that the Christian Faith is Eastern in origin and this in fact, not in opinion.




And because of this, Orthodoxy, in this preservation of this "easterness" is the direct link to the "concept" of personhood which resonates and plugs into the Faith and most makes it come alive as it, the Faith, came into the world at a very particular time and place in the event of the Incarnation of our Lord and Saviour.



The person hood encased in this culture(I am not speaking of "encased" here in a static sense as a mummy is encased to preserve the mummy that it may not undergo change or become corrupt but "encase" for my purpose here denotes a particular state of being or mode of personhood which has perpetuated itself forward from the point in time of the Lord's Incarnation but which also draws backwards from before the Incarnation "horizontally"--meaning from and into this plane where we as creatures dwell and "vertically" into the Mind and Will of God from and unto the Endless Ages of Ages) which Orthodoxy "brings forward" to the present hour - to this very moment you are reading the Divine Presence energizes this sentence and bids the one who may hearken to:



"Enter in.

Come, do not be afraid.

Know Me.

I am altogether Other than thou."



Note also that the word chosen to best encapsulate the ineffable fact that God, without limit and uncontainable, in the tabernacling in this world through the adding of a body to the Divine Nature, became "Incarnate". The word conveys not just noun; as in simply stating an object or fact in and of itself, but the word implies verb, as in that at the same time this Being took on body as noun, this noun used by the Being is also the Being's covering as "He lives and moves and has His being in God"(Acts 17:28).




"Incarnation" being the noun form of "Incarnate" or "to Incarnate". Therby implying the ever present incarnating of the Being, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity forward and into the time/space ever present and ever flowing continum in which we mortals dwell and in a form which we mortals may "comprehend". Being in this form, the Being encases His unlimitedness to mirror our own limitedness that when He communicates, He, the Logos of the Father may communicate the Father to us in the very medium He now tabernacles in. He does this in a body created for this medium yet adds to the body its original "energy", that of our first estate of the body inhabited by the spirit which has not been stained with sin.



I add the above few paragraphs to once again illustrate the nature of personhood understood and grasped by the Church from its beginning. To dispense with this understanding of personhood is to dispense with the substance of the Faith as given by God to Man. It is a very specific human condition the Church has in mind when approaching the broken human creature which needs healing through union -salvation- with and in Christ as He is united in essence[love being the essence "For God is Love"(1 John 4:8)] with the Father and the Holy Spirit.




I added a link to my post to Jay and I will add it again because I feel it to have so much value in the aiding of the understanding of what we Orthodox Catholics term often "the Mind of the Church":







If you did not read it in my last post to Jay, I urge and prevail upon you to do so now; not of compulsion but as a friend. It is a wonderful article especially if you would sincerely like to understand the Mind of the Orthodox Catholic Church and why when discussing matters of the Church and faith, we are often saying very different things using the very same words.




And I will quote what I wrote in my original article to Jay here, in part, once again to hopefully alleviate some of the differences we find in our approach to "knowledge":



"Orthodoxy, nay, the Christian Faith is "Eastern" in origin and hence the misunderstanding invariably arises for the mind shaped in the western model to "understand" Orthodoxy. Person hood is understood differently in the East as well as salvation. Orthodoxy maintains this "easterness" and draws from this different ontological soil in speaking to the West.

"The East finds itself constantly having to "define" itself cataphatically, a way She is not comfortable with, to the West, and cannot be made sense of except by the one entering the Church as through a veil, behind the outer appearance and into Her Being, being immersed in Her.

"In one sense I found it strange that Jay, taking to task the East for taking to task the West in many areas, would not ...posit the possibility of an existence of a history as held by the East as perhaps the true history in that the West, in its seeming victory in its imposition of its worldview and mindset, gets to tell the story from its own perspective.

"The East, as the one transplanted here and only really just beginning to grow, is having to adopt the Western structure out of necessity that a dialogue may take place between both.

As the newcomer, it must by necessity use the West's structure and grid and terminology within which the West, as its creator and user, has become long accustomed to and at home in knowing how to wield its armaments properly and adeptly to ward off any sortie by the East into its consciousness and hegemony for control of information."



I wrote the above in that article to Jay in the hope of Jay and whoever read the post to better understand why the East is misunderstood in regards to the Christian Faith. Scott went right ahead and misunderstood anyway.




That's ok. I don't say this in derision but as an example to point out how easy it is to do this, to gloss over in print a heavy duty subject which requires pages of written material to even begin to explain. And even then the "understanding" could only be effected experientially.



The Western mind tends to rush off, to wish to immediately solve, to make sense of.




I say this because I too am possesed of a "Western" mind. I have observed my own thoughts and also how I tend to echo the culture and its people which make it up within my own being.



We are for the quick fix, the quick solution, the fifteen second sound bite on the news from which we believe we have garnered all the information necessary to make informed and convicted analysis on very complex subjects.




We get fed one strand of the totality of the information possible(and from a point of view of the choice of the one presenting the strand to boot) and once again the Great Mosaic is left hastily and incompletely handled and examined.



We rush out of ourselves into that which is not us because here is the distraction pined for, the one less moment spent out of ourselves. Truth to tell, ourselves can at times be beyond endurance.




(Try sitting in your home alone for one hour without the TV, radio, Internet or whatever to occupy your attention and grab you out of yourself. Stay still and seek not out of yourself. It can be difficult. Perhaps impossible.)



As a Western man I can say here that I approach the Faith in the same way. I want to be "Instant" Christian. Roadblocks to my development in the Faith try my patience and at times the desire to walk away completely shows itself. I want what I want and that, yesterday.




My mind is always in search of looking outward and this happens unwittingly and seemingly uncontrollably. I have the urge to always rush out of myself to whatever draws my attention.



My mind and being, by its own volition(it seems) sends out tentacles and trip wires into the fabric of its surroundings and does not merely stay within the bounds of its immediate surroundings(let alone within me) but even sends out these psychic tendrils into the fabric of that which may occur as well as the fabric of that which might occur if that which might occurs, occurs. As well these psychic tendrils enter into the persons around me or who may soon be around me and these psychic tendrils also send back to my person stimuli which form thoughts about the events in which I find myself in and which I perceive vaguely as having their source in the Person of persons. So they exude into the time/space ever present and ever flowing continuum constantly and chaotically.




I of course am not speaking of the man or woman who has trained himself or herself through the ascetic disciplines of the Church to stay within their person. This person has observed these tentacles coming forth from within himself and has battled them and is battling them that they may obey his spirit and rather not that the spirit should be shaken and moved by each one of their chaotic gestations into the time/space ever present and ever flowing continuum.



By observation (and with myself included), I believe the Western Christian spirit, having lost patience with the necessity of the sheer work required to develop, nurture and grow the spiritual life (the aspect of the spiritual life I have in mind here in the Orthodox Catholic manner is ascesis-man's struggle to keep the commandments of Christ) has incorporated into itself by necessity(not treating the illness of the human condition as it, the human condition, was encountered and healed by Christ - in other words the "reverse" of not knowing God as He is. Here, in this "reverse" we misunderstand and therby misdiagnose the spiritual life when the human condition as it is was encountered by Christ and by His athletes: His Apostles and then by the Holy Fathers of the Church struggling in ascesis to live in Christ. They, as "scientists of the spirit" knew themselves to be as the Gospel and all the Holy Scriptures testify of Man. They "knew" not in theory alone but in the hard fought praxis of the attempt at living out the commandments of Christ) this denaturing of the fullness of the Faith; pouring into the spiritual life its own impatient and easy to attain desires and goals. Its own icon or image in other words.



And here, once again I pause to once again state(in the context of my above sentence) that the Faith is separate and distinct from my person and that there is a real Faith to be experienced and known by my person; that it is something that can be engaged, embraced, lived, or left completely alone.




In contrast the Eastern mind, (please bear in mind that I, possesed of a Western mind as I stated, have been working on acquiring this "Eastern" mind from within which, again as I stated , the Gospel sprang from and finds its fulfillment in-and also please note-it is something separate and distinct from me)infused with a very robust ascetism as given to it and preserved in its Holy Fathers is much more involved in the doing of that given to it(that given it being the knowledge of the human person as "encased" at the time of the Christian Faith coupled with this knowledge being the basis and source for the living of the Gospel for the purpose of achieving Union with Christ-salvation) as medicine to effect healing the broken human condition in the God Man.



Romans Chapter 6




1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?


2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?


3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?


4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.


5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,


6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.


7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.


8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,


9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.


10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.


11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.


13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.


14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.


15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!


16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slave whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?


17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.


18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.


19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.


20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.


21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.


22 But now, having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.


23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.


To somehow dimly illustrate what I am attempting to convey in the juxtaposition of the Western Mind and the Eastern Mind I offer this observation.



What I have seen often in online dialogues is the taking of the Fathers and the attempt to always place them into "system" or "framework". Someone on some site mentions "Father of the Church" x and what I have observed is the rushing off of those involved in the dialogue on both sides to place Father x into some kind of framework or system.



Unwitttingly, because in the West we have grown accustomed to handling information in the manner of instant analysis and dissection, by rushing off and placing the Father in "system" or "framework" we fossilize their divinized person and theryby make them safe and controllable, not demanding on us to shake us from our selfish and self enclosed existence. We take the Fathers down from the bookshelf and when they serve our purposes we return them to the bookshelf. We therefore remain bookshelf theologians and not theologians as Saint Evagrius defines a theologian:




"A theologian is he who prays and he who prays is a theologian."





When I see the East being the East, with the same Fathers I witness another phenomenom, that rather then taking the Father and placing him into "system" or "framework" and fossilizing his divinized person, the concern is more:



"How do I carry out what he's talking about?




" Is what he's saying possible?




" Is there someone who can show me how to do this or offer guidance being as this Father I have just read lived at a different time and place. And not only that, different circumstances brought about his vantage point which may be wholly other than my own and therefore it would not be wise to make the attempts at the life he speaks of without guidance?"




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READ PART I OF THIS ARTICLE:

READ PART III OF THIS ARTICLE:

7 comments:

Andrea Elizabeth said...

Sophocles,

I have a sense that personal freedom is the thing that is hard to handle when becoming an Eastern Christian. Calvinism certainly negates this, and without freedom there is no responsibility. It is also my impression that Catholicism offers a certain deliverance from freedom as well as seen in Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor and in how I read their ideas of the Church's power to bind and loose. Freedom from freedom is also in their ideas of guaranteed succession regardless of the maintenance of the faith once delivered.

Freedom means that I choose intimacy with God by denying myself and my impulsive desires, in order to gain relationship with God who is unchanging. I think in the western quest for knowledge we are continually searching for something new to surprise us. We fear sitting still and dwelling in what we already have - life in Christ. Not that this implies passivity. But in letting Him show us ourselves, we stop and look and have to decide against entertainment and thrills. We have to learn a new way - courage to say no to distracting stimuli - that is the beginning of repentance. To learn that it's not about exciting ecstasy - though Eastern Ascetics do speak of attaining a certain state of that, I think it is different than what westerners imagine. We also fear pain. We have to learn that pain is not to be avoided at all cost and pleasure is not to be sought at all cost. These sensations are not It. They must be subjugated through determining that we will seek Christ no matter what, and let Him sort out the effects. "Thou He slay me, yet will I trust Him," as Job says. Not that we seek out suffering either. We just seek Christ. We have to relearn what love and life is. We've been looking for them in all the wrong places.

It is hard when our friends and family wont come with us though. I pray that Jay changes his mind. Some are like the rich young ruler and we watch them go away with sadness. Hey, Luke 18 begins with, "Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary."

Sophocles said...

Andrea,

Your observations are so spot on.

The attaining of ecstacy is I perceive altogether different than what we in the West believe it to be. Perhaps one of the elements of this ecstacy is once having been set free from the necessity of being surprised and finding something new, we may also cease from our surprise of experiencing this new liberty.

And I agree with you about the existential conundrum the human being faces in dealing with freedom and that actually, we fear freedom and are not at ease in it.

St. Paul speaks of the great liberty to be enjoyed by the sons of God in Christ.

Your observation about Catholicism's filling the need for the giving up of human freedom speaks to the "natural" bent of the fallen condition which gravititates towards the passions, or passivity in it is easier to be a slave to an external authority(and therefore have all your needs taken care of by someone else) than to be a slave of Christ in God in that we are called to put on Christ(He, Himself with all that that encapsulates in His freedom of offering Himself willingly to His Father and to His Father's will).

Jay Dyer said...

Sophocles,

Hope you are well. I have heard many times in Orthodox circles the standard criticisms you have given: we are too scholastic, "western" minded, too cataphatic, too academic, etc. And so, to solve all this, all reply we must have an "eastern," "orthodox mind," which usually ends up meaning "stop quoting church fathers to me that back up your position."

I don't mean to be rude, but I've read enough Eastern Fathers with the intent of imbuing myself in their Faith (and not just academia) to know that actively engaged in a quite philosophical apologetic. All Eastern Orthodox must admit that St. John Damascene is also a father of medieval scholasticism: he's one of the most quoted in St. Thomas' Summa. To this and examples such as the Confession of Dositheos, it is often replied, "well, those all mean different things to us: you have encased them in a false, western context."

I don't buy any of this. Are Uniates western minded? What about Coptic Catholics? How could that even exist, given your analysis? My love is for both East and West, and in Pauline fashion, I exhort you to consider that Christ's true Church is neither East nor West, but surpasses them both, being universal. Doesn't it seem that the true Church would be able to transcend the confines of this elusive, "eastern mind" that everyone harps about, but elevates to almost an impossible attainment?
Must I move to Athos to truly know Christ? How have you not now fallen into your own criticism that we prefer "place" to the faith?

Jay

John said...

I believe the issue between East and West lies in something deeper that being East and West. The Eastern mind is not more Orthodox because it is Eastern but because the Eastern Churches continue to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit as He is specifically present in the Church since Pentecost. This presence remains in the Eastern Churches but not in those that were once in the West. The real difference of mind is between that of the Spirit and that of the flesh. It could well have been the other way around if the East had moved from the Catholic (Orthodox) Faith and the West remained faithful. Earlier one can see the same mind both in Eastern and Western Churches.

The effects of the loss of the Spirit can be seen in the way that theology and especially the ascetic struggle are approached as a general trend, exceptions I am sure can be found. The academic approach to the Fathers reflects this as well as forms of monastic life and church structure. This does not mean that there are not many sincere people in the west trying to follow the way of Christ but, being outside the Church, this following of Christ lacks the depth of Life and experience that is known in the East, although it may still be that much of the way of thinking of the Fathers can be maintained to a degree, such as in the Uniate churches. Of course, to those that have not experienced the depth of Life in the Spirit, it is difficult to see how "champions of faith" may be possibly less true Christians than the Saints. Who can tell the potential of humanity even without the Spirit, consider Buddhist and other ascetics and gurus. Very impressive by some standards. But in Christ? I struggle to see that this would be the case.

I believe that the Christian Faith is unified and in some sense able to be "systematised" but it cannot be contained in a system nor is it a system as such because it is a person, Christ. St John of Damascus demonstrates this well. The Church encompasses the fullness of humanity thought and understanding but it is not limited to being mere philosophy. In other words, it can be philosophical but not limited to being a school of philosophy.

The Church is indeed neither Eastern nor Western as the Saints in the West testify. It is Catholic. Yet, this does not mean that all those claiming to be Christian are indeed in the Church nor that the present western "churches" are in fact Churches in Christ. If they were then there would be a genuine oneness of mind with the Churches in the East but I don't see this. The true Church is not captive to the "eastern mind" but the "eastern mind", of which is talked, is the mind of the Spirit because this is where the Catholic Churches are found. Outside the Life of the Church this mind is indeed elusive; it cannot be understood fully outside the Church but enough can be grasped to bring one into the Church.

The Church being the Incarnate presence of Christ has place even though it is able to be in all places. It is not only something that is restricted to the East but presently its Churches are largely found there, although Orthodox Churches are now found in all parts of the world with "western" members. Thus, the Church has place and so in a sense so has Faith but it is not restricted to a particular place whether it be Jerusalem or Rome.

Sophocles said...

Jay,

Thank you, I am doing well. I hope you are also.

Several things.

Quickly, I wish you to know how this essay came into being so that first and foremost it may not be construed by you in a personal fashion as against you or your decision.

I wrote my initial response to your "Retraction" and was content to leave it at that.

When Professor Carson wrote his article, "Real Catholics" and used my essay as a backdrop for his own article's intent, this set off many ideas inside me that I felt needed to be put in print to better help my own understanding.

I was able to do this because at just about this time I was hospitalized and the recovery time(out of work) was over three weeks.
This gave me the precious commodity I previously lacked(time) to undetake a response of Dr. Carson's response of my response to your "Retraction".

As I began writing I realized I had alot to say and that one post containing the whole article would be too long. That is why I have notified you each time there has been a different post.

As of now, I am still working on the third part and I may do a 4th if I feel it is warranted.

The initial impetus to spur this writing was that in his article, Dr. Carson missed my speaking of a Faith which was not dependent on Place, though again, the two may converge and subsist in time and space. I used this to speak specifically of Professor Carson's use of something I said in my original article to something you spoke of in your "Retraction"(this tracing itself is sort of complex- Whew!) The quote of mine he alluded to:

"The citations Jay provides were written at a time when Rome herself was indeed Orthodox, and from the high remarks lavished on her in lieu not only of her position as the First See but also because of her exemplary Orthodoxy and the keeping of that one salvific Faith preserved and undiminished when other Sees were beset with heresy.

Rome was Orthodox and this is why the East "tolerated" her position because they were brethren, confessing one and the same Faith together and gladly accorded primacy, as it, primacy, existed then in its proper context."


I spoke on "Faith" and "Place" to speak of specifically of there being a such thing as a Faith to be had which did not necessarily(though it does not exclude)necessitate it subsisting in Place and this with the above quote Dr. Carson used as the context to make once again the statement that the Faith Rome once held is the Faith still maintained by the Church today which calls itself "Orthodox".

As you noticed I did not offer by way of explanation how Rome ceased to be Orthodox but the record shows historically that what today the "West" regards as "Eastern", or "Orthodox" is in fact the "West's" Mother Faith, or Original Faith.

So in this sense I believe you have misunderstood of this Faith as being something separate and distinct which one may have or possess or not. I think this may offer some explanatory power by way of your using the Uniates and Coptic Catholics as a way of collapsing two separate themes running through these two first parts(though they are not unrelated), namely, speaking of the Faith and secondly speaking of the "Mind of the Church" or the "Eastern Mind" into one theme>

I am developing two separate and distinct ideas here.

I believe John's post, the one after yours has great merit and fills in significant gaps in what I did not say in speaking of this Eastern Mind.

And to further note, just because this "Mind of the Church" is elusive is not to say that it does not exist nor that it is impossible to attain.

This "Mind" in Eastern writing is synonymous with the "Mind of Christ" which the great ascetical masters have shown is possible to possess as the Gospel commands us to possess this Mind.

And yes, I too hold that Christ's Church and Her Faith does transcend East and West.

I may in the future elaborate further on this theme of "East" and "West" more along the lines of John's post.

Sophocles said...

John,

Thank you for your comments. I am in complete agreement with everything you said

What I was attempting to capture in this post in part was the view or condition of the human being at the very specific point in time the Lord became Incarnate and to convey that another reason this Faith we speak of and hold is called "Orthodox" is not only does it properly maintain and proclaim God in the Persons of the Trinity in their Nature and relation One to Another but that also the correct, or "Orthodox" view of the human condition as encountered by Christ is also properly maintained and proclaimed. Without this condition what it means to "be saved" is itself in danger of being fully known and experienced by Fallen Man.

I think you rightly point out that "East and West" is far deeper than to merely imply geography but you ably point out what I hope I showed in the first part of my essay of there being a such thing as a Faith not necessarily contingent on which Place that Faith presently subsists in.

You state:

"It could well have been the other way around if the East had moved from the Catholic (Orthodox) Faith and the West remained faithful."

I appreciate your comments in regards to philosophy and its use or purpose in and by the Church.

As well, a very good observation about how the East and West shared that one Mind at one time but now do not and this being an evidence or proof that indeed we are possessed of a different faith.

Sophocles said...

Also,

John and Jay,

I am not against systemitising per se but I hold to your view, John, above.