Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My Unposted but Not Forgotten Response to Father Gregory Jensen

 By Sophocles Frangakis

Last week Father Gregory, on Koinonia, posted a piece, "A Review of Realism of Glory, by James L. Kelly". 

I am posting this because the comments were closed by Father Gregory.  During his closing them, I was busy working on a response to him which he provided in the comment section to me. I spent about three hours working on it and was handicapped by the fact that the first 50 comments(of 61) were not vieweable(except for Aaron of Logismoi who somehow managed to do this). 

So I'm working on the thing and finally I'm satisfied that I'm done.  I go and press "SUBMIT" and am told that the comments are closed.  UGH!! 

Well anyway, I e-mailed Father Gregory asking if I could somehow deposit that comment there but he had decided for good that he would not accept anymore comments.  I understand that and respect that but I was left with what to do with my comment.  I forgot about it until today. I am currently writing a review of "Orthodox Apologetic Theology" by I.M. Andreyev and writing it I was reminded of my comment as some of what I had intended on Father Gregory's site was related to my thoughts on this book.

As well, since that post of Father Gregory's, he posted a few more things related to that post and why he closed it.  Those pieces of his are "Please Forgive Me" and "Some Thoughts About Polemics".  I disagree with Father Gregory still in regard to our differing stance on the Church but I would like to add that I understand where he's coming from.  As well, he wrote a very gracious reply to me so I would like to make it clear here that I am not posting this polemically contra Father but rather as a sort of stand alone post relating to some of the themes brought up on his site.  If I thought this post made any sense apart from its context on Father's site, I would not even mention him as he has made it clear that this subject for him is closed right now.

"So Father Gregory, forgive me but I think you'll understand why I'm posting this.  If it in any way offends you, please let me know and I will remove it or edit it and make it a true stand alone piece."

So anyway, I'm just going to re-post my comment as I had written it that night without any further editing as now I have the option to view all 61 comments.  As well, the careful reader may discern that I appropriated many of the others' comments' material in my below comment.  I don't want to spend anymore time on it so I will post it and let it stand.


I'm still not able to access the previous bulk of comments so what follows will rely mainly on impressions I gained from reading (mostly) Father Gregory's and the Ochlophobist.  I was intending to return here and more deeply absorb everything written thus far but oh well.


Simply a brilliant and well thought out reply as always.

Father Gregory,

Thank you for your response.  I mention again that it is frustrating to me right now to respond because there are a few "cut and pastes" I would like to have done with your comments and utilizing the Ochlophobist's comment as well in my own. 

Be that as it may,  I will attempt some kind of reply.

At the outset I would like to say that my point here is not to win an argument.  In fact, I recognize that many reading here dwarf my own abilities and learning.

Having only flirted with Father John Romanides' works, I can not with authority comment on how academic he was but I am slightly inclined to believe he might be more so than he is being given credit for.  However, what you(Ochlophobist)  may have in mind is a certain definition of "academic" which he does not fit.  That being said, I would bring to our attention that neither was Saint Paul "academic" in his writings but this gives them no less weight. What I am not trying to say by using Saint Paul as an example is that I am equating Father John's writings on the same level but rather pointing to the fact that writings to be true, so far as they go, do not necessarily need to have footnotes, sources and other such conventions attached to them.  Using Saint Paul further, we may also remember that he was trained classically not only in Hellenism but in his Hebrew culture and tradition.  When he converted, he utilized his former learning, not being able to discard it, in a fashion commensurate with the Gospel and its spread and defense.  He did not unlearn what was his in his former life but rather what was his became not his but the Lord's.  He ceased identifying himself with the learned wisdom of his day even though he earned the title of "fool" for the speaking of a new language as a new man.   With this I am not disparaging learning or academia but I am saying that study and learning are like everything else meant to be taken to the Cross(following Father Stephen's post loosely) and given their meaning and telos.

Now understandably, what I think is being argued about Father John's academia is that he is not fitting into a mold typically associated with what is commonly understood to be "academia".  I am not in a position to determine this nor in regards to many of the other authors cited as I think many on here are far more read in certain areas than I am.

But following the Ochlophobist, it should be noted that Orthodox across the spectrum have identified error with Augustinian-ism is evident.  Now, how each writer/thinker/academic/lay person has dealt with said error is not uniform nor should it be if we take the uniqueness of each of our own hypostases into the equation.  That is, we each do not necessarily handle any one given mundane problem in our own personal lives the same way, even though the *same* problems find each of us out and require action on our part.  The action is an act of our personal use of our will and this is unique and given anew to circumstances as they occur and not always according to systematic, "one size fits all" approaches. 

This is to say that, for instance, if Igumen Alexander Golitzin is a boxer and he encounters Augustinian-ism, he may be the polished prizefighter that adeptly jabs at his opponent and elegantly uses refined methods according to his person and training.  But another fighter, say Father John Romanides, is the slugger who just gets up close, really personal, and "all in". Each fighter, as in real prize fighters, may have entirely different motives for fighting.  But they have in common that there is an opponent over against themselves that must be contended with.  As well, each fighter is free to determine to what level he will defeat his opponent.  One may simply wish the cessation of hostility with as little damage done to the other as possible.  The other may wish to utterly annihilate the opponent.  What I am not saying with this line of reasoning is that I necessarily condone any scenario or that I am implying that Golitzin, Romanides, Louth et. al are any one of the categories I have set forth.

One of the points I am trying to make, following John Sanidopoulos, is that you yourself, Father, are utilizing polemics to stave off the perceived attack against what you believe is unfair against Roman Catholicism.  One of the first comments on this post was from Ben in which you agreed with his comment with a certain glee because he agreed with you.  You said something to the effect of "OUCH! But true!"  I in fact do not fault you for this but actually commend you. But I fault you, and I think not unfairly, that you find it "polemic" to question Roman Catholicism.  Your contention, if I am reading you correctly, is that Roman Catholicism does not constitute "a foe".  What I mean by "foe" I think will be better explained with the following.

To simply make a statement, any statement about anything, is to be "polemic".  Meaning, a statement represents a spoken SOMETHING which in order for the spoken SOMETHING to have any kind of meaning, it is differentiated from that which is not of it, the statement.  The differentiation, when spoken about and in its essence, necessarily implies that it is not something other than it is which sets it in "opposition" to that which is not.

My original foray into this discussion was not to defend Father John Romanides as again, I have not read him. My present response is evolved from what has previously been said on here and I am attempting to remember the impressions of your comments as well as the others'.

I do recognize today two very distinct camps in Orthodoxy.  I do not with this imply that each of the camps is monolithic and homogeneous.  Where I am going with is that unlike before in my life in the Church, I have staked out my own ground  and choose to associate with those "like me" and to oppose(not "violently" of course) those that I believe, when speaking on the Orthodox Church and Faith that do not follow the Holy Fathers and the bounds they have laid down.  They, the Fathers having purified themselves to a degree which is well attested to by not only their writings but in the testimony others spoke of them, are worthy of our respect and our heeding in not exceeding the bounds of our Church into the bounds of others.  I think where you and I disagree in this is that you ascribe "Church" to the Roman Catholic Church where I and others do not and therein lies the contention and where you yourself must necessarily utilize polemics to contend that the Roman Catholic Church is indeed "Church" and that I and those like minded like me are in error.  My point in this is not to go down the all too familiar route of debate on these matters in which I do not expect you to budge one bit in your position nor I in mine.  That may well be another discussion. 

Addressing another of your points now, I can vaguely remember in your comment to me that you decried the lack of purification experienced by many(all?) converts to Orthodoxy and the ensuing loss of those people.  The Holy Fathers in their writings spoke of this;  that as the days continued and Orthodoxy became less "known" in its sublime power, there would be a general decrease in Holy Eldership.  They, and many contemporary holy elders recognize this deficiency in True Orthodoxy and point those that wish to attain to salvation and to the path laid out by the Church to the Fathers as a sure guide.  

Now, I know that you do not necessarily believe that Orthodoxy is established and "fixed" in place( I do not mean this in the dead, "museum" meaning of the word) but Orthodoxy is "created" or "defined" by the Bishops.  Is this a fair understanding of your position, albeit a simplified version of it?

Now I think that your using "purification" is interesting because I think that apart from reading people like Father John Romanides, Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos, and those sympathetic to them and those like them(Russians, Greeks, Serbians, Americans, etc.) who have taken their writings to heart and have sought deification as the Holy Fathers have laid out the path on how to accomplish this, we are not able to attain to the purification qua purification you are speaking of.  How will we convey purification if we are not being purified in the Orthodox manner the Holy Fathers have laid out the path for?

And in one sense, this need to "keep the converts" is again somewhat problematic for me. I of course am employing the foregoing in a very strict and narrow fashion in that often I think what people mean about teaching the Orthodox Faith is utilizing conventions easily at hand and familiar to the use of our recognized methods which "give the goods".  I do want "to keep them".  But I think we may have two very different understandings on how that is to be accomplished. 

My belief, as I have received the Orthodox Faith, is that my only duty is to repent.  I don't have a narrow understanding of "repentance" in mind here but a rather broad one.  With "repentance" is entailed an all encompassing stance that takes in the whole of my life and makes manifest Christ in me and I in Him.  This is the Evangel.  This is preaching.  And we never graduate from repentance.  This does not necessarily exclude the conventions we are accustomed to but rather, it is the taking of all our conventions for use to this end and having them transfigured.  It is voiding them of their former content and giving them, by God's Grace a new content, recreated by the recreation of ourselves.   I say all this to make it clear that if ONE of us, and this ONE of us is each and everyone of us, does just this simple act to the very utmost of our ability and strength, into our immediate sphere is made known Christ.  Repentance necessarily must be in the footsteps already established and laid out for us by those who repented most fully that we know of, the Holy Fathers.  The Holy Fathers' experience of this repentance can most fully be found in the writings of those most faithful to the medicinal dimension of their teaching which I believe is arguably central to Salvation.  And now, speaking from my own experience, I have kicked against the goads so long that it has finally begun to dawn on me what humility means.  Just a smidgen of what it means is to cease to critique the Church and the Holy Fathers and to obey. 

Early on, when I re-entered the Orthodox Church, I adopted the understanding that in order for me to be healed, to become god, which is what the Church is all about, I need to change to fit the Church and not attempt to change the Church to fit me.

If I begin to repent, this is EVANGELISM.  This is what makes us a "spectacle to the world" and "breathes forth the fragrance of the Holy Spirit".  If I experience God as the Fathers of our Church say I can, how can this fail to not be appealing and "evangelistic"?

In order for this to occur, we need teaching.  But this teaching is of a nature, that though it does not exclude intellectual knowledge, utilizes it and is of the nature of paradosis, a living Tradition of the one who embodies Tradition.  But if our priests have set aside this understanding in favor or other methods and then decry that those in their flock are not experiencing purification, what are we to do?  The short answer is to seek out the pure doctrine of the Holy Fathers, for those that desire salvation will always be found out by God.  And the starting point must be the already dogmatically defined boundaries of the Church in which one may surely be deified, the goal of our Faith. 

Now,  do I dislike Roman Catholicism as I understand her?  Yes.  Does that mean I walk around with blood lust in my eyes ready to pounce at each opportunity?  Hardly.  Do I in the fullest sense of the word need "understanding experientially" the Roman Catholic Church to find objection with her?  I don't think this is a valid train of thought either. 

If my father(read Fathers) told me as a father to be careful of "such and such" and "so and so" and also taught me how to recognize what is true and false, would I fully need to understand that which he warns me about to know that he is right? 

It has been said here that Roman Catholicism and Western Christianity are not singular but are rather complex.  This is true and easily understood.  However, though not monolithic in their composition, they do have a distinct "voice" which may be recognized.  As when one listens to a complex musical composition, a masterpiece let's say,  one hears an overall "meaning", quality,  theme or something singular.  Many elements go into the single overall piece which may be studied and picked apart separately according to the whole.  But, they do make a whole which *in general* make manifest an entity with which to form a stance of some kind towards.

I apologize for my "style" as I am beginning to realize that it may not be conventional.  I recognize that in my comments I also include experiential testimony with the Orthodox Faith and this may not be "academic".  I have endeavored to simply be as sincere and straightforward as possible.

Thank you again for the kind words you have offered.

In Christ,



Aaron Taylor said...

A very sincere and heartfelt response, Sophocles. Thank you.

Sophocles said...

Thanks for your kind words, Aaron.

Anonymous said...

I have certain sympathies for Fr Gregory; however, I think your response was more than sincere (not belittling Aaron's supportive words) it was correct.

You point out something I think that Fr Gregory and anyone who spends time around academics forgets (I work at a graduate school so I know whereof I speak). That is we are, all of us, fools and ought to put so much less stock in our methods and footnotes and so much more in repentance, humility and obedience.

Pray for me that the Lord grant some of that grace to me.

Thank you for your post.

James said...

Thank you for your very reasonable and Orthodox response, S.F.

One contention made against Fr. John by Fr. Gregory was that Fr. John did not cite Augustine in Ancestral Sin, or at least did not cite him adequately. I believe this is incorrect, but instead of painstakingly quoting page numbers which prove my point (I'll do this soon on a public forum to be announced), I think the bigger question is: was Fr. John's analysis of Augustine correct? If not, why not? I tried to engage Fr. Gregory with this query, since his criticism of my book hinges upon it. However, Fr. Gregory did not want to discuss this question, which is a shame, because it is quite simple to establish that Fr. John's analysis is correct, at least if we are trying to be Orthodox. Once Fr. Gregory found out that Fr. John has other writings which cite Augustine extensively, he was quite loath to pursue the issue.

Anyone interested in Fr. John's writings on Augustine can go to www.romanity.org and read them. One by-product of such a reading will be the solution to another question: was Fr. John an academic or a popularizer? The essay on the Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia and the two-part essay on Fr. John Meyendorff's Palamas book are masterpieces of academic prose, in my humble opinion.

In Christ,

James L. Kelley

Sophocles said...


Thank you so much. Prayers, my weak ones, have been uttered on your behalf, my friend. I ask for yours as well.

And you mention something that is so important to remember: that it is our hearts that need constant redirecting towards God in the never ending struggle that it is our lot to endure by God's grace.

Let us endure to the end.

Sophocles said...


Thank you as well. I myself, even though I have not read Father John's works, am familiar enough with him and his work to know that I am in great sympathy with him and I think he is a true son of the Church.

I would be very interested in being privy to your discussion of Ancestral Sin on that public forum so let me know.

I have visited Romanity.org and even have the link on my sidebar.

And, what is the best method of buying your book?

In Christ,


photios said...

"I do recognize today two very distinct camps in Orthodoxy. I do not with this imply that each of the camps is monolithic and homogeneous. Where I am going with is that unlike before in my life in the Church, I have staked out my own ground and choose to associate with those "like me" and to oppose(not "violently" of course) those that I believe, when speaking on the Orthodox Church and Faith that do not follow the Holy Fathers and the bounds they have laid down."

Well written little essay, but this pretty much says it all here my friend. There are those who wish to follow the Holy Fathers and there are those who wish to mitigate what they say in lieu of dialogue. There's nothing wrong with dialogue per se, but the modern trend is to have an ecumenical discussion until you agree with "us," "us" meaning the xenos and heterodox.

If one cannot confess that the Holy Spirit originates solely and uniquely from the Father, and that the filioque is heresy, then one cannot say that they are Orthodox. They do not stand with the Holy Fathers Sts. Photios, Gregory Palamas, and Mark Evgenikos.

Apophatically Speaking said...

Good reading. Thanks.

Sophocles said...


Thank you.


Thank you as well.

Apophatically Speaking said...


Let this be encouragement to us all to press in to attain the uncreated light, to refuse to settle for anything less.

Sophocles said...


I noticed on your profile you are in Phoenix. Do you ever make it out to St. Anthony's in Florence?

I make semi-frequent pilgrimages there and if you do indeed go or are interested in meeting next time I'm there, let me know.

And yes, let us press on to the goal.

In Christ,


Apophatically Speaking said...

Yes indeed that would be great, let me know when you are in the area.

Sophocles said...


Will do. Great!

ioannis said...

If Papism had just added to the faith then Papism would be praiseworthy for developing the faith. That's not an Orthodox position on the whole matter in my opinion. The filioque, for instance, "corrected" the faith of the Ecumenical Councils. The Holy Spirit either proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son. They can not be both correct.

All the best!

Sophocles said...


I'm trying to reach you! If you are subscribed to this thread, would you mind letting me know?

Thanks adelphe mou!