Members of the Eastern Orthodox Church can be pretty annoying in a discussion of religious issues. In a discussion with Protestants they like to hide behind the Roman Catholic Church, pretending unity with the Catholics as far as size and authority and yet responding to every criticism with, "thats the Roman Catholic church". I don't know why they are so cagey about what they believe, but perhaps it is to cultivate an air of mystery to make people curious. In any case, to put it simply, they are more conservative than the Catholic church and yet less authoritarian in the sense that they are more like a collection of independent churches that are united only by eccumenical councils that impose some degree of unity of doctrine.
The Eastern Orthodox can be considered the original Catholic church, for the Roman Catholic Church was created as a separate organization after the invading "barbarians" conquered Rome along with the rest of the western half of the Roman Empire. It was the feudal practices of the medieval Europe that accounts for most of the corruption that is found in Roman Catholic Church during that time, leading to the Protestant Reformation, but none of this has anything to due with the Eastern church. The Eastern Church made several attempts to re-establish the former unity of the church, but the western church made little effort to recognize the Eastern church as equals. And the last straw was that the western church altered the creed that had been decided on by the eccumenical councils before the collapse of the western half of the Roman empire. This is the so called "filoque" controversy, in which the west added the words "and the Son" to "And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father".
Despite denials, I think that the most important issue in this failure to reunite the Catholic church was an unwillingness of the western church to recognize the independent authority of the Eastern partriarchs and thus the authority of the eccumenical councils. However, there are Eastern Orthodox who really think that that the filoque alteration of the creed was a big deal. The explanation which I have heard (in Carlton's book) is that if both the Father and the son have the nature of generation (such that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both) then this would be a property not of their person but of their divine nature which is shared by all three. Apparently the Eastern Orthodox feel that this reduces the personhood of God by giving the divine nature a greater importance. I cannot say that this makes a lot of sense to me.
I am a Trinitarian Christian. (barely) That is, I see no contradictions in the doctrine of the Trinity and I accept it as a compromise to perserve the unity of Christian ideas. It does seem to me that despite the fact that the Trinity cannot be found in the Bible, it is the most Biblical because any simpler solution results in a conflict with some portion scripture or another. But I feel that the theological framework behind the understanding of the Trinity and the filoque are bound to the limits of Greek philosophy, not in its conclusions but in its methodology. I see such a tremendous confusion between reality and words that it makes the whole thing impossible for me to take seriously. Frankly, I cannot believe that the church fathers had the slightest understanding of what they are talking about when it comes to the nature of God. I cannot credit much discussion of the nature of God except in the most general terms and will certainly not apply the kind of analytical thinking used by the church fathers that sees God in terms of relationships between components.
The more interesting differences of the Eastern Orthodox church are found in their ideas about salvation. They seem to think that the ultimate objective of salvation as part of God's original purpose for mankind is deification - in a kind of union of man and God. They do not believe in original sin in the sense that we bear any guilt for what Adam and Eve did, but only that we suffer the consequences of their actions which resulted in a change in human nature. But in general they do not see sin as a crime against God which we must pay for, but as a disease that leads to spiritual death. So the cure was for God to change human nature a second time by uniting the nature of God and the nature of man in Christ and to do this fully it was necessary for Christ to bear all the consequences of Adam's sin even unto death. But the happy result is that because of this all men will experience an eternal existence. However not all will enjoy it. God has no need of reparations or need to punish the wicked, but pours down His love on all human beings equally. The difference between heaven and hell - that is the difference between those who are blessed and those who are damned is not in how God treats them or any difference in their objective reality but in their subjective apprehension of it. The love of God is a consuming fire to those with wicked hearts. Therefore salvation must consist in a change our spirit/soul to heal the damage of sin and to train ourselves to avoid further infection. Prayers for the dead are efficatious because it is our first response to God's love that is crucial and there may be demons waiting to exploit our weaknesses in life to persuade us to turn away from God.
I would not dream of making any denial of the reality of the experience by the Orthodox of being transfigured by the deifying energies or light of God, any more that I would make a denial of the Pentacostal experiences such as speaking in tongues. However, I would consider any effort to make such experiences the exclusive indicators of a saving relationship with God, to be a very dangerous and cult-like error. Personally, I would not look for any mystical experience of a union with God any more that I have any interest in the mind altering experiences one can find in narcotics. I love God and want to be more like Him, but I expect this to happen in a relationship of teacher/parent and pupil/child, not in some unexplainable magical experience. Furthermore I would not identify salvation with deification, but instead as a restoration of what Adam and Eve rejected which made a personal relationship with God possible. I see man's "path" to become like God as an eternal one, for I believe that it is the essence of heaven and eternal life to receive the gifts of God eternally as the neverending manifestation of His love, and consequently being raised as a child into the likeness of Him as our parent. Therefore, I do not share the reasons of the EO to understand Grace as some sort of supernatural entity in order to validate their experience of transfiguration. Grace is simply a word refering to the work of God. Salvation by Grace simply means salvation by a work of God. And so the discussion of whether grace is a created thing or the uncreated energies of God in the conflict between RC and EO doctrine makes no sense to me. Nor would I say that God became man so that man might become God, for although I agree that Christ united human and divine nature (demonstrating that the categories of man and God are not mutually exclusive), I do not believe that this represents a change in human nature any more than Adam and Eve's fall. As I understand it, both fall and incarnation represented only a change in our circumstances.
Reference: "The Truth: What Every Roman Catholic Should Know About the Orthodox Church" by Clark Carlton.
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