Monday, May 31, 2010

The Question of Emphasis, Greek Orthodoxy

While this author, James Payton is from a decidedly Protestant institution, Redeemer University, he paints a sympathetic and often eloquent image of Greek Orthodox Christians in his book, Light From the Christian East. Today many in the Protestant fold are enamored and intrigued by Orthodoxy and the ideas it holds.

The Orthodox might be at times described as more "fossilized," more satisfied with its tenets and position within the Christian world. It remains staunchly mystical, stable and serene in its teachings. While the west adopted other ways and means, the Orthodox continued on after the meeting in Constantinople which ultimately accelerated the split within the two groups.

To the Orthodox mind, the Church was Collegial, that is founded upon its brothers and sisters in the faith; the Roman church developed a more centralized structure and found a willing audience, for the most part, in Europe. France is often called the "cradle of Christianity." The intertwining of the Church hierarchy and the emerging royal monarchies was well suited to their purposes, both individually and jointly. While there are indeed contrasts between the two, it must remain in the forefront that these two institutions, Roman and Greek Orthodox remain more closely allied than any other communities within the Christian realm.

And very unlike the Protestantism that sprung up in the early modern period of western history, the Orthodox more than any other spoke and taught that Grace was something that was more of a given and not merited. That is to say we have already received salvation in the Christ, if we are open to the working of the Spirit, then grace is upon us. Manifest destiny, or any other likewise teaching, has not been part of the Orthodox dictum. Thus within the Orthodox tradition, 'Systemic' theology is with little regard in comparison to the great emphasis some modern protestant theologians like to attribute to it. Curiously, these same thinkers according to Payton, "give little or no thought to what grace actually is."

Similarly the Protestant and Orthodox groups diverge at issues like sacraments (sacred-ness), the belief of giving and receiving of divine grace. And along this thought, Payton writes on the centrality in Orthodox belief about the 'breaking of the bread.' In the eastern mind this is Eucharist, the real, true and whole presence of the Lord Christ. How so asks the protestant thinker? More importantly, can we believe--even if we don't know the whole story?

To the Orthodox mind, the sacraments, and the Eucharist among them, is the whole story, owing back to the Gospels and the Hebrew scriptures believed to foretell them. The Gospels tell of a savior to come into the world, a great redeemer that would free man for all time; this man, the Christ comes for once and for all; he proclaims that wherever we are, in the breaking of the bread, there I AM.

From baptism and its mystical significance to Eucharist and salvation, the faithful among those in the  Orthodox tradition remain a strong voice within the Christian world. Payton is a man who sets many to thinking. The "book," as some call the Bible, is all there is, and the book is not all there is. Sounds like a good Zen Koan to this Simple Mind.

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