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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Which Christ?

This might seem a rather strange question. After all, we all know who Jesus is don’t we? Well do we? The sacrificing Christ of Catholicism is very different from the prophesying Isa of Islam. Christ the global teacher or avatar is very different from Jewish Messiah yet to come. The Christ who dies instead of me to appease God’s wrath on account of my sins is very different from Jesus the charismatic healer. From an Orthodox point of view all these “knowings” are perceived through a distorting lens. Doubtless all these traditions (some closer to Orthodoxy than others) are being sincere and indeed the depth of the piety is not in doubt. The difficult truth perhaps for many moderns to accept is that someone might be sincere .... yet wrong. But on what basis might a hypothetical impartial observer judge one account be better or more truthful than another?

All these views justify themselves in relation to a sacred text, some interpreting the same text differently, some using different texts. Catholicism perhaps is closer to Orthodoxy in one regard, but not, of course, necessarily in others. This concerns the sufficiency of any text and its susceptibility to just one interpretation. Catholicism is not “Sola Scriptura” and neither is Orthodoxy. We claim that our perception of Christ concerns the mind of the Church stretching back both to Christ Himself and the Church of the Old Covenant (Testament). We insist that the Scriptures are the authoritative core of Tradition but not its exclusive limit. It is the Church herself as the pleroma (the fullness of Christ), and that precisely in her continuity with the People of God all the way back to Genesis, which gives us the confidence to know and see Christ clearly.

The divergence between Catholicism and Orthodoxy in respect of Christ and the Church concerns Rome’s innovations which lie outside the received and ecumenical phronema (mindset) of the Church in her historical trajectory. That phronema is essentially a consensual, conciliar reality of a people gathered before the God who manifests Himself especially and definitively in Christ. No one bishop can determine that ... nor can a show of hands or the latest take on a particular biblical text. It is much more to do with the universal and inclusive prayer from the People that ascends to God and returns with the truth from the Holy Spirit. So, neither synods nor the papacy, neither a text nor a Godly opinion that has the last word but rather Christ Himself in the Church ... much less easy to define and nail down of course, but in the end both true and eternally secure.

So, outrageous though this sounds to some, it is empirically defensible to claim that true knowledge of Christ; authentic, unadulterated, undistorted actual knowledge of “He Who Is” exists fully and exclusively only in the Orthodox Church; the Church of both St. Patrick and St. Panteleimenon, (for in Christ there is neither East nor West). The ecumenical task of Orthodoxy is to call ALL peoples (Christian and non-Christian alike) into this common ground of truth concerning the Saviour. Some may choose of course to remain outside this saving grace. That is their prerogative, their choice, their call. Moving the boundaries of the Church however to include them is not a loving thing to do for it sacrifices truth to expediency and in the end loses its own integrity and, therefore, serves and saves no one. “Which Christ?” – indeed! Choose wisely, choose well.

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