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Friday, April 05, 2019

The Search for Unity with the Holy Trinity

This Month's Book Review

The revised and expanded edition of Andrew Stephen Damick’s Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: Finding the Way to Christ in a Complicated Religious Landscape (Ancient Faith Publishing) offers a comprehensive summary of both Orthodox doctrine and the many heresies that deviate from Orthodoxy. The Very Reverend Father Andrew is pastor of St Paul’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania USA. 
He begins his study with the words of 1 Corinthians 1:10:
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement.
Then, he sets out both the truth of Orthodoxy and how and why deviations from that truth have come to pass over the centuries.
            In a helpful forward, The Most Reverend Dr. Father Michael G. Dahulich, Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) Diocese of New York and New Jersey, notes that:
We live in a society that is influenced by a myriad of different Christian denominations and non-Christian faith traditions. Such an array of religions often leaves us confused and perplexed. Unlike the majority of [the 250 million] Orthodox Christians around the globe, who live in traditionally Orthodox countries, we [who are] living in the Western lands are faced with an experience that compares to none, except perhaps the experience of the early Christians. Those first followers of “the Way” found themselves in a Greco-Roman world full of numerous sects and religions.  And like us, many Romans explored religions and practices that were not traditional—not held by their forebears. And just as in our world today, religious syncretism [that is, the merging or attempted reconciling of the beliefs and practices of different religions or philosophies] was common.[1]
Archbishop Dahulich shares the conviction of Father Andrew that: “As Orthodox Christians, we need to familiarise ourselves with the beliefs and practices of others so that we can better share our own [Orthodox] Faith.”[2]
            As Father Andrew stated in the Preface to the First Edition:
The foundational affirmation behind this work is that the Orthodox Christian faith is uniquely true, that it alone is the fullness of the revelation of God to man, and that the Orthodox Church is the same Church community founded by Jesus Christ through His apostles.[3]
While retaining this focus on the truth of Orthodoxy, in the Preface to the Second Edition Father Andrew signals a change to a
now-larger purpose for this work—instead of focusing solely on helping Orthodox Christians to understand and address other theologies, I am now explicitly intending this work also to be used by the non-Orthodox to help them learn about the Orthodox Church.[4]
Because of this additional purpose, the Revised Edition of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy offers an excellent course both for both catechumens to Orthodoxy and those who are already Orthodox but now seek a deeper and complete experience of the Christian faith and the Church of Christ. However, it should be noted that the purpose of the First Edition is now even better fulfilled in the Revised Edition: “For those who want a ‘handbook’ to what separates other major faiths from Orthodox Christianity, this (I hope) is the book for you.”[5]
The opening pages set out why it is essential to understand that “doctrine matters.”[6] In the Western world today, there is a great danger of relativism, that is, the philosophy that what may be true in one situation may not be so in another. The danger is that “we judge religious expectations by what we want, by whether a religion fits into our lifestyle[7]…. This fundamental problem is compounded by the prevailing lack of familiarity with the traditional tools of spiritual knowledge.”[8] Father Andrew offers both an incisive analysis and a prescription for change:
From the Christian point of view, the tool that is lacking for spiritual knowledge is purity of heart, as Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ (Matthew 5.8). Purity of heart begins with humility. What is also lacking is proper guidance on how to attain that purity from those who have seen God and [seek to pass] on this experience to the next generation.[9]
            This analysis of the importance of purity of heart that begins with humility leads Father Andrew to a bold and rather unexpected conclusion: “I would like to suggest that the great spiritual battle of our time is not a struggle between believers and atheists. Rather it is a struggle between pride and humility.”[10] On the one hand, this conflict between pride and humility is fought on a universal scale, because “for the Orthodox Christian, Jesus Christ is the Truth [with a capital ‘T’] (John 14.6), and because the Truth is a Person, truth cannot be relativized.”[11] Yet it should also be noted that the conflict between pride and humility is also fought within each of us, as we decide how to relate to others and seek to find God’s purpose for each of our lives. Thus, precisely because
Truth is not relative, we should be willing to set aside whatever we would prefer to be true and embrace only what really is true, changing ourselves, our attitudes, and our beliefs whenever necessary. If we come upon some truth we disagree with, yet we can see that it must be true, we should say not ‘I don’t believe it’ but rather ‘I don’t believe it yet.’[12]
            Both the conflict between pride and humility, as well as the confrontation of Truth with relativity, have profound implications for our personal behaviour as Orthodox Christians:
Today, to come to the conclusion that some doctrines are true and others are false, and especially to speak publicly about it, is often regarded as not being ‘loving,’ a word usually used to mean ‘nice’   …. Yet we as a culture are ignoring a basic yet obvious truth: If there really is a God, then who He is and what He might want from us are more important than anything else in the universe.… As believers, we are not in the ‘niceness’ business. We are in the Truth business.[13]
Therefore, it is important to understand “that the differences between Orthodoxy and other faiths are real and that they are important.”[14]
            In considering “the nature of Truth,” Father Andrew sets out “the larger picture [of] our purpose in life”:
That picture, ultimately, is of communion with the Holy Trinity. An Orthodox Christian’s whole life has one goal: union with the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the one God who created all things. The path to that union is Jesus Christ, the God-man, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. Salvation is the attainment of eternal life.[15]
As set out in the Gospel of John (17.3,22-23):
In the Orthodox Christian faith, being saved—having eternal life—means knowing God in Jesus Christ. It also means receiving from Jesus the glory which, as the Son of God, He has from His Father. And finally, it means doing so in oneness with other believers….[16]
It is precisely because we can “know God as He has actually revealed Himself … [that] doctrine matters.”[17]
            Building on this careful statement about why doctrine matters, Father Andrew then sets out how the Orthodox Church views the Non-Orthodox, the essentials of Orthodox Christian doctrine and the major historical heresies.[18] Chapters follow on Roman Catholicism, the various waves of the Reformation, evangelicalism and revivalism, Pentecostalism, non-mainstream Christians and Non-Christian religions.
            An important and at times profound epilogue considers relations with the Non-Orthodox. The tone of this epilogue is captured by the opening quotation from St. Mark of Ephesus, who is sometimes known as “the conscience of Orthodoxy,” because of his brave and solitary defense of Orthodox doctrine at the Council of Florence in 1439:
We need investigations and conversation in matters of theological disputation so that compelling and conspicuous arguments may be considered. Profound benefit is gained from such conversation, if the objective is not altercation but truth, and if the motive is not solely to triumph over others. Inspired by grace and bound by love, our goal is to discover the truth, and we should never lose sight of this, even when the pursuit is prolonged. Let us listen amicably so that our loving exchange might contribute to consensus.[19]
Father Andrew reflects that: “Conversion is always an act of human will and also always a miracle. The truth of the Gospel is made apparent through divine intervention.”[20] The appendices include a statement on how and why Father Andrew became an Orthodox Christian.[21] May this book review encourage you to delve further into this beautiful book.                    Father Emmanuel Kahn

[1] Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, p. 13
[2] p. 13.
[3] p. 24.
[4] p. 22.
[5] p. 24.
[6] pp. 27-38.
[7] All underlining in this book review is in italics in the original text.
[8] p. 27.
[9] p. 28. See also “The Fire Is Upon Us” on this website, reviewing Presbytera Constantina R. Palmer’s The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory (Ancient Faith Publishing).
[10] p. 28.
[11] p. 28.
[12] p. 29.
[13] pp. 29-30.
[14] p. 31.
[15] p. 33.
[16] p. 33.
[17] p. 35.
[18] pp. 39-51.
[19] p. 358 with citation of Patrologia Orientalis XV [Brepols, 1990], 108-109. See also the entry on St. Mark at:  [accessed 4 April 2019].
[20] p. 361.
[21] pp. 373-384.


Steve Hayes said...

I never read the first edition, but found this edition worth reading.

For what it's worth, my review is here: Orthodoxy and heterodoxy (book review) | Khanya.

It' said...

"The danger is that “we judge religious expectations by what we want, by whether a religion fits into our lifestyle". Wow, this was my truth for a very long time. I am in the process of converting into the Orthodox faith, and have come to see the vast differences between my previous religious experience and the depth of the faith of the Orthodox. I have not read this book yet....Fr. Conan has given me many books (Welcome to the Orthodox Church by Frederica Mathewes-Green, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by A. Schmemann, The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God by St. John Maximovitch, and a few others). This book is on my list, and I will be reading it soon.....

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