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Archive for May, 2004

Here, in succinct form, is the understanding of Church history I grew up with.

The church of Christ (that is Christ’s church, not a name for the church) technically began at the death of Jesus in about 29-31 AD. The commonly given date for the beginning of the church is the Shavuot (Pentecost) of the same year, when the apostles preached the first gospel sermon and about 3,000 souls were added to the church (Acts 2). This church spread from Jerusalem throughout the area, and after about 15 years the members of the church were given the designation “Christians” (Acts 11:26). Each congregation of the church was independent of all others although they shared a common belief, assembled on the first day of the week (and often on other days), regularly participated in “the Lord’s Supper” (possibly weekly), and sometimes shared preachers. They were most notable for a missionary spirit and a willingness to die for their beliefs.

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Knowledge, the Product of Faith and Reason

I have already noted how faith and reason are united in the heart. I want to dwell further on this and to reflect on the heart as the instrument of knowing in the human person. As you may have guessed from the outset, what I will eventually come to is an assertion that faith, indeed, is productive of knowledge, though knowledge of a different quality than that of reason.

As I have noted previously, since Plato, knowledge has generally been understood to be “justified true belief” (though again, I note that even in the Theaetetus, where this definition is discussed, it is problematic). That is to say, knowledge is belief with some foundation or guarantee of its truth, that guarantee being one which satisfies reason’s demands. So, for example, a body of knowledge must be internally consistent, must not violate the strictures of logic, must conform to generally recognized principles that themselves have been tested by reason and have been taken to be authoritative. But note that what this particular body of knowledge must satisfy is reason’s searching investigation. If a body of knowledge in any way fails to fulfill the demands of reason, then it can be little better than an established opinion, but it cannot be knowledge.

But this assumes that the only measure of knowledge is reason, and that reason is, in this way, the only real source of knowledge. Knowledge is not grounded in or derived from the gods, religion, human feelings, or mythology. The intellect is that from which knowledge flows.

But this is, I assert, a grave mistake.
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Word to the wise: This will be a longish post. I want to make the case that a) we modern Christians–and non-Christians for that matter–are huge failures at remembering our family history, b) that this leaves us susceptible to being taken in by false histories paraded as scholarship, and c) the remedy for this failure is to connect with this family history (which, in my view, can only be done in one way).

First, let’s talk about our willful and woeful amnesia.
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Father Patrick made some remarks in his sermon today, reflecting on the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea, that I want to wrap some of my own thoughts around. I echo some of his thoughts, but my comments should only be construed as my responsibility, and not in any way attributable to him (especially if I in any way err from the Faith of the Church).

Two characteristics in particular were noted about the Nicene Fathers: that they were preoccupied with the past and with precision, and that they were unflinchingly critical of other Christian groups when those groups in any way diverged from the Gospel which once for all had been delivered to the saints.

Needless to say, neither of these characteristics are touted in our own day. Indeed, they are disparaged, to the point of being labelled as distinctly un-Christian.
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No doubt about it, for modern Protestant Christians the designation of the Emperor Constantine as isapostolos (“equal-to-the-apostles”) is about as welcome as a monstrance in the midst of a praise band song. The controversy doesn’t have only to do with Constantine’s scandalous conduct–murder, treachery, death-bed baptism–but the whole dynamic set in motion by first his Edict of Toleration and then his making of Christianity the official religion of the Empire. This decrying of the “Constantinization” of Christianity has been taken in with Protestants’ mother’s milk, and fuels our own present-day battles (and really, they’re hardly dialogues) on the separation of Church and State.

But maybe we should pause this day, the feast day of Sts. Constantine and Helen, and look again at what they’ve wrought by their lives and prayers.
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It occurred to me this week that our daughter Sofie has only been to one parish in all her life (she did go to my step-grandfather’s funeral at his Southern Baptist Church, but that wasn’t a typical Baptist worship service). The only church she has known is the Orthodox Church (specifically All Saints in Chicago). She is being raised in a faith that has remained stable and unchanged for 2000 years.

Each week the saints depicted in the icons ringing her in from all four walls look down on her as she worships by crawling, standing, clapping, fussing, nursing, and sleeping. Each week she opens her arms wide as Fr. Patrick censes her–as though she readily accepts the prayers of the Church that rise as incense. Each week she is twice blessed: once when the chalice is placed over her head and Father asks that the Lord remember her in His Kingdom, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages; and again during the Holy Communion when the Church pronounces that the handmaiden of God, Sofie, receives the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each week she is greeted by the parishioners with the peace of Christ. Each week she hears–though she doesn’t yet understand–the 2000-year-old faith summarized and confessed in the Nicene Creed. Each week she sits and stands and crawls in a place where heaven and earth meet, and sleeps with all the hosts of heaven watching over her.

She is nine months old. This is all she knows.

Her father is not so lucky. His life has been the accumulation and discarding of various contradictions, fads, and gnostic secrets that serve only to make the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all a thing of confusion and murkiness. He lacks the simplicity of heart to take it all in whole, arms wide open, in ready acceptance. For him it is the constant wrestling of thought and feeling and desire, the struggle to quell all that which rises up in opposition to God. It is a task made all the more difficult for his sojourn in several church bodies, and amidst a Christian world torn by heresies and schisms.

I envy my daughter her faith. But I am more grateful than I can express that God has seen fit to allow me the time for repentance, and the grace to know the Truth and His Church. Mine is an imperfect example, a headship much too unworthy of emulation. But for all that it is an effort at faithful discipleship, God being my helper.

May Sofie’s path be direct and sure. May she soon be brought to the laver of regeneration, and our whole household be saved on that Day.

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First, a little background. I first learned of St. John (Maximovitch) the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco from the first edition of the Seraphim Rose biography, Not of This World, and from the hagiographical book put out by the St. Herman Brotherhood, Blessed John the Wonderworker. St. John reposed on July 2 (June 19 Old Calendar), 1966, and was canonized June 19 (Old Calendar), 1994. (An account of the examination of the incorrupt remains of St. John can be found in the appendix to the volume Man of God [Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society, 1994], excerpts of which can be found here.)
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