The Body and Therapeutic Salvation

For an evangelical Christian (and many other Protestants), and even perhaps a Roman Catholic to some degree, coming to the Orthodox Church, it can be somewhat jarring to encounter the emphasis on the bodily dimension of an Orthodox way of life. The worship involves the bodily senses in major ways: the bright colors of the icons, the gold on the vestments and the instruments of worship (cup, paten, censer, candelabra); the strange tonic system of the Byzantine chant which fills the hearing; the rich smells of the incense and interwoven with honeyed nuances of the beeswax candles; the taste of Holy Communion and of the antidoron; the feel of the one’s body, bowing, prostrating, making the sign of the cross, embracing fellow worshippers and one’s family, even how one’s body feels while others are moving around during the service and while one stands. An evangelical is used to much more sitting and listening, perhaps standing and joining in during the praise music part of the service. There may well be bright colors and images in visual presentations and posting of hymn lyrics, perhaps some candles. Roman Catholics (and Anglicans) will be used to some kneeling, and occasional use of incense as well as the images of crucifixes and statues and paintings of saints, perhaps a few icons. But among all these, the Orthodox experience is, if I may dare to say it this way, very sensual.

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The Desire for Well-Being

I have been having a friendly discussion (not a debate, thank God) on whether or not the Orthodox teaching on theosis is just another way of talking about the Roman Catholic dogma of purgatory. It is sometimes attributed to “Byzantine”/Eastern Rite Catholics that differences on these things are a question of semantics. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The problem here is that there are at least two radically fundamental differences with which to begin discussing this topic: the nature of God and, concomitantly, the nature of salvation. Apart from some understanding on what’s at stake with these differences one cannot really begin to address whether or not St Mark of Ephesus’ answer to the Florentine prelates does or does not address whether Orthodox believe in purgatory as Roman Catholics believe in purgatory. Of course, individual persons and scholars will nuance this or that aspect of these concepts, but in general the differences play out along these general lines.

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Psalm 3 and the Passions

In light of my previous post, I thought I would also offer Psalm 3. Although I should point out that, so far as I know, I am only highlighting an individual application, still, I thought I would offer that over the years, as I have prayed this during morning prayers, it has seemed imminently applicable to the manifold passions against which we fight.

A Psalm of David. When He Fled from the Face of Abessalom His Son, in the Wilderness.

O Lord, why are they multiplied that afflict me? Many rise up against me.
Many say unto my soul: There is no salvation for him in his God.
But Thou, O Lord, art my helper, my glory, and the lifter up of my head.
I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy mountain.
I laid me down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord will help me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people that set themselves against me round about.
Arise, O Lord, save me, O my God, for Thou hast smitten all who without cause are mine enemies; the teeth of sinners hast Thou broken.
Salvation is of the Lord, and Thy blessing is upon Thy people.

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St. John Cassian: On Battling the Passions

[This citation is from my other blog, which I thought those who only visit this site would enjoy with me.]

And of these passions as the occasions are recognized by everybody as soon as they are laid open by the teaching of the elders, so before they are revealed, although we are all overcome by them, and they exist in every one, yet nobody knows of them. But we trust that we shall be able in some measure to explain them, if by your prayers that word of the Lord, which was announced by Isaiah, may apply to us also—”I will go before thee, and bring low the mighty ones of the land, I will break the gates of brass, and cut asunder the iron bars, and I will open to thee concealed treasures and hidden secrets”—so that the word of the Lord may go before us also, and first may bring low the mighty ones of our land, i.e. these same evil passions which we are desirous to overcome, and which claim for themselves dominion and a most horrible tyranny in our mortal body; and may make them yield to our investigation and explanation, and thus breaking the gates of our ignorance, and cutting asunder the bars of vices which shut us out from true knowledge, may lead to the hidden things of our secrets, and reveal to us who have been illuminated, according to the Apostle’s word, “the hidden things of darkness, and may make manifest the counsels of the hearts, that thus penetrating with pure eyes of the mind to the foul darkness of vices, we may be able to disclose them and drag them forth to light; and may succeed in explaining their occasions and natures to those who are either free from them, or are still tied and bound by them, and so passing as the prophet says, through the fire of vices which terribly inflame our minds, we may be able forthwith to pass also through the water of virtues which extinguish them unharmed, and being bedewed (as it were) with spiritual remedies may be found worthy to be brought in purity of heart to the consolations of perfection.

St. John Cassian: On Battling the Passions

Grace and Works

I have remarked before how Orthodoxy is, to my mind, the most demanding of Christian groups, and yet it is, at the same time, the one that speaks the most of God’s mercy, love and grace. It is the Church that at once requires all those praying its Divine Liturgy to refer to oneself as the chiefest of sinners, and yet also, again and again, speaks of God the philanthropos, the Lover of mankind. For Orthodox there is no dichotomy between Law and Grace: we are called to be perfect even as our heavenly Father is perfect, and yet we are also taught that God accepts the humble who cry simply and from their heart: be merciful to me a sinner. For Protestant evangelicals looking from the outside in, there is a severity to Orthodox living that strikes many as off-putting, even cult-like. All of this, to Protestants, looks like “works righteousness.” What sort of God is served by all these fasting rules, by required confession, by closed Communion? But this is to miss the very heart of Orthodoxy, wherein Christ for us and for our salvation came down from heaven and was made man.

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Soteriology Diablog between Various Interblogolocutors

The list has been updated: 13 January 07 at 13:10 CST. And the date/time stamp has been changed to move it up the main page.

Update: Kevin has responded to my previous post.

See the last link in the list below (by clicking on “Continue reading ‘Soteriology Diablog between Various Interblogolocutors'”).

Note: I am still slowly composing further replies to Kevin’s comments.
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Vacuous Notes

Kevin’s reply to my third soteriological sidebar has a single point: he wants to assert that the debate on the generation of the Son cannot but be a debate within the very strict parameters of God’s nature and will. My argument has been that the generation of the Son, while inescapably involving nature and will, is by revelation and the Church’s experience (and not simply, despite his sarcastic question ending his second paragraph, by virtue of my own definition), first a personal generation, which generation hypostatizes the nature and will of the person so generating.

After a couple of paragraphs of throat clearing, Kevin gets to the heart of his argument in his third paragraph:

Bottom line- it is not possible to remove this question from the nature/will debate.

This, as it stands, is the whole of his argument. By a simple ispe dixit he has removed from the debate, so he thinks, Trinitarian modes of being and of personal exercise of the divine will. What is his evidence? Simply that he cannot apparently conceive of any other way to talk about filial generation and pneumatological procession. For he certainly offers no other evidence than his assertion. The rest of his argument begs this essential question.
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On the Salvation of Infants and Children

The question about the baptism of infants and very young children is usually complicated by the set of presuppositions that various parties bring to the matter. Those who reject the practice of infant baptism usually do so on the basis that there is no specific command or otherwise explicit teaching in the New Testament to do so. Neither are there any clear and explicit examples. Such opponents then note that the earliest clear historical references to such practices come in the second century, well after the apostolic and subapostolic eras. But these arguments founder on their own presuppositions. To reject infant baptism on the basis of the lack of clear and explicit command, teaching or example from Scripture itself relies on an interpretive principle that lacks any clear and explicit command, teaching or example. And the historical question is readily answered in that historical records normally address a teaching or practice that is already traditional only after it has come under dispute; and, in fact, our early references to the baptism of infants and very young children do, in fact, come up under the headings of various disputes.

The paedobaptism question also comes under the rubric of ecclesiology and whether and to what extent the Church is able to authorize various teachings and practices, or even to introduce new practices that conform to traditional teaching. But that question cannot be addressed here, as it would take us further afield from our primary aim, which is to establish the New Testament attitude toward the salvation of children.

One thing that I will not be doing here is answering the important and essential questions regarding original, or, better, ancestral sin, fallen human nature, and the nature of baptism. These questions do bear directly on the practice of infant baptism, but they also would take me afield of what I intend to do here.

Rather, what I intend to do here is to demonstrate that the clear and unequivocal understanding of the New Testament is that infants and young children are suitable candidates for baptism and salvation, since the New Testament presents them as capable of faith.

We begin first with Jesus’ own words.

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13-15)

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16)

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