This is my first post in just over 4 months and a lot has happened both within my own life and the world at large. Donald Trump has become the 45th president of the United States, Brexit was passed, Bill O'Reilly was fired from Fox News, and most mentally stable leader of North Korea has indicated he is willing to use nuclear weapons on the west if they should attempt aggressive action. For myself, I was diagnosed in January with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and have been undergoing chemotherapy for the last 2.5 months with 3 more treatments to go. I have, yet again, been denied access to several PhD programs at prestigious institutions, and I have endeavored to both review my biblical languages while also working on several articles for publication.
In addition, the most important holiday has occurred just this last Sunday (and no I'm not referring to income taxes being due several days after the usual April 15th) - Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen! This year both Eastern and Western churches celebrated Holy Week and the Resurrection of Jesus on the same day. This was a time allowing both churches to recognize the truth upon which our salvation is built, namely the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We no longer have to be dead in our sins, we no longer have to fear the grave and its gaping maw, and we no longer have to fear the one who controlled death with his satanic schemes.
The Orthodox Church has traditionally reserved this time, from the earliest days of the church, to baptize new members. While this is no longer the only time the Church baptizes, nonetheless Holy Saturday or Palm Sunday become a major time for such a joyous sacramental event. As a convert from Lutheranism myself, I was not rebaptized but received into the Church by means of Chrismation. I was welcomed as a brother...as one who now was truly home. Others have experienced the same joy and truth that the Church can bring to one who is seeking. This last year one Evangelical figure was received into the Church as well - Hank Hanegraaff, also known as the "Bible Answer Man." His conversion has caused quite a stir in the Evangelical community. Some have said he is wrong and in this there is no harm even if they and I disagree. After all, if they agreed with Hank and me they would be Orthodox. Others however have taken a more, shall we say, sectarian approach and decidedly saying Hank has left the Christian faith. This is not simply a conversion from one confession or body to another for them...it is outright apostasy from the religion of the Apostles.
The Orthodox rarely engage in debate and this is unfortunate, because it is one of the reasons many misunderstand the Church and her rich heritage. They are left to refer to books and generalities, not fully understanding that which they approach from the outside. James White recently talked about this on his radio program the Dividing Line, and it is sad that many in the "old country" do not partake of debate with Protestants and even worse that many who are cradle Orthodox have very little idea how diverse Protestantism really is. If we speak the truth in love...indeed, if we claim to have the FULLNESS of this Truth, how can we not engage those who seek to engage us. The Orthodox Church is the church of Justin Martyr, of St. Augustine, of St. Maximus the Confessor, St. John of Damascus, St. Gregory Palamas, and so many others who engaged in debate with both Christians and non-Christians regarding the Truth the Church teaches...how can we NOT do the same after their example. We are called to engage those in our surroundings and not to simply retreat back to a safe corner of mystical obscurity - a type of disinterested disdain for more rational arguments as if God did not include a brain in our created form. With that said, I wish to respond to several points in the article published by Pulpit and Pen regarding their recent visit to Hank's Greek Orthodox Church.
The article is written by Jeff Maples. Right off the bat one thing is apparent...he's never been to an Orthodox church before, much less any of the liturgies of the Church. One must wonder where he gets his sources from as well...let's analyze his points as he presents them. To bear in mind, he attended the Matins and Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom that starts roughly at 11:30pm on Holy Saturday and goes until probably close to 2am on Easter morning. This is indeed a long service, though not the longest in the church year.
The points below match Mr. Maples' points from his article:
1) Immediately he comments on his personal experience in the Roman Catholic Church and then indicates that the Greek Orthodox Mass (even lower-cased it) was long and tedious. Hopefully Mr. Maples never hears complaints about services in his church being too long...sorry the most important holiday service took so long. In addition, most Orthodox do not refer to the service as "Mass" - this is a Latin word and would not, especially in a Greek church replace the Greek word "Liturgy." What did he find tedious about it? No details, just another complaint about the length and how it "showed no signs of slowing down" - yes, that's it. Don't get me wrong...sometimes it can get repetitive and I get tired standing a lot (I do often chant so I rarely get to sit during these services...imagine how the clergy and altar servers feel), but we aren't there for what we want...this isn't an American "I choose what I like" situation...this is the work of the people - the LITURGY - and has been given to us to humble us and bring us back to what we have put ourselves under. The liturgy is not meant to stifle emotion (during Holy Week especially I find this impossible to believe) nor even spontaneity, but it is meant to help direct us and guide us...keep us honest and frankly to make worshiping God something that flows form our being and joins with other people.
2) At this point I'm simply picking up bigotry and distaste for what is "different." "Smells and bells" being likened to toking up in the dorm room? Sorry do you need a Lay-Z-Boy and nachos??? I don't think the Old Testament church heard your disdain for incense and bells...and I'm sure the descriptions and images of worship in St. John's Revelation would equally make you reel in disgust. At least we don't have dried blood dripping down the altar while everyone mills about like at the Temple. I truly cannot take this complaint seriously as a reason Hank is not saved...this is just distaste. Revelation 8:4 specifically uses imagery of a bowl of incense mixed with the prayers of the saints...does that not sound like what you SAW during the liturgy Mr. Maples? But the Orthodox Church has apparently muddied and distorted the Gospel...we worship "too long" and are too "ceremonial." Mr. Maples I hope is aware that liturgies were not only similar in use of incense but also could take 6-12 hours...and that was when people were being killed for the faith.
3) The Liturgy was vain and repetitious...for starters "vain" has more to do with the mindset of the people doing the praying, not the prayer itself. When Jesus is warning against it He even explains this as "they think they will be heard because of their many words." We are heard by God even when we simply pray in need "Lord have mercy." That is not the point of all the repetition you recognize. While you're at it...yet again, I don't think the Psalmist heard you - how often does "the mercy of the Lord endure forever" in Psalm 136? Hey...that sounds a lot like the response to the LITANY!? Holy cow more Scripture in the Divine Liturgy...wild huh?! It could also be that the Godman was unaware of Psalm 136 and will either recant His statement or we should strike the Psalm from the canon.
"Every prayer included an invocation of Mary and the saints." - Yes...why not? And don't give me this "it's not in Scripture nonsense" as neither are computers, modern instruments, English, sound systems, etc. That principle among the more Radical Reformers that affected Christian worship is followed by about 0.1% of all American Protestants. We are to pray for one another and unless you want to go at your life alone you often ask for prayers from others...and not one word of Scripture says those who await the resurrection with Jesus are unaware of us or stop praying for us. The body of Christ is joined in Him and has the same Holy Spirit...that this is forbidden is merely an argument from silence in the Scriptures and using a principle that itself isn't even followed. Indeed, angels are around us as well, am I not able to ask them to pray for me or reflect on the scandal my sin causes them?! It is STRONGLY indicated in Scripture that at the very least the angels are aware of us (Matthew 18:10). Also...Christ alone is the mediator to the Father...all prayers, including the Mother of God go through Him because He is also the HIGH PRIEST.
In addition the scriptural elements of this practice could fill a post in and of themselves...needless to say, as is typical with THIS brand of Protestant rhetoric, a rush to interpret Scripture AGAINST a perceived heresy or falsehood often ignores other passages that call the interpretation into extreme question...keep this in mind for "graven images."
4) Very little teaching - so that homily of St. John Chrysostom that welcomed all regardless of whether they worked from the 1st or the 11th hour...i.e., salvation as a gift given to the laborers by the Ruler...not good enough? Were you expecting 1 hour of some dude talking? Unfortunately preaching had fallen by the wayside in the Byzantine tradition but this has been coming back into vogue - hopefully as will apologetics. To not have preaching, especially GOOD preaching is indeed a travesty in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the very golden-mouthed preacher and one of the Three Holy Hierarchs. If there is one thing I will give most Baptists...they are excellent preachers. As for the eerie chant...again, not really going to defend it because I'm not scandalized by it.
5) MR. MAPLES NOTED THE ICONS!!! I was wondering when this point would come up and frankly I thought it would be point 1!!! He only at this point comments on their expressions as emotionless and lifeless. Yes, Byzantine iconography not only tells the biblical stories or shows the saints but emphasizes their DISPASSION - they also are in heaven which is why they are "floating" often in a golden background (sometimes this can be green and the Romanians often use a deep blue for the background). Icons are not senior pictures they are theological ideals showing that which is more "true" than even the physical appearance (though more recent saints do look like they appeared in life and St. Paul for instance does appear as he is described...balding) - icons have rules...this is why we can recognize a given saint in Russia, Lebanon, Ethiopia, the US, etc. Finally, there is sometimes the appearance of a twinge of sorrow in their eyes...they look out and see us who still suffer under the cross and the world that is lost - that is another reason they pray for us. A further discussion of Orthodox icons and their dispassion can be found here. The only icon that shows extreme emotion is Christ the Bridegroom (sometimes portrayed as "Extreme Humility") which is often displayed during the start of Holy Week for veneration.
6) The clergy and the people seemed low energy and unenthusiastic...there are 2 reasons for this that are unrelated. The first is that, like many churches, there are those who are Chreasters...they show up for Christmas and Easter often as a cultural thing - not often would I expect much energy from them. As for the others...Mr. Maples should be aware that the people and the clergy (especially the latter) have been in MANY services this week...including the very long service on Thursday evening, the Holy Saturday Liturgy, and now this liturgy that goes into 2am...they are TIRED...and yet they keep going. This doesn't show lack of enthusiasm it shows devotion and WORK. In addition to the services many do other devotional acts during Lent and Holy Week...the priest most likely visits shutins and adds a large amount of confessions to his week...and many churches that are smaller also have many who volunteer (can't afford secretaries or other staff) and even clergy who are worker-priests (though these are usually the secondary clergy). Face it...it's a lot of physical work and this is when a lot of it occurs. And I'm shocked that at midnight not one person was smiling as they were shouting CHRIST IS RISEN! I've yet to be at an Orthodox church for this service where that did not occur.
7) This point I have noticed and it is something that angers me a lot as well - especially from the clergy who should be setting examples. I don't like the smoke breaks I don't like the idle chat in service, and I don't like checking cell phones for texting purposes...that said, jumping from bad behavior of some to the whole church is absolutely unfair both to the church body and the individuals like Hank. How many churches has Mr. Maples been in or been a part of that he would call "holy" that have bad apples? While this is a problem (it's also more of a cultural thing than an Orthodox thing - many in the Mediterranean world do this...in fact I've talked to Muslims who confirm this happens at mosques even in the US with people from "the old country"). I tend to see it less in some Orthodox cultures (more in Middle Eastern and Greek, less in Russian) so while it isn't good it also isn't a reflection on the Church's teachings or those who pursue holiness within the Church...it is sin and as I said...really upset at the clergy for this. It is a problem.
8) I don't understand this point at all - we ask God to do things...and in fact Scripture is filled with examples where God expects us to ask Him to act. When Jesus walks on the water he means to walk past (Mark 6:48) and He only addresses them when they cry out thinking He is a ghost. Yes God already knows what we want and need...but if what Mr. Maples here observes is true one wonders why he prays for anything. We ask, we pray, we implore God for His mercy, grace, forgiveness, etc. Why WOULDN'T we?! This is supposed to be the God who hears us, who promises to be with us, to have known our temptations yet be without sin. This is why the congregation answers "AMEN" to the prayers - if we thought we were "activating God" we would not be able to confidently answer such.
9) This is a bold claim for 2 hours of observation and no background - he clearly talked to no one, walked in with an agenda, and had so many misunderstandings it was insane. There was no Gospel - depends on how he's defining it...I don't know what else to call the Catechetical Homily of St. John Chrysostom, the singing of "Christ has risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life," the singing of the Hymn of Justinian, the recitation of the Nicene Creed, the repetition of the Words of Institution after declaring that Christ "gave Himself up for the life of the world," etc. So much of the Gospel is crammed into this from Scripture itself that you would have to think Mr. Maples doesn't accept the perspicuity or sufficiency of Scripture to make this claim!!! What would change a lost man Mr. Maples? An hour of moralizing preaching that taught him the evils or errors of this church, or that church, or what have you?
"It was literally a Pagan practice"...I just don't know how to politely respond to this so I'll move on. "Pure witchcraft was going on in this place" - as opposed to??? From your complaints I would imagine you sit around watching a sermon (not too long mind you) not praying because God has already known what you will need from eternity...that's what I've gotten from your complaints. You are clearly not studying Scripture closely or half your arguments wouldn't have been phrased as they were...it is pure, unquestioned dogmatism from certain repristinating theologians in your tradition (literally...you are following a tradition here yourself).
Mr. Maples' understanding of the Orthodox stance on deification is conflating us with the Mormons...I also know he did not get this from the liturgy he attended as this is not mentioned as far as I can recall...and if you can pick this up there and not "the Gospel" then that's both sad and speaks more for what you're looking for.
What is theosis/deification? While there are many subtle interpretations of it, it is not a strange doctrine in the history of the church, including the Latin and even Protestant ones (scholarship regarding deification in the works of Luther, Calvin, and the Wesleys is a current fad). Often it is associated with the passage in St. Athanasius who in "On the Incarnation" says, "God became man so that man might become god." St. Irenaeus says the following regarding the incarnation itself and what it gives to humanity through the life, death, and resurrection of the human nature that has been joined to the divine Logos:
Therefore, as I have already said, He caused man (human nature) to cleave to and to become, one with God. For unless man had overcome the enemy of man, the enemy would not have been legitimately vanquished. And again: unless it had been God who had freely given salvation, we could never have possessed it securely. And unless man had been joined to God, he could never have become a partaker of incorruptibility. For it was incumbent upon the Mediator between God and men, by His relationship to both, to bring both to friendship and concord and present man to God, while He revealed God to man. For, in what way could we be partaken of the adoption of sons, unless we had received from Him through the Son that fellowship which refers to Himself, unless His Word, having been made flesh, had entered into communion with us? - St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies III:18 (from Schaff's ANF and newadvent.org).But I hear what Mr. Maples might say here...this isn't the Bible - well the Bible teaches the same. Psalm 82:6 is repeated and interpreted by Jesus Himself in John 10:35 that those whom the Word of God came were also called "gods." Those of us who have laid our hope on Jesus Christ have indeed received this Word of God who came in the flesh. It is through Him we receive adoption as sons (Rom. 8:15, 23; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5), partake of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), receive the justification He won for us (Rom. 3:24, 5:1; Gal. 2:16-17, etc.), and have been made temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Our nature is perfected through this union...it is not transformed to the divine nature...this would be heresy and blasphemy! Yet at the same time we are "in Christ" and have Christ "in us." We are united to His body with Him as the Head...this is the union mentioned. What good is Christ's "imputation" and "substitution" if we reject repentance? If we are not united with Him? What purpose apart from the debt does the incarnation play?! Mr. Maples seems to be suggesting a pure "exitus/reditus" understanding of the Gospel which is not sufficient nor biblical. It is the rising of us to life from the tomb on Easter morning which is where justification is found...for it is HIS justification...the recognition of His sacrifice by the Father who raises Him to life (Rom. 4:25, 5:16 and 18).
I call the misrepresentations and seemingly willful ignorance in Mr. Maples' post more wicked than what he heard in the liturgy.
As an aside I would say that Mr. Maples includes in addition to numerous biblical and factual errors...a bit of logical problems. He complains about the length and deadness of the service...how it cannot change anyone. Yet at the END of his post he says, "It would have been easy for one to let their guard down and become entranced by the production." Which is it...boring, repetitive, long, tedious, or seductive???
I challenge Mr. Maples to a true discussion and exchange - perhaps a discussion of biblical doctrine and the faith of the Apostles...as we have seen, his interpretations are lacking and can be, just as the Tempter's use of Scripture itself in the desert, dismissed with a proper understanding of Scripture.
To end this post - let me quote St. Mark the Ascetic and his 22nd point from On Those Who Think They are Made Righteous by Works: "When Scripture says 'He will reward every man according to his works' (Mt. 16:27), do not imagine that works in themselves merit either hell or the kingdom. On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself; and He is not a dealer bound by contract, but God our Creator and Redeemer."
And to repeat (but not in vain) once more that which demons hate and despise...CHRIS IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN!