Metropolitan Tikhon responds to Wonder blog

primate-seal

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, offers the following reflection on the recent discussion that was generated by Fr. Robert Arida’s article,“Never-Changing Gospel; Ever-Changing Culture,” which was posted on this blog.

I

In the “About” section of the Wonder Blog, a publication of the Department of Youth, Young Adults and Campus Ministries of the Orthodox Church in America, it is stated that the purpose of the blog is “… to spur discussion, both online and off, and provide material for those engaged in campus and young adult ministry” and “… help provide a ‘good defense’ for our faith, hope and love.” In spite of this stated purpose, many have questioned the article’s usefulness, requested to know the authority under which it was published and have even called for its removal. Others have recognized its positive contributions to the complex and difficult theme of the relationship between Gospel and culture.

In light of the ensuing lively and informative discussion, and in consultation with my brothers on the Holy Synod, I am instructing the editors of Wonder to replace the lead article in question with my present reflection.

II

As a preface to my own reflection below, I would like to offer a clarification on the question of oversight. Although the Holy Synod takes the sacred confession of the holy dogmas of the Orthodox Church with the greatest of seriousness, it is not charged in the matter of theologoumena and areas requiring pastoral discretion and economiato function as a sort of “thought police” but rather, each bishop is entrusted with leading and guiding his flock within the light of Christ, according to the commandments of the Gospel and within the norms of the holy canons and the teachings of the Holy Fathers. On occasion, the Holy Synod does issue directives and encyclicals on various timely subjects and themes that require a clear statement to the flock.

In reference to the discussion of contemporary issues related to marriage and sexuality, I would direct the reader to several documents which have been published by the Holy Synod and are available on the OCA website:

  1. Encyclical on Marriage
  2. Synodal Affirmation on Marriage, Family, Sexuality and the Sanctity of Marriage
  3. Synodal Affirmation of the Mystery of Marriage

In reference to the specific topic of homosexuality, which is presumed by many of the respondents to Fr. Robert’s article to be the primary issue of discussion, I would draw the reader’s attention to the following paragraph from the third document above:

In light of the decisions rendered on June 26, 2013 by the Supreme Court of the United States of America with regard to same-sex marriage, we, the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, reaffirm that which had been stated in June 1992, namely that marriage involves the union of one man and one woman, as divinely revealed and experienced in the sacramental life of the Church. As such, the Church does not, and can not, condone or accept marriages apart from those involving one man and one woman who seal their relationship in the all-embracing love of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Synod has also recently blessed the re-activation of the Department of Pastoral Life, which is in the process of being re-evaluated and will begin its work in the very near future. It seems that the present discussion on Gospel and culture is one that would benefit from a more in-depth analysis than can be provided on a blog. It will be my recommendation that the issues raised here be one of the first areas to be addressed by the Department of Pastoral Life and that all those who have contributed to this present discussion be invited to participate.

III

I would also like to offer some preliminary reflections on the present discussion. In a paradoxical way, our discussions on “culture” seem to take place primarily at conferences, in books and articles and on websites and blogs. All of these, while certainly part of our culture, tend to remove us spiritually from the very context that we are speaking about.

I am conscious of this because I am writing these words as I sit in Boston Children’s Hospital with my nephew Tyler, who is today recovering from a ten (10) hour surgery yesterday to correct his severe scoliosis. Tyler is 16 years old and has undergone seventeen (17) surgeries on his back over the last 7 years. Prior to that, he lived his life in a plaster cast which was necessary to correct the severe curvature of his spine and prevent the puncturing of his internal organs. By God’s grace, and the prayers of many, yesterday’s surgery, involving the removal of expandable metal rods and the permanent fusion of his vertebrae, went successfully and is hopefully the last such surgery he will have to endure.

It is in contexts such as this that we most acutely face the reality of the relationship between Gospel and Culture. When a human being either undergoes such difficulties or is charged with ministering or helping someone in such a situation, the discussion ceases to be merely academic and becomes very real and immediate. I would not want us to lose sight of the human person and his salvation in Christ when we talk about “culture” and its relationship to the Church.

This does not negate the importance of knowledge, study and reflection. Others will have more academic and historical expertise on broad topics such as “Christ and Culture.” The discussion raised in this specific blog discussion is not new. For a very concise exposition of the Church’s approach to “culture,” I would direct you to the excellent book, Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy by Hieromonk Alexios [Trader]. Although the book focuses on a specific modern therapeutic approach within the context of the patristic witness, the approach taken by the author could serve as a model for an Orthodox approach to many other disciplines.

The first chapter of that book lays out the three general approaches taken in early Christianity to the practice of medicine: (1) the Tertullian model: resistance, rejection and enmity, 2) the model of Valentinus the Gnostic: absorption, manipulation and merger and 3) the Patristic model of Clement of Alexandria: selection, integration and transfiguration. The author chooses this last model as the most legitimate and the most reflective of a patristic approach of discerning openness. I offer the final words of that first chapter for your reflection:

The remaining option is the approach seen in figures such as Saint Basil the Great and Clement of Alexandria, an approach of discerning openness that selects, incorporates, and transfigures. This approach is implicitly asymmetric and hierarchal by virtue of the ontological value of salvation in Christ in contrast with the value of temporary psychological well-being. With this approach, Christian teachings act as a filter admitting some concepts, rejecting others, and in other instances suggesting alternatives. To be successful, this patristic approach requires clarity in terms of a patristic mindset capable of placing valuable insights from cognitive therapy into their appropriate niches within a patristic worldview and system of values. This is no simple task. Immersed as we are in a scientific worldview, our thought patterns are often unwittingly guided in a direction quite different from that of the Fathers. What was for them a natural perception must often be for us a matter of deliberate and continuous choice.[1]

We do, however, have the privilege of being able to choose to be methodologically guided by the Fathers on the sojourn before us. An Orthodox Christian theological worldview can be outlined and serve as a patristic basis for evaluating the implicit philosophical worldview of cognitive therapy. Relevant pastoral advice and ascetic teachings by the Fathers can be selected and arranged in order to form a patristic context for examining discrete components of cognitive therapy. In this way, we can strive to follow along the bold patristic path of those conquerors of death into the promised land of the Church where “the mystical trumpeters of the Spirit”[2] proclaim the truth of our faith: “all things are possible to him that believeth”[3] — Egyptian gold can be forged into a censer by a Christian hand.

If one were to replace “cognitive therapy” with any of the other philosophies and approaches that one finds in our world, perhaps the suggested patristic approach could be used effectively, at the hands of experienced priests and laymen, so that those positive elements of the culture that can be harmonized to the eternal Gospel of Christmight be used in a way that can build the bridges necessary to reach those who do not know Christ, choose to ignore Him or reject Him altogether, much as Saint Paul invoked the unknown God in speaking to the Athenians[4].

IV

In our Orthodox context, we are very good at speaking to each other, but we are less successful when trying to speak to those “who are not my people” (Hosea 4) in order to make them disciples of Christ. We must be willing to admit that, in many ways, the earthly representatives of the Orthodox Church – bishops, priests, and lay folk – have failed to address the culture in a meaningful way. We struggle to have a united ecclesiastical voice on both the global and local levels. With rare exceptions, our voice is weak in academic, cultural and political contexts. Perhaps this is due to our own human weakness, spiritual slothfulness, and inability to communicate the truth of the Gospel to the world around us.

But perhaps we need to begin by listening more and asking ourselves if we are truly able to hear the questions that are being asked by our college students, by our relatives, by the strangers we meet on the street, by our neighbors? On a blog, where anonymity is often the rule, it is difficult to discern who is speaking. I am grateful that the clergy who have responded to Fr. Robert’s article have all identified themselves and have commented in a Christian and respectful manner. I do not know whether the other commenters represent the target audience of the blog (young adults and college students) or not. But I would encourage all of us to open our ears to their voices and questions, so that we might help them to more effectively resist the temptations of the secular world and make their own the truth of Christ and the Gospel.

In our Orthodox circles, we like to debate issues such as the proper English translation for exclamations at the Gospel: are we to “listen” to the Holy Gospel or are we to “hear” it? Rather than endlessly debating the semantics of the matter, I would suggest that, whether we are assisting a relative who has undergone surgery or responding to the pointed questions raised by our youth, we ought to pick one translation or the other and simply do it (James 1:22).


[1] Cf. Nicholas Woterstorff, Reason within the Bounds of Religion (Grand Rapids: 1984), pages 68, 76 and 108.

[2] Glory at Vespers for the Feast of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council in plagal tone 2.

[3] Mark 9:23.

[4] Acts 17:23.

67 thoughts on “Metropolitan Tikhon responds to Wonder blog

  1. V. Rev. Father John G. Winfrey

    As I read this article, I was aware of many arguments that I have read before. Let me say firstly that it gives a general impression of culture as taking precedence over what has been received, and that that is an authentic Orthodox experience. I heard the same thing about liturgy in the western churches. I heard the same arguments in the Episcopal Church which ultimately led to women’s ordination, to acceptance of practicing homosexuality (which I am guessing is the real purpose of this piece), and other things that are not consonant with the Orthodox Faith. The argument from contemporary culture to validate any change in morality or theology is false from the beginning; it is the establishment of whatever zeitgeist should breeze through. The wrestling with Holy Scripture is NOT an equal struggle. The Scripture is given us to judge us and change our lives, not for us to find a new understanding of the ancient texts so that we may continue in a comfortable manner. It is true that Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Which brings up the article’s observation that we should look to the future as our guide. This is a red herring. We look to the eschaton, the Alpha and Omega who has already fully revealed himself and his own divine will. Our faithfulness to what has always been taught, given and practiced in the Church is necessary for our salvation. As to the question has the Churched changed through time? Indeed, but her morality has not. Her Faith in the Incarnate God and the Holy Trinity have not. The sterile union of two males, or two females, is iconographic of fallen man for they are sterile from the beginning. They cannot be an icon of the Heavenly Kingdom which is fecund and life-giving. Let us not stand behind academic obsfucation and speak honestly as in the day about what this subject truly is. Let us stand before the entire Church, not like a progressive political operative redefining and crafting terms to please oneself. We are in the Orthodox Christian Church and we must not only proclaim what has always been taught and believed, but speak plainly about it. No doubt I shall be called a fundamentalist, but that is such a hollow baton. It is used to scare people from standing firm in the tradition of the Church. The life of Christ is given to transfigure us into his likeness, not to validate our passions and sinfulness.

  2. Shelley

    The author of this piece is being completely disingenuous. He uses academic theological jargon as nothing more than a red herring, in order obscure his real argument and purpose, which is nothing other than the age old argument that has always existed. His argument is that the Church and the fathers are not static entities but living things which need to evolve according to the culture within which it lives. Furthermore, that the fathers of the Church need updating as far as sexuality and life issues go. I could take this argument piece by piece and show you the ways he twists things to his purpose. For example, claiming the Church has never existed in a pluralistic environment when that has been true of most of her history. The way he vaguely points out that those living with sexual sin are treated uncharitably by the Church. The way he twists repentance to mean that those who need to repent are those that have imposed historical notions of sin on others. The question remains the same as it has for the entirety of Christian history. Does the author of this piece believe homosexual acts are a sin? Does he believe that sodomy is a sin? I think we all know the answer to that question. So at least, have the courage to come out and SAY EXACTLY that instead of hiding behind vague language meant to obscure – especially on a site that is supposed to be for youth. But then, maybe that was your point all along.

  3. Byzantine, TX

    “Second, there is the idea that the gospel is a text. As will be stressed in what follows, the Gospel is first and foremost Jesus Christ…”

    I agree.

    “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.” – Hebrews 13:8-9

    “For the Church to proclaim the never changing Christ as it meets the many and complex challenges of our time there must be a desire on the part of all the faithful – bishops, priests and laity – to allow the mind and heart to change and expand. ”

    I disagree. The modern world will continue to spin out into more utopianism or anarchism or whatever is popular at the moment. The Church doesn’t need to “change or expand” in a way that would signal that modernity is the key to some greater understanding of God and His creation. The opposite is true. Modernity flails around and only when its hand grasps hold of the Christ and His Church will it “change and expand” its heart to Christ.

    “If the never changing Gospel who is Jesus Christ is to have a credible presence and role in our culture then the Church can no longer ignore or condemn questions and issues that are presumed to contradict or challenge its living Tradition. Among the most controversial of these issues are those related to human sexuality, the configuration of the family, the beginning and ending of human life, the economy and the care and utilization of the environment including the care, dignity and quality of all human life. If the unchanging Gospel is to be offered to the culture then the Church, in and through the Holy Spirit will have to expand the understanding of itself and the world it is called to save.”

    Which of these would you have us change? I submit that the Church doesn’t need to convert itself, but that the world is in sorry need of conversion. I don’t know what the author wants to see changed, but I can make guesses by such topics as “human sexuality, the configuration of the family, the beginning and ending of human life,” and the rest. I’m not sure where the author would have us make alterations? Is he asking for more clear teaching on settled doctrine or a CHANGE in teaching? If the former, we can certainly do a better job of proclaiming the truth to the world in a way that is can understand. If the latter, this is just a re-packaged bit of propaganda used by mainline protestantism.

    1. V. Rev. Lawrence Margitich

      I have to join in with the other readers of this essay in expressing my dismay and opposition to what the author, a respected, accomplished and erudite pastor of note, has written. I agree that there are questions which the Holy Orthodox Church must deal with—we cannot just rail against the culture at large. We are to witness to what we know of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is very, very often something the world finds terribly uncomfortable. We do need to speak to “post-moderns” who don’t find authority in the things we accept—so we have to speak to where they are. My model for that is someone like Elder Porphyrios of Greece, or the Optina Elders, who encountered all kinds of craziness and philosophical currents of the day, and spoke to them pastorally from the heart of the Church. I feel that Fr Robert, again, a man I respect for his learning and pastorate, is asking us to “expand our hearts and minds” to accept a morality that the world accepts. I’ve only just read the essay, and need time to formulate a responsible response to Fr Robert. I don’t want to accuse him of introducing the same arguments that the Episcopalians, the Presbyterians and loads of other denominations have floated — you know “the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing in the Church” type argument. Perhaps Fr Robert is saying that; again, I need time to formulate a worthy response. But, I think it’s important that those who disagree with what the article seems to be saying—and I wouldn’t want to accuse Fr Robert of being unclear and obscure in his essay—need to register their objection immediately. Finally, really, what’s the point of posting this on the Wonder Blog? What are we trying to tell our youth?

  4. Fr. Stephen Vernak

    With respect, I would propose that the author is introducing a “new and alien spirit” that ultimately weakens the voice of our Church to a very confused and rapidly decaying culture. I was not encouraged or edified by reading it, and would certainly not recommend it to any of the youth in my parish. Are these articles “vetted”? By whom?

    1. Jesse Cone

      Your point, Father, is well made. Moreover, it points out the irony of Fr. Arida’s project. Citing Fr. Florovsky of blessed memory, Fr. Arida claims to have identified a “new and alien spirit” which comes from Protestantism and smuggles in a fundamentalist (read: ungodly? heterodox?) ethic. And yet we are supposed to be open and pliable regarding, one assumes, contemporary sexual ethics, which would somehow be NOT “new and alien”.

      I am thankful our Orthodox bishops, whose are tasked to “rightly divide the word of truth”, have spoken clearly as to the testimony of our Christian Tradition on this topic.

  5. Brian Hoostal

    In reading the above essay, I am reminded of something St. Gregory Palamas once said: “Having died to sin through divine baptism, we ought to be alive to God through virtue, so that when the prince of darkness comes looking, he may find nothing in us pleasing to him.”

    One of the greatest joys in life is that of witnessing the sacrament of baptism within the Orthodox Church. For obvious reasons, it is a time of a great elation and celebration. Saint Diadochos the God-bearer commented that Baptism ‘renews the image of God in us, effacing the wrinkles of sin, but it is only with our cooperation, through prayer, that grace will lay the ‘colours’ of the likeness on this sketch, making one virtue after the other come into flower and exalting the beauty of the soul from ‘glory to glory’ (II Corinthians 3:18) in the ‘intimate sense’ of God’s sweetness.’

    In both quotations, one finds the word ‘virtue’. And yet, in the above essay, we are led to believe that it is ‘ethical systems’, systems that in fact help to aid and clarify what is virtuous, that act as a roadblock to our being alive in God. As Fr. Winfrey correctly observes in his response, the essay ‘gives a general impression of culture as taking precedence over what has been received, and that that is an authentic Orthodox experience.

    Simply put, there is strong push for us to be led to believe that it is modern culture that is very much the rudder that is to guide the course and direction of the Church. As we are reminded in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, ‘there is nothing new under the sun’. We unfortunately, see this time and time again, as denomination after denomination, falls prey to the infectious disease known as secular humanism. When a secular humanist attempts at redefining the God given gift of marriage, along with the attempted perverse reshaping of human sexuality is made, clearly it is not done ‘through virtue’. It is in fact, a blatant and vicious assault on our Baptism. All of this is cleverly done under the guise of ‘liberation’. Unfortunately, the secular humanist, along with much of modern society, fails to realize there can never be any true liberation without Christ, along with our Baptism in Christ.

  6. Peter

    Amen, Fr. John Winfrey! The Lord Christ commanded us to be salt and light for the world. We are to transform culture, not the other way around. I wonder what the author would say to the legions of martyrs who gave their lives for Christ in opposition to the culture?

    1. Fr. Justin Frederick

      The “new and alien” spirit Fr. Arida alludes to is one he himself insinuates into the Church. “Alien” is the spirit, to be sure, but “new” it is not.

      Endless streams of words and arguments such as this were poured out during my years at Princeton Seminary twenty years ago. They were used to overturn the Presbyterian church’s once-clear teaching in matters of human sexuality to open the door to practicing homosexuals openly serving as clergy in the Presbyterian Church USA. While affirming fidelity to Scripture and tradition, those streams of words emphasized the “new work” of the Holy Spirit to change the way Christians interpret the Scriptures and tradition in regard to these matters. How the spirit driving the agenda was to be identified and authenticated as the Holy Spirit of God was never addressed, let alone answered. Here in like manner, the author invokes the Spirit against a past he fears may become an “oppressive tyrant,” though we confess that that Spirit “spoke through the prophets” and by the Holy Fathers gathered in council.

      Fr. Arida carefully does not apply his vague generalities to particular issues, though he hints what he thinks those issues are. Those hints suffice to disquiet attentive faithful and clergy.

      Among the Presbyterians, some of the most persuasive agents of change were those whose lives contained realities at variance with Christian teaching and proceeded to reinterpret Scripture and Tradition to fit their experience. I clearly remember one prominent activist (a woman who had left her husband and children for female lover and wanted to be ordained) speaking of a couple whose son had come out as homosexual and who reasoned thus: “The Scripture and church teach that homosexual acts are sin. But we know that our son is good. Therefore, the Scripture and the church must be wrong on this point.”

      Every Christian faces this choice when his experience in life does not correspond with the teaching of Christ. He may judge himself in the light of Christ, the Scriptures, the Tradition, and the Church and cultivate repentance, and seek to be conformed to Christ, or he may hold his life as the standard by which he interprets the faith and to which he subjects it. The voice of the “Spirit” blowing a gentle wind of change offers an attractive justification for the second course.

      Too often the authenticating “Holy Spirit” cited in these arguments is one’s own spirit in thrall to the spirit of the age.

  7. Stephen

    It would seem that the clarity and openess we are seeking from Father Robert is already available from a homily of his posted online in 2011. It ends thus:

    If the Church is going to respond to the legalization of same sex marriage/union it seems that it should begin by considering how to minister to those same sex couples who being legally married come with their children and knock on the doors of our parishes seeking Christ. Do we ignore them? Do we, prima facie, turn them away? Do we, under the rubric of repentance, encourage them to divorce and dismantle their family? Or, do we offer [them], as we offer anyone desiring Christ, pastoral care, love and a spiritual home?

    Indeed, the Church has never sailed these uncharted waters. But our history teaches us that what is new need not compromise Christ who is the “same yesterday, today and forever.”

    The questions Father presents are not truly fair, are they? They don’t begin a discussion about being pastoral in approaching men and women of all circumstances, but rather, they attempt to end an argument that he has himself begun by contrasting words like “ignore” and “turn them away” with “offer them [...] a spiritual home.”

    Father Robert even mentions “the rubric of repentance.” I assume this is the rubric that John was falsely referring to in announcing the kingdom, and the rubric Christ also was using in His own pronouncement that the kingdom is at hand, and in His instructions to the Twelve. Yes, how life-draining and legalistic repentance can be.

    This essay seems to be addressing the same topic, but concealed in lofty verbage and addressed to youth like myself. I would ask the very reverend Father to clarify if we the commenters are misunderstanding, but also to clarify if we are understanding perfectly. If adults that are commenting (including presbyters!) are confused by this essay, it is probably best that it be taken down and revised by the author before presenting it to young adults and children.

  8. Gregory Manning

    As an Orthodox Christian, a repentant and repenting homosexual, and former Episcopalian this is blather. Fortunately, there are enough former Episcopalians whose antennae can pick this kind of stuff up immediately. What gobbledygook! We’ve heard this stuff before. And yes, this is just another ludicrous attempt to slip homosexuality in through the back door. Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing!

  9. Patrick

    Stephen –

    Thank you for bringing that to the public’s attention. You are right: the phrase “rubric of repentance” is a *very* telling choice. To me, that particular choice of phrases indicates an attempt to demean that idea that repentance demands someone stop sinning since society has declared that homosexual activity and desire is no longer a sin. It is a typical tactic used by those of a more liberal worldview: degrade and demean.

    In other words: to demand that people stop sinning is merely trying to enforce the “rubric of repentance,” but isn’t REAL repentance, which is what I, the author, have in mind. It’s just being mean and hateful and old fashioned.

    That is what the author is implying here and it is a very, very common tactic of those who wish to – at the very least – reduce the importance of the unassailable belief that the Faith, delivered *once for all* to the saints, being a reflection of the Truth that is God, who is the same for all times (as pointed out so clearly by others here), insofar as we can participate in it as limited, created beings, also never changes. Truth is Truth, or the word becomes a mere colloquial sentiment that, in reality, is nothing more than relativism cloaked with the accoutrements of the *idea* of Truth.

  10. Archpriest Thomas Soroka

    In Fr Robert Arida’s well-crafted essay entitled, “Never Changing Gospel; Ever Changing Culture,” consistent with his previous essays and sermons, he calls the church to rethink its traditional positions on so-called culture-driven issues, most notably today, homosexuality. He claims that the church must “expand the understanding of itself and the world” in order to “have a credible presence and role in our culture.” While having a credible presence in the world is laudable, and even essential, Fr Robert intentionally uses vague and lofty language in his theological argument to support his thesis.

    Moving beyond his unfounded accusation that there is a concerted effort among the leaders of the church to verbally and physically assault homosexuals, or that any argument supporting the traditional understanding of homosexual behavior is merely a “political agenda,” we should turn our attention to three terms he seems to intentionally obfuscate in order to make his argument: Christ, gospel, and repentance.

    The Christ that Fr Robert presents the young readers of this blog is devoid of authority (Mt 28:10). His Christ seems to be the servant of “every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14) and a slave to the world which He has, and his disciples are called to, “overcome” (1 Jn 5:4). Indeed, God loves the world (Jn 3:16), not to affirm it, but to save, redeem, and transfigure it, by sending His only-begotten Son. He does this by calling it back from sin (Rom 12:2, Gal 5:13, 1 Jn 2:15) which we believers must constantly become dead to by virtue of our baptism (Rom 6:11).

    The gospel that Fr Robert cites is void of power (Rom 1:16). While he claims “the unchanging gospel… is Christ,” he empties the gospel of its content by elevating the supremacy of “the relationship of Christ and every person.” The gospel indeed has at its foundation the person of Christ, the eternal Logos, whom we embrace synergistically. But Christ Himself is also the “power and wisdom of God” (I Cor 1:24). This power and wisdom is given to us in Christ’s gospel message to “repent” (Mt 4:17) as members of His Kingdom. The relational aspects of our union with Christ is not to experience some undefined “dynamism” as cited by Fr Robert, but rather to lead us to repentance, by God’s help, so that we may ever more closely be “conformed to His image” (Rom 8:29).

    Finally, Fr Robert empties the Church’s ever-present call to repentance by defining it as “(the changing of the mind) that expands the heart our faith” without defining what we are called to change our mind to. While the Greek term “metanoia” is most certainly defined “to change one’s mind,” we must understand that we are called to change our mind about embracing the world, “which is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31; 1 Jn 2:17). Christ calls us to change our mind about everything we thought was true about God, humanity, the world, sin, and death. The very power of “repentance unto salvation” (2 Cor 7:10) is the Church’s call to:

    “… not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom 4:12-13).

    Fr Robert is a gifted theologian who has, unfortunately, done a great disservice to the Church and to believers by misleading them with vague language in attempting to justify and bless sinful behavior under the false premise that human standards are, as he put it, “always changing – always expanding “. All believers struggle with sin. Let us be reminded and encouraged by the only way to the Resurrection, which is the way of the cross, the crucifixion of our passions and desires (Gal 5:24). Let us be encouraged to embrace the fullness of our Holy Faith when we look to “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).

  11. Sal

    Reading this sort of thing can be extremely painful for those of us same sex attracted who are struggling to live faithful to the Church’s teaching.

    1. Fr. David Wooten

      Sal — thank you for your brave comment. Indeed, articles like this do nothing but confuse, though they are wrapped in a guise of “pastoral accommodation.” May God continue to bless you in your struggle.

      1. Dr. David C. Ford

        Yes, Sal. Thank you for your post. You’ll be in our prayers, as we pray for all those who are struggling with this kind of temptation, as we pray for all of us as we struggle with all of our temptations! May our LORD’s Truth and holiness prevail in all of our lives, as we join our efforts with His Love and Grace!

  12. Elizabeth H.

    The inability of the commentators to ponder the essence of the text instead of the red herrings conjured up by their imagination steeped in culture wars is disheartening. It is difficult to consign this simply to the post-traumatic convert syndrome, which, although rampant in our Church, does not account for all commentary. Instead of assigning the author one’s own demons, and then taking up arms against those windmills, wouldn’t it be more productive to internalize and examine the questions that are being raised? I fear that for the young readers of this blog, seeing such knee-jerk and shallow responses, especially from the clergy, will serve to further alienate and disenfranchise the best and brightest of our youth. Telling young people who struggle to internalize their faith that the Gospel is the book of rules and the Tradition has been given to the Church in a solid form once and for all does not in any way help them LIVE in Christ. This may serve to intimidate some but it will rob the Church of her future.

    1. Brian H

      Any theft or robbery that is occurring is happening in the attempt at replacing Church teaching with the moral relativist tripe that is becoming more and more prevalent.

  13. Fr. James Parsells

    The Church teaches what is in the Deposit of the Faith. Speculation, opinion, and sophistry is not part of the teaching authority of the Church. The Wonder Blog ought to present and reflect sound Orthodox teaching. Clergy should not use the Blog for “personal perspectives.” While we monitor what is being taught in American society as large, we should not have to be in a position to do so on official OCA church sites. We guard our youth. Do we need to guard our youth from what appears on official church sites? A failure of responsibility.

  14. Priest Nikolai Breckenridge

    Perhaps instead of simply warning the readers of it’s controversial message (that’s putting it kindly), the more prudent thing to do would be to remove it. I daresay, our youth already get this drivel fed to them all day, the most original thing they could hear these days would be the Churches teaching of repentance of sins and healing.

  15. John B

    Clearly there are wolves in the sheepfold. I’m grateful for the commenters who have already raised the alarm.
    It remains for the OCA to answer why they’ve allowed this wheedling call to apostasy on their official web site.

  16. Samengrelo

    I see nothing in this essay that has not already been refutated a thousand times. And nothing I couldn’t hear from your regular liberal pastor. Christ DID answer all questions for good when He came to us, precisely because He is the eternal Truth and all timely and earthly matters, far from being distinct of Him, are all subordinated to Him. Except if you’re trying to use the old “Truth is a person, not a doctrin”, I really don’t see how you can deny that God encompasses everything and does not consider anything that concerns His creation as pointless. The Father gave Moses His law carved in tablets to remind the jews of what He had already written in the hearts of men, the Holy Ghost has spoken through the prophets, Christ came among us and reaffirmed everything in His teachings. Every thing, every question has its own truth, that comes directly from the eternal Truth and there is nothing any of us can do about that. And it certainly won’t be done by blabbering some kind of vague poetry about the Golgotha.

  17. Dan

    First off I a 40 day convert (baptized an chrismated at 40 days) so I can safely say I don’t suffer from Convert PTSD that at least one person has accused the replies of. I read the article a few days ago and I found it troubling on several levels. On the one hand the author talks about an “alien spirit” and dispelling of that “spirit”. Unfortunately a spririt alien to Orthodoxy is craftily laced throughout the article that other more erudite respondants have aptly identified. What is more troubling is that it was allowed to be published on an official website. Who reviews this stuff?

    The article should either be deleted, or it should be recase with the introductory phrase:

    “An example of how the world will try to decieve an Orthodox Christian:…”

  18. Reader Daniel Kowalcheck

    The Editor’s Note suggests that “the opinions expressed are that of the author…” and does not “present itself as the authoritative, dogmatic teaching of the Church”. I submit that if the Wonder blog wishes to “feature articles that may be deemed controversial” than it has to be prepared for open comments and discussion as is typical in blog-style entries. The views expressed by Fr. Robert would be better suited for a personal blog; not a forum geared toward our youth under the official OCA logo in the masthead of the site. We are doing our youth no favor by misguiding them in thinking that that the issues and challenges of the day are unique, always changing, and different than they’ve always been.

    Furthermore, the replies from the clergy are not “knee-jerk and shallow responses” (as one commentator suggested) but well thought out and respectful commentaries to an article and issue that cannot go without comment by the pastors of His Church. Thank you good Fathers for acting as a line of defense for the teachings of Holy Orthodoxy. I am grateful for their witness and clarification, not succumbing to the spirit of the age. I wouldn’t think that a simple blog would have to have hierarchical oversight and blessing, but perhaps it is necessary.

  19. Lyle

    Note to the Editor: Isn’t this an OCA-sponsored website? If that is true, how can you countenance “individual opinions of the author” which are clearly not in conformity with the clear teaching of the Church?
    Concerning the article, it is a highly problematic piece. I don’t know this priest but I’m surprised the editor allowed it to be published. In my view, this is the most troublesome section:
    “If the never changing Gospel who is Jesus Christ is to have a credible presence and role in our culture then the Church can no longer ignore or condemn questions and issues that are presumed to contradict or challenge its living Tradition. Among the most controversial of these issues are those related to human sexuality, the configuration of the family, the beginning and ending of human life, the economy and the care and utilization of the environment including the care, dignity and quality of all human life. If the unchanging Gospel is to be offered to the culture then the Church, in and through the Holy Spirit will have to expand the understanding of itself and the world it is called to save. That there are Orthodox Christians who misuse the never changing Christ to promote a particular political agenda and ideology or as license to verbally and physically assault those they perceive as immoral along with those who would question the status quo of the Church impose on the Church a “new and alien spirit.”

    If the Church is to engage culture, if it is to contribute to the culture and if it is to synthesize what is good, true and beautiful coming from the culture to further the Gospel then it will have to expose and ultimately expel the “new and alien spirits” that have weakened its authentic voice. Among these spirits are Biblical fundamentalism and the inability to critique and build upon the writings and vision of the Fathers. A tragic consequence of these spirits is a Christianity of ethical systems that usurp the voice of Christ and distort the beauty of his face. It is the saving and transfiguring voice and presence of Christ that we are expected to offer the ever- changing culture.”

    The Church doesn’t conform to the whims and fancies of the culture but it is to transform the culture into the Truth of Christ. I think saying “the Holy Spirit will have to expand. . .” is blasphemous at best. I’d respect him more if he had come out and said what he implies ie. homosexual lifestyles are ok, afterall we’re expanding (whatever that means). Of course, we would be expanding. . . on the road to Hell! I don’t recall the Lord Christ ever commanding us to be enlightened or sensitive to the culture. In fact, I think he said just the opposite. If what he writes is true, how would he speak of the legions of martyrs who died because they wouldn’t conform? It’s a nice piece for the New Yorker Magazine or the New York Times but it is trash in terms of an Orthodox publication.

  20. Fr. John Whiteford

    Fr. Robert continues to engage in studied ambiguity on homosexuality. He will not come right and say what he really believes on the matter, nor will he come right out and condemn the long standing teaching of Scripture and Tradition on the subject. If he has something to say, that is also true, he should have the courage to say what he actually believes, and say it in an unambiguous manner. Either homosexual sex is inherently sinful, as the Church has always taught, or it is not. If Fr. Robert cannot say what he actually believes, then he should ask himself why.

  21. Teva Regule

    I find this to be an excellent article. Unlike some of the commentators on this blog, I actually know the author. I have always found him to be a learned and thoughtful theologian, totally grounded in the Orthodox faith and its life and yet willing to ask questions to understand more fully the revelation that God has given us and our relationship to Him. Any young person reading this blog should strive to do likewise. We should not be afraid to ask questions as that is how we grow. If something is the Truth, it can stand up to scrutiny! This is the methodology of our patristic inheritance—those church fathers who encountered the culture of their own day, challenged it—accepted some of its norms, disregarded others, and worked to transfigure other aspects—but still appropriated what was helpful (e.g. borrowed from philosophy (e.g. homoousios) as well as other disciplines) in order to articulate their experience of the revelation of God to be able to spread the Good News to others. However, they were not perfect; they were men of their day, so we must understand their limitations as well. In addition, anyone who has studied patristics knows that they did not always agree. In fact, the Church only considers an issue to be authoritative when they do. Furthermore, the Orthodox consider the “patristic” heritage of the church to be ongoing—we are constantly striving to reinterpret the faith in each age. (Dogmatics 101)

    Many of the attacks in these comments seem to be based on the commenter’s own presuppositions and/or history and are projected onto Fr. Arida’s words which may or may not reflect his intended meaning. For instance, I suggest folks read some Florovsky to understand what might be meant by a “new and alien spirit.” Folks may still disagree, but at least then a more fruitful conversation could ensue. Frankly, those afraid of “change” need to take a good church history course and realize that “change” has always been a part of church life with the Church adapting itself to its cultural context. The question more properly is: How can the Church change and yet remain faithful to the Gospel message in each time and place? And lastly, as someone who has lived the faith all her life, I humbly suggest that those new to the Church refrain from posting comments (or demanding retractions.) You need to sit back and learn a bit.

    Teva Regule, M.Div, Ph.D (cand) in Systematic and Liturgical Theology

    1. Fr. John Whiteford

      When has the Church ever changed from calling something a sin, to not calling it a sin? It is disingenuous to say “The Church has always changed”, and to suggest that it has always changed its understanding of things like what sin is. It has always adapted to historical circumstances, without ever compromising on what it believes.

      1. Cyranorox

        We called usery a sin, and now we do not call it a sin – check the interest on your credit cards. We changed from calling slavery not a sin, to calling it a sin. Soon, we may change from calling wifebeating not a sin, to calling it a sin.

        1. Darrell

          Bad examples:

          Usury was against the Jewish Law. The Law was fulfilled in Christ.

          The slavery of the OT and the NT was not the same thing as slavery as we know it today. Look it up.

          As for the whole wife beating thing . . . I have no idea what you are talking about. It is pretty much covered under the whole “Love your neighbor as yourself” thing.

    2. Jesse Cone

      Teva,

      If I may summarize what I’m reading here: the concerns are that Fr. Arida is obfuscating something clear in accordance with the spirit of the age, and that he is not being up front about it. I think both claims are warranted, and I fail to say how enjoining the commentators to “sit back and learn a bit” addresses either frustration. It simply seems condescending.

      Elsewhere Fr. Arida has written, “Given our Church’s biblical, patristic, liturgical and canonical sources one eventually detects that there is no universally consistent and accepted teaching on marriage as to its
      origin, purpose and goal. ” Yet I see he serves at his bishops cathedral; a bishop whose Synod has clearly offered teaching on the matter. (http://oca.org/holy-synod/statements/holy-synod/synodal-affirmations-on-marriage-family-sexuality-and-the-sanctity-of-life). I believe what you have seen from commentators here is a testing of Fr. Arida’s claim that the source of his own Synod’s clear teaching (and that of other Orthodox Churches across the globe) on the matter of personhood, sexuality, and marriage comes from a “new and alien spirit” of callused Protestant legalism.

      If you think we should sit back and learn; then I suggest Fr. Robert’s got the wrong audience. Perhaps his essay, and your exhortation, would be better suited towards his Synod of bishops–since it is their teaching he’s trying to revolutionize.

  22. Fr. David Wooten

    When Fr. Robert says that “the Church, in and through the Holy Spirit will have to expand the understanding of itself and the world it is called to save,” I believe he is correct — though not in the way I suspect he thinks. We must, in and through the Holy Spirit, seek new ways of communicating the unchanging truths about sex and sexuality to the cultures in which we find ourselves in 2014. I believe, however, that Fr. Robert seeks to change not how we say what we say, but rather what we say. This we will not, and must not, do, for the very sake of the pastoral integrity Fr. Robert (ironically) seeks to preserve.

    We cannot speak to the sin of two men or two women having romantic and/or sexual relations in the same ways that people did in the 80s. We no longer try to “pray the gay away” or tell them just to “choose not to be gay.” Fascinating research on epigenetics, for example, behooves us to investigate how these attractions are often unbidden and very persistent, often feeling ingrained in a person’s deepest psyche. We don’t resort to talk of the “weaker sex” when discussing the male-only priesthood, as if it were the last “boys club” on earth. We have to understand what the significance is in a Bridegroom Who gives Himself to and for His Bride.

    Fr. Robert laments “That there are Orthodox Christians who misuse the never changing Christ to promote a particular political agenda and ideology or as license to verbally and physically assault those they perceive as immoral along with those who would question the status quo of the Church.’” I lament this as well, yet it is a red herring. These issues are theological and anthropological, and directly affect the Church, politics aside. We seek to address, accurately and precisely, the state of those who struggle against desires that challenge the very makeup of their anatomy; we do this, not to “verbally and physically assault” people, but to provide them with a true assessment of their situation from the vantage point of the Body of Christ. It is again, ironic, and tragic that, in a desire to challenge the content of this true assessment rather than express it effectively, Fr. Robert will “impose on the Church” the selfsame “new and alien spirit” he so seeks to avoid.

    We are told that the “blog does not present itself as the authoritative, dogmatic teaching of the Church. The opinions expressed are that of the author and any concerns can certainly be directed to the author directly for response.” Yet this is a priest of the Church, holding forth on this issue in a way that, it can be clearly seen, is not accepted by a vast majority of the Church, both clergy and lay, both “cradle” and “convert.” I remember several of my classmates at SVS who were horrified at the idea of a priest’s displaying a political campaign sticker in his window. Why? “Because he’s a priest! People will think that is the *official* endorsement of thus-and-such a party by the Church at large!” Indeed, Fr. Robert may not be the Holy Synod, but his position as an ordained priest makes this article even more problematic, as some may therefore think it possible that these issues about sexuality are actually up for debate in the Church. The comments on this thread alone make it overwhelmingly clear that they are not.

    I am extremely disheartened to see this article linked to the front page of the OCA website, and to see this type of disingenuous article posted on the official teen/young adult page.

    A call for such an “expansion of the mind” as suggested by Fr. Robert assumes what it has to prove: it may seem to be “pastoral accommodation” to some to change doctrine, but when the Scriptural and Patristic view have been clear for 2,000 years on a subject (a consensus we don’t reach on many, many other issues, we should note!), irresponsible articles like this only succeed in sowing confusion where there was not, and need not be, any. Such an action is hardly pastoral.

  23. Archimandrite Juvenaly Repass

    .The author writes, “a ‘new and alien spirit’ is displacing the authentic voice of the Gospel. The voice of Christ is being weakened by the voice of philosophical and ethical systems.”
    The holy faith of Orthodoxy does indeed include what might be called a doctrinal “system” and an ethical “system.” A system is “an ordered and comprehensive assemblage of facts, principles, doctrines, or the like in a particular field of knowledge or thought.” The Christian “system” is a system like no other, but it is a system, for Christianity is nothing if it is not ordered and comprehensive. Everything in the Church is intended to bring all into order and beauty and arrangement – to adorn the souls of all of her members – and in so doing, to glorify her Lord.
    In the Orthodox Christian doctrinal and ethical systems (or rather, system, for they are really one) lie the keys to salvation. Unlike purely human systems, this system remains mysterious in that we can neither know, nor define, all that lies within it. But we do know what constitutes departure from it. Holy Tradition – the Holy Spirit living in the Church – has placed a fence around these mysteries, to keep us from wandering away from the truth – from the mystery – and into doctrinal and ethical error.
    The doctrines and ethics of holy Orthodoxy have been “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1.3). The system of doctrine and ethics does not change. That is because human nature does not change, the grace of Christ has not changed, and what Christ calls us to has not diminished. The system of doctrinal and ethical truth that we have been given is not a straitjacket that suffocates us or limits us; rather it is the means of the attainment of true freedom in Christ through the realization in us of God’s will and plan for us. It is not a restrictive fetter, but a liberating gift of the Holy Spirit.
    Let’s consider that a bit more. First, human nature has not and does not change: human beings are the same today as they have always been since the fall. Second, what Christ does and can do with the work of his hands, human beings, to redeem and save our fallen selves, is also the same today as it always has been. It is no less possible today than at any time in the past for any person to become transfigured through Christ, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit to attain to the likeness of God and to realize in oneself God’s plan and his will for us. The power of God has not diminished; the grace of God has not become exhausted. Third, what God intends for us has not changed: the “the hope of His calling … the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints … the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Eph 1.18-19) are as glorious today as they always were.
    The author writes that “the inability to critique and build upon the writings and vision of the Fathers” is among the “new and alien spirits” that he says “have weakened [the Church's] authentic voice.” He says the Church must “expose and ultimately expel” these spirits, since they have given us “a Christianity of ethical systems that usurp the voice of Christ and distort the beauty of his face.”
    It is wrong to speak of our faith as being “a Christianity of ethical systems” as though there were competing systems, the work of different human thinkers. There is only one Orthodox Christianity and one ethical system of our faith, and it is given to us not by humans by the Holy Spirit living in the Church. The author’s real objection is not a philosophical objection to the concept of an ethical system, but an objection to the content of the ethical system of our faith that was “once for all delievered to the saints.”
    More importantly, to say that the Orthodox Christian ethical system “usurp[s] the voice of Christ and distort[s] the beauty of his face” is perverse. The Orthodox ethical system is the very orderly process and theological road map by which the beauty of Christ’s face can be seen more clearly in each of our lives. It is the author’s view that the spirit that gave us the Orthodox Christian ethical system is a “new and alien spirit” and needs to be expelled. But the truth is that the spirit that gave us this system is none other than the Holy Spirit! The “new and alien spirit” that the author decries is in fact the Holy Spirit. Moreover, he says that the Church must expel this Spirit! (Although he probably did not realize that that was what he was advocating when composing his essay.)
    It’s clear, of course, that the author’s view is the one that is brought by a “new and alien spirit.” It is the one that needs to be expelled – or rather, not expelled, since is was never a part of the true mind of the Church – but rejected. The author may intend to strengthen the “authentic voice” of the gospel, the “voice of Christ” – but his idea would have the effect of strengthening a voice that is alien to Christ, alien to the gospel, to the Church, and to spiritual health and healing.
    To advocate that the Church “expel” the Spirit of truth is – what can one say? Appalling.
    There is a place for culture in the lives of Orthodox Christians. Our Orthodox faith can and should transfigure our culture, adorning it and making it godly and holy. But culture should not intrude within our faith and our ethics. To permit that is to permit the world to enter where we should have left the world behind and with it “all earthly cares.”
    It is the duty of us all to preserve holy Orthodoxy and all of the Church’s doctrinal and ethical teachings as they have been delivered to us. In this lies the hope of salvation for ourselves and for those who come after us and for the world.
    It is possible, normal, and sometimes necessary to express the unchanging truth in new ways, and in some cases to make adaptations in certain practical aspects of how the truth is applied. But the substance of the truth itself – the system of our faith, including its ethical teachings – is not subject to change, nor should it be a subject for discussion in an official Orthodox forum.

  24. Teena H. Blackburn

    Yes, Fr. Arida, many of us are “converts,” although once in the church one is simply Orthodox, and either faithful or unfaithful. A “cradle” Orthodox has no advantage over a convert, and particularly not if they do not uphold church teaching. The howls of protest you hear, and will read in these responses, come from people who in many cases watched their former communions sell their souls for a mess of pottage. People looking for the solid, (yes, unchanging) faith of the Apostles are not inclined to sit idly by while the same attempt is made in Orthodoxy. Intellectual honesty would require you state plainly your position, but I suspect you know what would happen if you did. I teach college, and I understand clearly that young people question, but this essay has no place on an official church website. Dealing with questions is not the same as denying church doctrine and practice. It is a scandal, in the truest sense of the word.

  25. Fr. Christopher Foley

    This article is very troubling. My main concern is that this is an article on our youth and young adult blog and offers a very polemical critique of anyone who holds to traditional Orthodox teaching and labels it as fundamentalist. It is my opinion that Fr. Robert is the one being influenced by a “new and alien spirit”. Is this what we want to feed our young people?

    I am all for discussion on these topics in a proper context, but when an article like this is written by a venerable Archpriest of a cathedral and published on the official website of our church, it turns a well-intentioned blog into the very thing that Fr. Robert denounces. “That there are Orthodox Christians who misuse the never changing Christ to promote a particular political agenda and ideology.” He is certainly presenting an ideological article.

    What also disturbs me is that his rhetoric is designed to shut down any argument with him.  Again, becoming the very thing which he rails against. His last two paragraphs are very troubling.  He calls for a relativism and and change in order to keep up with the times. I agree with what he quotes from, but I am sure that Florovsky would have said that it was Fr. Robert who is being held in this “western captivity”. 

    I have been a big supporter of the Wonder blog and have written an article for it myself. It is disappointing to me to see the blog turn into a mouthpiece for challenging the traditional teaching of the Church.

    It reminds me of the discussion we had in college when I was studying missiology.  When we speak of the unchanging Gospel there is a spectrum upon which this Gospel sits between contextualization on one hand and syncretism on the other hand. Our goal is to properly contextualize the Gospel into the “heart language” of the people so that Christ becomes incarnate in a particular people group.  We do not want to create a new and alien gospel through syncretism.  We discussed this as well in Fr. Luke Veronis’ class on missions at SVS and stydying the writings of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania. The Gospel does not change and each new culture and age requires us to creatively engage the Gospel so it still speaks (or Christ Himself speaks) to the heart of man through conversion and repentance and a new life in Christ in the Church.

    Let us contextualize and not syncretize. There is a huge difference.

  26. Haralambos Ventis

    2 points briefly:
    1) An excellent article, deserving merit for both its pastoral sensitivity and its deep sense of eschatology. Doubtlessly, the chiefest tragedy plaguing the Orthodox world has been the dramatic remission of eschatology, whose loss has etrapped the Church to a past vision and has created the pernicious illusion that Tradition is a static, non-evolving, and finished “entity,” offered for passive consumption. This has actually served as the common pretext for burying our heads in the sand and avoiding any real, meaningful contact with the real world and its challenges. Far from doing that, the great Church Fathers assumed the responsibility to wrestle creatively with the problems and physical realities of their day, instead of preaching an exotic religion suitable nowadays for those who seek a safe refuge, or rather a “cocoon” against modernism and the rapid changes of contemporaty, open society. This is sad, because eschatology demands that we look to the future, not to the (often dead) past; it asks us to be open to the unsettling refreshment of history incurred by the Holy Spirit, whose role is to create new physical, biological, and social realities and thus prepare us for the coming Kingdom of God, which shall entail startling reversals of what we noawadays assume to be normal and respectable. Tradition is not finished; it is still evolving and still enlarged, and will always do so, till the day that the Church’s vessel finally reaches the shores of the Eschaton.
    2) Sexual orientation is not a behavior but an intrinsic aspect of one’s innermost being, like race and skin color. But we can’t deal with this unsettling reality right now, as we still haven’t even stomached heliocentrism and evolution. All in due time, but unfortunately, in about 20-30 years from now the world will know and remember which pockets of hard-line denial of reality resisted affirming the intrinsic dignity of gay people as worthwhile, if different persons, with their own different needs–hundreds of millions, worldwide, with many more born right now, as I am writing this. It would, of course, be extremely convenient if they didn’t exist at all, for then our beautiful faith which has pre-abricated answers for everything and has already anticipated everything, would not have to make more room for the unknown, but such is reality, alas–a bitch that doesn’t give a damn about our preconceptions.
    True prophets are rare, and one of their distinctive marks is that they relay unsettling news, not palatable to the conservative minds (see the OT for more). Thus, let me offer my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Fr. Robert Arida for assuming the perilous responsibility to stir the still waters, instead of choosing to please ears with conventional platitudes. Occasionally, as in this case, the truth does not appear “devout.”

  27. Gregg

    The “Editor’s Note” above comments that “The purpose of the Wonder Blog is to spur discussion among the college students and young adults of the Church.”

    Yet I wonder at the degree of discussion that this article “spurs” among college students and young adults, as compared to the degree to which struggling Orthodox Christians and families are driven away by pseudo-academic “studied ambiguity” such as this, as Fr John Whiteford labels it above. Would the apostles or church fathers have written such an abstruse and confusing piece like this in order to “spur discussion?”

    Young and old Christians alike are told by our cultural elite and media every day that we are a heartless, cruel, and judgmental people for “hating” those who struggle with homosexuality or who have abortions, when hate is nowhere near our hearts. And Fr. Robert Arida has the audacity to attack struggling, traditional Orthodox Christians — whom he is supposed to shepherd! — as among those who “promote a particular political agenda and ideology or as license to verbally and physically assault those they perceive as immoral along with those who would question the status quo of the Church impose on the Church a ‘new and alien spirit.’ ” I’m sorry, what? When did I or any other Orthodox Christian whom I know ever take license to verbally or physically assault anyone who is perceived as immoral? What planet is Fr. Robert living on?

    I do wish that Fr Robert would simply come out and say what he thinks, rather than dancing around subject under the guise of “spurring discussion.” This type of persecution of traditional, struggling Christians is all around us in our modern culture — why does this blog, which is allegedly for youth and young adults, need to add fuel to the fire? Does the church leadership *still* not realize that it is things like this that drive the struggling faithful — who are hungering daily for true leadership among our episcopate and clergy — away from the OCA? Fr Robert may soon spur a lively discussion by himself in his empty cathedral in Boston.

  28. Fr. Marty Watt

    Personally, I do not believe the Gospel message changes. What I do think is necessary, however, is a discussion about how the Orthodox Church relates to the broader non-Church society in the world, particularly in North America. Certainly that role changes – as the Church transitioned from underground to the official belief of the Roman Empire under Constantine to the life under the Ottomans to life under the Communists, now we must transition to life in a free democratic society.

    We are to be a light to the world. Salt to the earth. Our path, our Way, THE WAY, is unchanging.

    We should, I think, consider what the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians means today: I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

    Our message to the world is the same – go and make disciples, baptizing. We should (must?) meet the world where it exists, but not compromise what we believe is acceptable to God to those inside the Church. God does not compel compliance for those that reject him. Neither should we, for those outside the Church. The Rich Young Ruler went away sad – but he went away, and presumably kept those things that he was commanded to give away.

    Those, however, who chose to enter the Church and our fellowship, find forgiveness, but also the admonition – go and sin no more. If you fall, as you will, as we all do, then you will be forgiven again, and offered the chance for repentance – the changing of your life’s direction away from selfishness and toward God.

    We have to be careful, however, that we don’t demand the conquering of sin before entering the Church – rather that we be allowed to struggle with our sin, our failings, when we are in the Church.

    Our society overvalues sex. It attempts to claim that we are defined by our attractions. As a Church we need to be able to reach out to the world and say “You are better than that. You can and should be better than that.” The way we find ourselves is not natural – it is not the way humanity was created. We find ourselves fallen. The Church knows, and offers, the path to restoration.

    I hope we can, as a Church, have this discussion, and offer the world hope for true change, instead of simple compliance to a set of behaviors.

  29. Stephen

    Hebrews 13:8. On his parish website, a sermon titled “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” is posted. This verse from Holy Scripture is a touchstone for Father Robert, it seems–as it should be for all Orthodox Christians! In that sermon, he says:

    Permanence/immutability and change are woven into every facet of reality. The incarnation of the pre-eternal Son and Word of God stands as the pivot of personal and cosmic change. One of the pre-festal hymns for the Lord’s nativity boldly proclaims that by becoming incarnate the Son of God assumed what he had not in the beginning i.e. human nature. Within the Triune and Tri-personal human nature is introduced. And yet the divine sovereignty and love of the Trinity are in no way compromised by this change. On the contrary, this mysterious change extends to all of creation the divine overture of love. It is this change that opens to the creation the never changing love and care (economy) of the Holy Trinity.

    Change and permanence are fundamental to the mission of the Church. If the Church is to proclaim Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever then it must be open to change. Too often the Orthodox Church is labeled as the “ancient and unchanging” Church. Though there is no direct corollary regarding antiquity and immutability, we need to remember that we confess the Church to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Neither antiquity nor permanence guarantees the fullness of ecclesial life and dogmatic truth. Christian antiquity was rife with heresy and schism. A rigid understanding of immutability would not allow for the broad diversity that has emerged in liturgical practice, iconography, hymnody and doctrinal vocabulary formulated by various Church councils.

    [SOURCE: http://holytrinityorthodox.org/SERMONS/Jesus%20Christ%20is%20the%20same.htm

    So, the Body of Christ “must be open to change.” At a commencement address given at Saint Herman Theological Seminary, Father Arida mentioned the following:

    Because theology seeks to proclaim the Gospel in time and space, it has by its very nature a missionary and evangelical quality. This means that Orthodox theology cannot be the possession of a particular people. It is universal in scope, offering the saving and transforming power of Christ’s gospel to all nations. Our history teaches us that as the Church sojourned in time and space, it used the culture of empires and nations to articulate a living theology. This is certainly the method employed by the Church Fathers. Knowing the language, art, philosophy, literature, science and politics of their time, they were able to convey the gospel to people of varying intellectual and social backgrounds. They were able to proclaim Christ who is the “same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8), using the cultural tools that were at their disposal.

    Today Orthodox schools of higher learning, especially our academies and seminaries, need to promote and develop the patristic method of using culture for the proclamation of the Gospel. Because they knew their culture well, the Fathers were able to interact with its prevailing ethos. They were able to draw the knowledge of their surroundings into a vibrant ascetical spirituality that enabled them to communicate the Gospel freely and openly.

    A theology separated from the culture is ultimately a theology separated from the people. To respond to the culture, especially the challenges posed by the rapid development of science and technology, theology is compelled to creatively interact with its environment so as not to fall into a cultural vacuum. The voice of the Gospel and, therefore, the voice of Orthodox theology will be heard only when the theologian truly knows his audience.

    [SOURCE: http://www.thevoiceoforthodoxy.com/archives/articles/Theological%20Education.html

    Here, we are told that the Fathers and Mothers of the Church, who truly knew their audience, used the cultural tools at their disposal (drawing the knowledge of their surroundings) to freely proclaim the Gospel.

    I can see that Father Robert has a commitment to evangelical work, that he does want to reach out to everyone seeking Christ in His Church. Father Robert knows that total ignorance of society is never good, and that the Church cannot be missional without meeting the people where they are. I suppose I agree with this. Christ was often very blunt in the Gospels when he met people in the midst of their sin or troubles. But one thing I would like Father to make more clear in the present Wonder article is that we cannot leave people where they are at. The repentance God seeks turns the nations to the Trinity, reorienting them through the Church. The Church, like Jesus, must pull the “culture” out of its ancient tomb, person by person. They may not become Arabs or Greeks, Romanians or Russians upon resurrection, but the goal–it seems to me–is for them to become faithful! Because, sure, you can argue that many changes have come about in the day-to-day experience of Christians across time in the Church as far as ecclesiology, the strictness of canons and pastoral work, &c. But the faith is unchanging in this world! Our Credo is pronounced at every Liturgy without fear that the truths therein have grown out of touch. The faith of the Patriarchs and Prophets is the faith we have been delivered in the Tradition of our Fathers! The faith does not sit at the footstool of morality or fundamentalism, nor culture or societal norms. It is itself the Rock upon which the Holy Church stands as a fortress for those in battle and a castle for those who have triumphed in holiness! It is what makes us Godlike, for we know that He remains eternally faithful! I greatly hope that Father Robert sees this truth. From what I have heard here and elsewhere, he seems like a wonderful pastor and lover of God. We can thank him for his willingness to serve as a priest in these days of confusion and trial. May the Lord God, the Potter, lovingly mold Father Robert’s faith such that it reflect Saint Peter’s, a faith that was willing to stay strong to the point of death at the hands of a culture that rejected the Son of God.

  30. Darrell

    The Church is charged with engaging the culture and making disciples of Christ. Given that, the witness of the Church can, and certainly needs to, change in “presentation” from time to time. Insisting on presenting the Doctrines and Teachings of the Church using only a wooden presentation form using 4th century language, euphemisms, and/or parables can sometimes alienate a 21st Century audience and make the faith seem “irrelevant”. However the Doctrines and Teachings of the Church – the Deposit of Faith itself – is most certainly unchanging. The Church is the Body of Christ, and Christ is the “same yesterday, today, and forever”. As a result, that which was truly sinful in the 3rd Century is still sinful today, despite what our 21st Century “enlightened” culture might try to tell us.

    As GK Chesterton said:

    “We don’t want a Church that moves with the world. We want a Church that moves the world.”

    Lord help us to do this. +

  31. Alexander Patico

    I have not read all the comments above, but enough to discern a pattern: the critics do not accept what Fr. Robert actually has written, but insist upon castigating him on the basis of what they “heard” him say. He writes “engage with the culture;” they critique “giving in to the culture.” He writes about making the Gospel “live;” they see his rejection of it. He writes about a general subject, while they leap to specific areas of controversy and divisiveness. Why not respond to Fr. Robert on the same territory that he presents?: the relationship between past, present and future in Orthodox theology and practice, the idea that “tradition” is not a static, once-for-all kind of thing, but a dynamic process that started with Christ’s incarnation and continues today. While I may not agree with each and every line in his essay, most of it resonates with me. Yes, we have received much, but we are to contribute as well. Else the Church is whitening bones that have less and less vitality to them. That does not dictate any particular stand on an issue of the day, but it does demand that we live in THIS, the day that the Lord has made.

  32. M. Stankovich

    This discussion is a fascinating example of a very established mindset in the Church, best expressed in the opinion of the 14th century Byzantine Grand Logothete, Theodore Metochites: “In the Church, everything that needs to be said has already been said.” Theologically & dogmatically speaking, it would seem that this mindset would deter, if not condemn, any and all “re-articulation,” discussion, and examination of the eternal Truth & Tradition of the Church. But is this the actual “dogma” and position of the Scripture, Patristic Fathers, & our revealed Tradition?

    Fr. George Florovsky explores this mindset by first addressing the confounding notion that, as a “Church of the Councils,” the revelation of the Truth & Tradition was “completed” by the Seventh and final Ecumenical Council in the 8th century. Fr. Florovsky, however, challenges this idea through the person of Blessed Gregory Palamas. Palamas, he writes, condemned anyone and any theology which attempted to “contain” the uncontainable Energy of our God; eternally vibrant, eternally active, eternally invigorating & present. While God is “eternally the same,” Palamas condemned those who interpreted this to mean “unchanging,” and a “static” presence in the Church and the world.

    Secondly, we hear in the Vespers of Pentecost that, with the coming of the Spirit, “all gifts have been given,” and the statement of Metochites again suggests that, not only has everything that needs to be said already been said, but with Pentecost, we have been given everything we need. But as Fr. Florovsky observes, the presumption is that all gifts have been revealed and understood. This is contrary to the Fathers, notably Blessed Andrew of Crete, who warn those who would attempt to “limit” the unlimitable Spirit Who “goes wherever He wishes.” From the Vespers, we hear that the Spirit is “Fire from Fire,” moving, inspiring, and invigorating, And such is the nature of our Tradition: never voted upon by Council or never declared by a bishop, but revealed over time by the Spirit.

    Those coming from Protestantism continually warn that they have seen and heard this “I know where this going,” narcotizing smooth-talk before: erudite, non-threatening salesmen offering carefully phrased speeches, the actual intent of which is to undermine the integrity of the Church. They, after all, are witnesses of the destruction. But we need to be especially clear with them that they speak as if their original church was in “the Fullness of Truth,” not founded in heresy & hetrodoxy – and frequently sounding as if, were it not for specific “issues,” they would still be among the heterodox – the natural history of which, inevitably, is destruction. Suffice it say that the Church has endured movements and factions promoting heresy – in some cases to the point where the Truth was held by a minority – but endured “by the the Grace of the Spirit and the wisdom of men.” Frankly, to lack the faith that the Church can and will endure and overcome the worst of heretical challenges is both astonishing and disheartening. Recall the Vespers Dogmatikon from the Resurrection Octoechos in Tone One: “Courage, courage, O people of God! For Christ will destroy our enemies as the All-Powerful.”

    Finally, it is the unfounded fear of re-articulation and the discussion of the unchanging Truth that has left us at the whim of the civil courts to determine issues of public morality such as homosexuality, abortion, the nature of marriage, and all issues related to the beginning & end of life. We have no moral voice of authority in the “public square,” and we, quite literally, are totally inconsequential in any public media and forum of debate. Imagine! The harbinger and chosen guardians of the revelation of the eschaton, those celebrating the “Banquet of Immortality,” which is always at the Master’s Table in the Kingdom which is to come, are inconsequential, trivialized, and voiceless in a world that so desperately needs us. “Where shall I go from your spirit? or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Ps. 138:7).

    I commend Fr. Robert for raising the discussion in a public forum, where he must be subjected to critique & accusation more for what he did not say, than for what he actually wrote. “Courage, courage, O people of God!”

  33. V. Rev. Lawrence Margitich

    A reply written by a parishioner:

    “Deconstructing the theology of insinuation” of Fr. Robert Arida’s article ‘Never Changing Gospel; Ever Changing Culture’”

    The (ostensible) thesis of the article can be stated succinctly and in terms that are unexceptionable and conformable with the nature of the Church: the Church must address the ever-changing conditions and needs of human culture in a way that conforms to Her unchanging truths, principles and mission. So far so good.

    The real aim of the article, however, is not stated clearly but is implied, suggested and insinuated with considerable skill and subtlety. But we can state it clearly. The author wants the Church to change her timeless ethical and moral witness to the present culture by changing Her traditional and scriptural understanding, witness and teaching on sexual and other social issues to conform with the current understanding on these matters–i.e., homosexuality, same sex unions, euthanasia, etc.–that the “culture” now supports and strives to inculcate in all its members. However the author does not honestly and forthrightly state his purpose in clear and unmistakable terms, but presents his argument in a rather disingenuous and even dishonest way.

    We need to break down the way the author presents his argument because that is the way we will be able to see his theological method, which can be called a “theology of insinuation.”

    Here is his technique, his “theology of insinuation” which is skillfully and insidiously used.

    1) The author separates concepts from their contexts: concepts like past, present, future, unchanging, change, repentance, metanoia, love, Gospel, Church, tradition.

    2) Stripped of their contexts–that is, the way they are actually used, meant and understood–in Church tradition and history, the concepts become abstract, that is, rather general terms empty of specific meaning and are thus empty symbols to which new meaning can be attached or empty vessels in which new meaning can be poured.

    3) The author then assigns negative meanings to the now abstract concepts he wishes to weaken and positive meanings to the abstract concepts he wishes to strengthen. He also limits the meanings of certain key principles to conform to his argument or intent. A key and very telling example of this approach is how he limits the meaning of “metanoia” to “change of mind” in the prosaic sense of changing of one’s views about something or other, rather than its true meaning of a reversal of orientation, a turning away from sin and a turning toward Christ incarnate in virtue.

    4) He employs the unassailable truths of the Orthodox faith in a subtle way that is contrary to their true purpose by weaving them in throughout his text, using their unquestioned truth to support his very questionable intent. This he does by asserting the truth at the beginning or in the middle of a paragraph, such as the unchanging nature of Christ (Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today and forever) or the infinite love and mercy of God, thus compelling the reader’s assent, then surrounding that truth with questionable and even reprehensible ideas, without actually linking these ideas with the true doctrine, but insinuating that the true doctrine has not been fully realized in the past and suggesting that it can–and indeed should–be stretched or expanded to embrace these questionable or reprehensible concepts or ideas or meanings. He suggests that the unchanging doctrine or truth is not what is at fault but rather that it is our (that is, the Orthodox presently striving to be faithful to these doctrines of our faith) past and present interpretation that is at fault, by limiting and distorting the true meaning of the doctrine which is meant to “engage” the culture, “contribute to” the culture and “synthesize” what is good, true and beautiful that is coming from the culture.

    5) The author separates theology from ethics in an illegitimate way in order to “free” Christian ethical teaching to change and respond to the “ever-changing” ethical confusion of the present world so that the Church can be “relevant”, i.e., “have a credible presence and role in our culture.” In so doing, he also separates Christology from anthropology, and both from soteriology and eschatology in a way that empties them of their true content. In order to achieve the questionable goal of having the Church be more “accepting” of changing mores and life-styles, he sacrifices, or rather, prostitutes by misuse the sacred certainty of what was “believed everywhere, always and by all.”

    6) “To preach the never changing Christ requires us to be ever changing.” This is Fr. R.A.’s fundamental thesis-statement, and it is fundamentally, or rather, insidiously fallacious. It is a dangerous simplification, rooted in the intellectual “shell game” he plays throughout his article with the terms “unchanging” and “change”. The truth of the reality of the never changing Christ demands of us the faith, obedience, humility and discernment to know and attach ourselves to the unchanging reality of Christ, while being at the same time flexible, alert and responsive to the every-changing needs of the world to which “God so loved that He gave his only-begotten Son.” In other words, we as human beings and Christians living in but not of the world must be both unchanging in essentials and have the ability to change in communicating and witnessing to that unchanging truth in response to the needs and capacities of the present world. Orthodox Christian ascesis, based on repentance, is the method by which we may realize the state of living in and responding to a changing world from the unchanging Center of our being, which is Christ.

    7) By far the most obvious, telling and infallible signal, for anyone who has followed, read, or endured the widespread assault on the traditional doctrines and practices of Christianity over the past two generations, is the author’s use of the word “dynamic”. To be dynamic is the ultimate positive compliment of all the purveyors of cultural and ethical change in the Church. And sure enough, Fr. Robert uses it: the requirement of a “true” Christian to be ever-changing is a “dynamic process that never ceases.” He even maintains that “dynamism” is an aspect of holiness when he asserts “this dynamism characterizes holiness given that our relationship with God and one another is always changing-always expanding.” I quote the entire statement to show also how he uses a self-evident truth as a half-truth, shaving off an essential part of the truth in question in order to make it fit his argument.

    There are many other specific criticisms that one could make about how Fr. RA manipulates words and meanings to suit his aims, such as his use of the word “synthesize” in relation to how the Church related to culture in the past. but there is no need to belabor this further. Once you see what he is doing and how he does it in the article, the tendentious and disingenuous nature of his argument is laid bare. I do not by any means want to discredit the entirely laudable aim of calling the Church to search for more effective ways to minister to the people in our post-post-modern society, or the warning to the Church to avoid the entirely unChristlike temptation to wall itself away from society in a “righteous” moral ghetto. But a theologian who is a self-proclaimed follower of Him who is the Truth incarnate should speak the truth in righteousness and not with the ingenuity of slippery disingenuousness that is unworthy of the holy name of truth.

  34. Father Matthew

    Fr Georges Florovsky’s good name and authority has been abused here. The comment about “a new and alien spirit” was made with reference to Peter Moghila’s Latinizing presentation of Orthodox faith. It had nothing to do with any opposition to doctrinal and ethical “systems” on Florovsky’s part. Like Fr Juvenaly in his comment above, Fr Florovsky also defended “systems,” and saw the Fathers themselves as authors of doctrinal “systems” (see Florovsky, “Vessels of Clay,” St Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly 3, 1955, 2–4).

    Fr Florovsky certainly did not see overcoming the Westernizing “pseudomorphosis” he had critically diagnosed as entailing any openness to modern sexual liberalism. At a meeting of the Central Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches at St Andrews in Scotland in 1960, addressing the topic of population control, Fr Florovsky together with (then-Archimandrite) Emilianos Timiadis made clear that it was against the tradition and teaching of the Orthodox Church to approve of artificial contraception. Fr Florovsky commented then that the very fact of Christian discussion of acceptance of artificial contraception was a sign of a decline and a secularization of morals. If that was his view on contraception in 1960, what then would he think of Orthodox priests and theologians urging acceptance of homosexual behavior, and using his good name to this end? Most likely, he would have invoked his choice phrase: “moral insanity.”

    It is wrong to suggest, as the author of this essay does, that Florovsky’s diagnosis of “pseudomorphosis” referred to “virtually every aspect of Orthodox thought and life.” On the contrary, the object of this critical diagnosis was narrower — not received liturgical and ascetic traditions, but rather “the theology of the schools” and their relative alienation from precisely those traditions. Pseudomorphosis in Florovsky’s usage meant a “servile imitation” of influences foreign to Orthodox tradition. Where is the real “servile imitation,” “pseudomorphosis” and introduction of “new and alien spirits” here? We don’t need to go to so-called “Biblical fundamentalist” or Roman Catholic influence to know that homosexual sex cannot be blessed, and that its acceptance is foreign to Orthodox tradition and teaching. We know that already from the Didache, from Justin Martyr, from Basil the Great, from John Chrysostom, and the continuous moral, ascetic and canonical tradition of the Church from their day up to the present. Who here is introducing the “new and alien spirit”? Who here is guilty of “servile imitation,” and of “pseudomorphosis”? Who “usurps the voice of Christ”?

    Teva Regule writes above that the Fathers “were not perfect; they were men of their day, so we must understand their limitations as well. In addition, anyone who has studied patristics knows that they did not always agree. In fact, the Church only considers an issue to be authoritative when they do.” For the purpose of discussion, let’s accept that. But then the unavoidable fact must be admitted: on this issue of the morality of same-sex relations, all the Fathers *do* “agree,” speaking authoritatively as one voice. “Securus judicat orbis terrarum,” in the words of St Augustine.

    It is ironic to see those who in other contexts would be among the first to urge ecumenical openness suddenly become critics of supposed “Western” theological influence when it serves the cause of their liberal agendas. The “new and alien spirit” being injected here surrounding this issue is neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, but secular. Fr Florovsky had something to say about that. At the 1973 general convention of the Episcopal Church USA, he was asked to give a paper addressing the debated topic of the ordination of women. In response to an Episcopal bishop who declared that the ordination of women was “the work of the Spirit,” Fr Florovsky replied: “yes — but *which* spirit?” To the present push for acceptance of same-sex relations, I have no doubt he would say the same.

    One must be careful not to confuse the Zeitgeist with the Spirit of God — the spirit of the age with the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

    The author of the above essay is a talented priest, and much that he says here in this essay is true. It is a fact that Orthodox theology up to this point has articulated no satisfactory theological anthropology on the question of the significance of sexual difference — the question as it is asked not was not raised in this form in earlier centuries. Certainly, there is theological work to be done. Fr Florovsky was clear that Orthodox theology must not only remain faithful to the tradition of the Fathers, but it must also address the age, “with its own queries and problems.” The author of this essay is right insofar as he affirms that need.

    But if he wants to invoke Fr Florovsky, then let’s be straight about what this does not mean. In the spring of 1969, Florovsky made a remark to his biographer Andrew Blane: “ I am more in sympathy with [Karl] Barth than I am with his opponents. To begin with the world instead of the Word is the wrong method.” (Andrew Blane, Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual, Orthodox Churchman, page 139).

    Similarly, in an interview with a Norwiegian news service at a conference on Rudolf Bultmann in southern Switzerland in 1967, he commented:

    “One cannot forever fit the Gospel to the so-called modern man. . . . It is simply impossible . . . One isn’t dealing with a linear development of thought. It goes in zigzags … Modern man changes so quickly that it is impossible to keep up with the ins and outs. . . . As soon as one from the church thinks he has adjusted himself to modern man, the so-called modern man is another. . . . Of course we must speak so that it is understandable . . . But the old message will always remain the same. It is not the message which should adjust to man but man which should adjust to the message. . . . The modern world has arisen from Christianity and will turn back to it. The modern frame is open for criticism and for reforms. Certain conditions complicate the message for modern man. Why can we not criticize the modern mentality? Human thought has always found it easier to acquire general ideas before the unique: God in history. The Jews waited for a sign. The sign was the cross and they considered it to be an insult. The Greeks laughed at Paul’s speech about the resurrection. The Gnostics tried to soften the shock by spiritualizing the message. Thus man has always wanted to represent the church in a universal way, as a universal truth. Universal truth does exist, but it is also dressed in history. . . . There will always be a certain tension between word and content in the message of the Gospel, but one doesn’t solve the problem by shoving the Gospel out of history and into another sphere. In each endeavor after having used a language which communicates with modern man one must never forget the identity of the message” (in Elsa Breen, “Det gamle budskap i ny emballasje?”, Familien [Oslo], 3 January 1968, 14, 47).

    Finally, in the same period, commenting on what he called “the contemporary confusion in theology,” Florovsky similarly remarked:

    “Theologians today, Orthodox, Catholic and others, want to get out of the confusion, but they do so by the wrong method. They start with the wrong problems, which are posed by contemporary thought, and they adjust the Christian message to these wrong questions, and nothing good can come out of these. But the true theological methodology starts with the message and tries to understand the queries of today in light of the message. My impression is that many theologians ask ‘how can we adjust the method to the hippies’ mentality’, and my question is ‘how can the hippy be impressed by the message, how do you present the message to the hippy to impress him with it.’ This is a methodological problem. It is true that the physician must start with the illness, but he regards the illness as illness, and if he does not regard as illness, but just as brute fact, he will never heal the illness. People are so impressed by the confusion of today, that they try to adjust the Gospel to it. Well, it is impossible.” (Unpublished “table-talk” notes of Andrew Blane and Maria Vorobiova; Andrew Blane archive).

    These statements, I think, are a fitting response to Fr Arida, from a theologian he respects and whose name and authority he invokes.

    1. Dr. David C. Ford

      Thank you very much, Fr. Matthew, for this very carefully thought out response, with excellently researched and selected quotations from Fr. Florovsky. Thanks for taking the time to do this – may it be very helpful for everyone participating in this conversation!

  35. Cyranorox

    The parishioner has some grasp of rhetorical analysis, and you appear to support her or his reasoning, stance and tone. Look at the character shown: no one would use this nastiness, but for the supposedly righteous goal of defending the Church against the cultural horrors of allowing a sexual sin to be considered OK. For that, any spite, any meanness, any verbal aggression, any display of malice and hatred, is acceptable to the writer, and apparently to yourself.
    Christ does not need such defenders. I am a convert, of more than a quarter century, and straight, and some may already know me as a liberal. You might, on that ground, not want me. But if I read then what I read now, I think I would have turned away from Orthodoxy, perhaps from Chrisitianity, in sadness and disgust. Not that homosexuality is so important to me, but that rejecting it is so important to you, and leads you to permit yourselves such anger, vitriol, and what I can only suspect is, well, sin.

  36. Chris Banescu

    Bravo to the Orthodox priests who have spoken out and challenged the misleading, worldly, and misguided “preaching” of Fr. Arida.

    The duty of true and faithful shepherds is to preserve and defend the Christian faith. “We are to defend Christianity itself–the faith preached by the Apostles, attested by the Martyrs, embodied in the Creeds, expounded by the Fathers.” wrote C.S. Lewis. We cannot add or subtract from the teachings of Christianity based on individual opinions regarding God or man or other timeless tenets of the faith that we may consider difficult or objectionable.

    There are certain lines that Christians, especially priests and Christian leaders, cannot cross and still remain a Christian. In his book, God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis cautioned that clear boundaries of Christian doctrines must be established and maintained by all who preach Christianity. If such limits are forsaken by pastors, the only honorable solution is for them to change their professions. “But I insist that wherever you draw the lines, bounding lines must exist, beyond which your doctrine will cease to be Anglican or to be Christian: and I suggest also that the lines come a great deal sooner than many modern priests think. I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your own minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession,” (C.S. Lewis).

    Some relevant quotes to keep on mind in this battle for truth and righteousness raging in the very heart of the Orthodox Church:

    “Controversy and conflict in the church are never to be relished or engaged in without sufficient cause. But in every generation, the battle for truth has proved ultimately unavoidable, because the enemies of truth are relentless. Truth is always under assault. And it is actually a sin not to fight when vital truths are under attack.” ~ John MacArthur

    “False teachers and doctrinal saboteurs inside the church have always confused more people and done more damage than open adversaries on the outside. Is an attacking enemy who promises his arrival in advance and wears a uniform for easy identification as dangerous as a terrorist who is hidden and acts with deadly surprise? The answer is obvious.” ~ John MacArthur

    “That is true even though fighting sometimes results in conflict within the visible community of professing Christians. In fact, whenever the enemies of gospel truth succeed in infiltrating the church, faithful believers are obliged to take the battle to them even there. That is certainly the case today, as it has been since apostolic times.” ~ John MacArthur

  37. Igumen Patrick (Carpenter)

    To put it simply – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” So therefore is Truth – because He is the Truth, so to is life because He is Life, and He is the Way that we have to salvation. The Church has no authority to deviate from Jesus Christ or the Truth He has made manifest to His Body – The Church. We are called to express fully, in every means available to us, and in every circumstance, the teachings of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Faith to all who will hear and even to those who refuse to hear in order that the hearers might find salvation.

  38. Charles D. Smith D. Min.

    I agree with virtually all of these writers,but most with V. Reverend Lawrence Margitich. This is an effort to turn the faith of the Historical Christian Faith to one of cultural acceptance and destruction. This line of thought has been going on in one form or another all of my adult life, though it took me a long time and some decent education to see it. I am a recent convert to Orthodoxy and am frustrated beyond belief to see this thinking making its way into the larger discussion, and especially, mission of the Church. Do not give in to this false and most dangerous way of thinking. It is simply away of getting around ancient and wise theology and barriers against falsehood. It is poor thinking and theology in every way…

  39. Rdr. James

    Perhaps the posting of this subversive article on the official OCA young adult page has backfired. Here in the comments, we see Holy Tradition being gloriously defended and expounded–and with quite a bit of restraint, I’d say. The camel’s nose is clearly in the OCA tent.

  40. Chris Banescu

    It’s encouraging to see that other Orthodox priests and Orthodox Christians have spoken out and challenged the misleading, worldly, and misguided teaching of Fr. Arida.

    The duty of true and faithful shepherds is to preserve and defend the Christian faith. “We are to defend Christianity itself–the faith preached by the Apostles, attested by the Martyrs, embodied in the Creeds, expounded by the Fathers.” wrote C.S. Lewis. We cannot add or subtract from the teachings of Christianity based on individual opinions regarding God or man or other timeless tenets of the faith that we may consider difficult or objectionable.

    There are certain lines that Christians, especially priests and Christian leaders, cannot cross and still remain a Christian. In his book, God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis cautioned that clear boundaries of Christian doctrines must be established and maintained by all who preach Christianity. If such limits are forsaken by pastors, the only honorable solution is for them to change their professions. “But I insist that wherever you draw the lines, bounding lines must exist, beyond which your doctrine will cease to be Anglican or to be Christian: and I suggest also that the lines come a great deal sooner than many modern priests think. I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your own minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession,” (C.S. Lewis).

    Some relevant quotes to keep on mind in this battle for truth and righteousness raging in the very heart of the Orthodox Church:

    “Controversy and conflict in the church are never to be relished or engaged in without sufficient cause. But in every generation, the battle for truth has proved ultimately unavoidable, because the enemies of truth are relentless. Truth is always under assault. And it is actually a sin not to fight when vital truths are under attack.” ~ John MacArthur

    “False teachers and doctrinal saboteurs inside the church have always confused more people and done more damage than open adversaries on the outside. Is an attacking enemy who promises his arrival in advance and wears a uniform for easy identification as dangerous as a terrorist who is hidden and acts with deadly surprise? The answer is obvious.” ~ John MacArthur

    “That is true even though fighting sometimes results in conflict within the visible community of professing Christians. In fact, whenever the enemies of gospel truth succeed in infiltrating the church, faithful believers are obliged to take the battle to them even there. That is certainly the case today, as it has been since apostolic times.” ~ John MacArthur

  41. Bowick

    As someone who is a member of the target audience here (myself being only a fresh 19) I must say– it’s as if Spong, Schori, Pope Francis, and everything bad (I must emphasise and preface this, one of the greatest members of the Russian emigre movement was a saint himself!) from the Parisian school of thought got together in a bar and said, “Let’s just plaster icons on this post and it will be deemed Orthodox!” I do ‘wonder’ how this is regarded as Orthodox by any means,– we know what’s happened to the ECUSA at that– it seems this post should belong to a youth blog of that confession. I would not recommend this post to any of my peers– and I say this as a former president of my Teen SOYO Chapter. Forgive me if I have been brash, but those of us who are young– who are faced with a multiplicity of worldviews (which are NOT compatible with the holy Orthodox faith)– who are ‘milk drinkers’ as the Apostle wrote– do *NOT* need to be hearing or reading this. My generation is struggling enough to keep the faith, innovation in faith, doctrine, and anthropology by misquoting a few authors/citing bad ones will only corrupt ours and encourage the worship of the ‘gods’ of this age. I applaud the many clergy who have spoken against this treatise. Thank you.

  42. Priest Leonid Schmidt

    Leave the article and the comments up. We should desire that every young Orthodox Christian see how their priests defend the faith with compassion, how the faithful cling to the life-giving Tradition of the Church. I was saddened and frustrated to see yet another theological hodgepodge like this given such consideration; now, seeing so many rise to the occasion, there is nothing to be ashamed of.

    To our young people, who are, at once, unfairly maligned and incessantly coddled: follow the Truth, no matter where He leads you. The world needs bright faith, courage, and conviction. The Christian life is a heroic undertaking; the cost–and the reward–is life.

  43. Longue Carabine

    For centuries of the early Christian era the larger Gentile culture accepted homosexual practice. St. Paul talked about it directly, in clear terms (unlike the obscurantist circumlocutions of Fr. Arida).
    The Church did not acquiesce to this culture then; why should it now? On the contrary, it repudiated this “cultural practice” and eventually ended its social acceptability entirely.
    So it’s an old battle. It’s not new to the Church, and requires no “new thinking”.
    It’s sort of like chicken pox and shingles– the body ages, the immune system weakens, and the old disease comes back in a slightly-altered form. But it’s still the old sickness.
    The “immune system”– Christianity– is once again weaker than the culture surrounding it. It needs to grow stronger again, not weaker yet!

  44. Fr John Mefrige

    Thank you also Fr Matthew for your reasoned and researched response. I too find a structural or methodological problem in Fr Arida’s article, it reminds me of the idiom ,”the tail waging the dog”. Some of us are often so preoccupied with ministering in a sin filled world that we loose focus on the Word, it is an easy reversal but a dangerous one.

    For those reading this blog that struggle with passions and same sex attractions there are some very helpful resources out there such as:
    https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/ex-gay-homosexuality-is-just-another-human-brokenness
    http://www.josephsciambra.com/

    And for those that fear this kind of slippery slope cultural theology that decimated the episcopal church, don’t worry the Orthodox have never been polite – I am sure the good Fr Robert will have been anathematized multiple times before these posts end.

    Pray for me a sinner – Fr. John

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