The Elemental Spirits of the Universe: St. Paul, Cosmology, and David Bentley Hart

It is often said that everytime you read Scripture you see something you didn’t see before. I have found this to be true, and for me, it would appear that this is even more true each time I hear Scripture during the Liturgy.

I recall the first time I consciously heard “. . . we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe” (Αἰκατερίνης Μεγαλομάρτυρος, 25 Νοεμβρίου, Γαλ. 3,23-4,5). I was like, what? as I looked around and no one seemed startled at the words. I still look around now. As far as I know all Greek Orthodox parishes in North America, unfortunately, use the RSV when reading the New Testament in English so the translation will differ; however, the Greek text(s) at that point all agree: “ὑπὸ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου ἦμεν δεδουλωμένοι.”

For those of you able to attend Liturgy on secular New Year’s day as I was would have heard similarly, “. . . according to the elemental spirits of the universe” (Περιτομὴ τοῦ Κυρίου, Βασιλείου τοῦ Μεγάλου, 1 Ἰανουαρίου, Κολ. β′ 8-12). Again, the translations differ, but the Greek text(s) agree: “κατὰ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου.”

Biblical cosmology (especially the cosmology of Second Temple Judaism) I have come to find fascinating. With all the interest these days in secular society with Flat Earth Theory and in the Church with the τελώνια, a proper understanding of cosmology makes all the difference. The problem arises though when those who suffer from what Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor has termed disenchantment apply their disenchanted post-Enlightenment cosmology upon the past, completely unaware that one of the worldviews of the past was hierarchical. (This also would have saved the Mormon ψευδοπροφήτης Joseph Smith and the LDS et al. a lot of embarrassment vis-à-vis third heaven/seven heavens, q.v.). This one needs to keep in mind when approaching the issue of the τελώνια.

My point in writing about all this is because of an article that came my way this morning before Ὄρθρος by the brilliant Eastern Orthodox philosopher, scholar of religion, writer, and cultural commentator David Bentley Hart, Everything you know about the Gospel of Paul is likely wrong. It deals with a cosmological worldview lost by most (as I vaguely hinted at above, i.e., translation differences and the τελώνια) and is well worth reading.

Freemasonry: Antithetical to Orthodox Christianity

Preamble

Recently a priest asked me for some information on the Freemasons. He had an Orthodox Christian who was thinking of joining. Below is the response I sent him based upon my knowledge and experience; and just as I prefaced my emailed response to him with “Freemasonry, and I warn you this will be crazy” in the “subject” box, so also I want to make this clear to my readers. However, since you’re reading a blog about demonology you are aware of these things or at least prepared to be made aware.

Freemasonry

The biggest obstacle when addressing the Masonry issue is the fact that if one goes beyond the first three common “Blue Lodge” degrees, it gets more seductive, even in theoretical exploration. Obviously, this is so, because the source behind it is demonic.

There are basically two ways to view the history of Freemasonry, and which of the two one follows ties into how one views the world and who runs it overall. Those who follow the worldview indoctrinated into us by government schools and forced government curriculums will usually believe we as a collective global species are in some form of democratic control of our societies; along these lines fall the belief that Freemasonry essentially appeared out of nowhere on June 24th, 1717 with the founding of the Premier Grand Lodge of England.

Another view is that the world is controlled by a ruling elite (Kings) who answer in some form to beings who came down from above (gods) and that there has been a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the origins of the Craft, origins which go back to the Antediluvian period of human history, and the secrets of Freemasonry are contained within their rituals (or at least were at one point), these secrets being the pre-Flood knowledge. So looking at this as an Orthodox demonologist, I would ask two things: what is the point of Freemasonry for/upon its Initiates? And further, what do we the uninitiated, but Orthodox Christians, know about the Antediluvian knowledge and its source?

The answer to the first is that the point of Freemasonry is to make “better men out of good men.” Now, of course, this makes no sense to those not ensnared, especially since how much better than ‘good’ can one possibly be? But of course this is the honey which though sweet, traps the fly: it lures by appeal to vanity, it tells one that one is good. It is easy to see how when one is alone with one’s thoughts, or the thoughts that one perceives as one’s own (λογίσμοι), one could think it would be good to become better: who wouldn’t want to become more than what one already is? So essentially one becomes better not through Christ, but through the ritualized lessons which instill the Antediluvian teachings upon the Initiate. And this leads us to what we know about the pre-Flood knowledge, which is that it was taught to mankind by the Fallen angels. The Church Fathers knew this, the author of Jude’s epistle knew this, the books of Genesis, Enoch, and Jubilee’s teach this, and every single significant culture which records a flood also records an Antediluvian period where gods came down, interbred with us, gave us heroes who gave us Kings, and then a higher diety causes a flood to end the heroes and corruption of the species. It’s in the Egyptian and Sumerian king lists and seen in the Hebrew and the Hellenic cultures.

That’s basically the only way to approach it. The two options listed above. Acceptance of the first is what they want you to do, and warning someone not to join due to the second will increase the seductive pull of what is known, at least in the Western Esoteric Tradition, as “the secret teachings of all ages.”

It goes without saying that this is the “Cole’s Notes” version of the history and dark force behind not just Freemasonry, but all Secret Societies that have kept the ancient Antedivulian teachings and continuously passed them on. But we can see from this that the real history of Freemasonry ultimately goes hand in hand with the idea that the Church is mistaken, that Christ is unnecessary, and at best that He is simply one among many of the world’s Teachers.

I’d say it is safe to say that Freemasonry is a religion of its own, and I believe Freemason Albert Pike even wrote of it that way. The ritual material and symbolism, and introductory material which is available make it clear that on the surface level Freemasonry is a Deist-syncretic religion, which of course is congruent with the public history of Freemasonry appearing in the 18th century when Deism became popular. Knowledge of the commonly accepted history of Freemasonry has been enough for it to be condemned in 1821 by Pope Pius VII in his encyclical Ecclesiam a Jesu Christo (however Vatican II I think lifted the automatic excommunication of Catholics who took the oath(s) and joined the Craft, and the reasons behind that are far beyond the scope of an email); by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece around 1930, and even condemned by name by ROCOR in the Anathemas of the Sunday of Orthodoxy since at least the year 2000, according to my research.

Further to the point of the incompatibility of the two is that, as far as my understanding of canon law goes, since ROCOR has condemned Freemasonry to the point of anathematizing Freemasons in the Church, all other churches recognize the rulings of local Synods until the time a Great Synod gathers and includes among its points to be discussed subjects such as though ruled on at local Synods. As an interesting tangent with that last point, I think ROCOR condemned Ecumenist as a heresy in 1983, so this too is to be respected until a Great Synod.

Further Reading

Luther Was Wrong: Ecclesiology​

Therefore he who would find Christ must first find the Church.
-Martin Luther, “Sermon for Early Christmas Day Service,” Wartburg Postil

Intro – A Question of Ecclesiology

Around the time of the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord in 2016, I found myself in the midst of a discussion being asked a very weird question. I was sitting at the kitchen table across from my stepsister-in-law, who attends a non-denominational evangelical group, and we were chatting about Orthodoxy when she asked something along the lines of, “So you don’t believe that if a pastor is reading/studying the Bible and having revelations from God, that he’d be in the Church?”

This caused me to pause a second as I composed myself before I answered, as this is a delicate topic—not just when speaking with Protestants, but with converts from Protestantism, and even with many cradle Orthodox as well.

The definition that the Church is composed of all those who believe in Christ is a recent invention of Martin Luther and an idea that, if false, has far-reaching implications for salvation; therefore, the fact that Luther was wrong is of paramount importance.

Finding and Defining ‘the Church’

The origins of the Orthodox Christian Church can be traced in history from it’s “founding” at Pentecost; furthermore, one can begin to see the blueprint with Christ’s words to St. Peter in Matthew 16:18, “κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς.” Following the Lord’s Great Commission and Ascension to the right hand of the Father, the Apostles went out and grew the Church by founding the Apostolic Sees, all of which are still in existence to the present day.

In all parishes which grew from the Apostolic Sees one will hear chanted or read the Symbol of Faith that Orthodox Christians have been reciting for over 1600 years, in which we confess not only the belief that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic, but also “an affirmation of belief which is not found in modern Protestant confessions: belief in the Church. In the Nicene Creed, the [Orthodox] Church confesses belief . . . in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Thus for the ancient Church, the Church Herself was an object of faith and a subject of credal affirmation. The early Church confessed belief in the Church Herself, even as She confessed belief in God,” as Clark Carlton relates in The Way. Further to the point, up until relatively recent times everyone (Orthodox, schismatics, heretics etc.) believed that outside the Church there was no salvation, membership being attained via baptism (with membership being distinct from salvation, but baptism necessary for salvation), that their church was the Church, and the relationship between the Church and others was one of schism, heresy, a combination of both, or excommunication/anathema. Nonetheless, there was a distinct belief that the Church was a visible body of believers of whom you could go to receive initiation.

The quickest way to find out whether or not the particular group you are attending is the same Church spread by the Apostles is to go back through history. I’ll use two examples: the group my stepsister-in-law attends, and the group I nominally grew-up in.

My stepsister-in-law attends Southland Church in Steinbach, MB; it doesn’t go back very far, and visiting their website doesn’t yield any information about it’s founding nor even where their leaders were educated or by what authority they do what they do. From the article I linked in the Intro we learn a little bit more about their pastor but still nothing substantial about their origins other than that it was already in existence in 1996, and since Steinbach was only founded in 1874 we have a time frame—though I highly doubt they existed for too long prior to 1996; regardless, we can trace the beginnings of their beliefs due to them being a “Non-Denominational Evangelical” group.

First we must realise that the phrase “Non-Denominational Evangelical” is a misnomer as well as an oxymoron; “Non-Denominationalism” (or “Nondenominational Protestantism”) meaning that the Non-Denominational group is independent in almost all matters, including dogma, whereas “Evangelicalism” is a trans-denominational movement within Protestantism (e.g., the Evangelical Lutheran and Evangelical Mennonite denominations).

The keen reader will by now be asking how a religious group can be without a denomination and yet be Evangelical since Evangelicalism is within denominations of Protestantism? The answer to such duplicity is easily found when we look at the origins of “Non-Denominationalism,” which are sketchy to trace but lead, of course, to the aftermath of the Radical Reformation, as the traditional Anglican priest Fr. Jonathan A. Mitchican wrote,

If an [North] American church calls itself “non-denominational,” nine times out of ten what that means is Baptist. Altar calls and appeals to personal conversion replace the sacraments as the means of grace. Baptism is a symbol of one’s personal conversion, nothing more, and it is only appropriate for adults. 

“Evangelicalism” on the other hand is much more clear, originating in the 18th century in Britain and it’s American colonies amongst descendants of the Radical Reformation, then eventually spreading to those descendants of the earlier Protestant Reformation.

My second example is the Blumenort Evangelical Mennonite Church in Blumenort, MB, the religion I grew up in, at least nominally. The history of this group is hard to follow, full of migration, name changes, and schism, but to the best of my knowledge, the origins of this group come from Mennonites in the Netherlands splitting into Frisian Mennonites and Flemish Mennonites in 1566.  On 1 September 1801 Klaas Reimer was elected minister of the Flemish Danzig Mennonite religion and eventually ended up in the Molotschna Mennonite settlement in southern Russia, wherein 1814 he and some followers broke away from the Flemish Mennonites and founded the Kleine Gemeinde. After immigrating to Canada the Kleine Gemeinde in Manitoba changed their name to Evangelical Mennonite Church in 1952, which in 1960 was changed to Evangelical Mennonite Conference.

As we can see from the above two examples, neither of them can be traced to any of the Apostolic Sees. Compounded to this is the obvious fact that the two groups previously mentioned are in fact two and not one, the dogmatic differences being obvious when one realizes that the current lead pastor of Southland is a former Mennonite Brethren (another Mennonite schismatic group founded in 1860 in the Molotschna settlement).

So far we have been shown that the Church is singular and not plural (just as St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 4:4-6), that the oneness of the Church has always been proclaimed and believed, it’s history traceable through the Apostolic Sees and thus can be seen and found.

The question obviously arises then as to what exactly ‘the Church’ is; the answer being found in Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 1:22-23 where we are told that the Church is the Body of Christ. With this answer it is obvious why it matters whether or not one belongs to the Church of the Apostles as opposed to the ideology of Martin Luther, Menno Simon, Klaas Reimer, or Ray Duerksen: because if you don’t belong to the Apostolic Church, you are not apart of the Body of Christ.

Luther’s Redefinition

The historic belief in the oneness, catholicity and Apostolic authority of the Church can be clearly seen amongst the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, especially St. Ignatius of Antioch’s (himself a student of St. John the Apostle) Epistle to the Smyrnaeans; this, coupled with the fact that traditional Protestants accepted the authority of the Ecumenical Councils one has to wonder when the modern Protestant misunderstanding of the Church diverged from the historic understanding of the Orthodox Church, and for this it would be best to begin where the Protestants began: the Roman Catholic heresy.

As stated above, up until relatively recent times everyone (Orthodox, schismatics, heretics etc.) believed that outside the Church there was no salvation, membership being attained via baptism (with membership being distinct from salvation, but baptism necessary for salvation), that their church was the Church, and the relationship between the Church and others was one of schism, heresy, a combination of both, or excommunication/anathema. So in 1054 when the Roman Patriarchate separated from the Pentarchy it still considered itself apart of the Church, and eventually as ‘the Church.’

This was the idea believed by Martin Luther when he began his protest against the Roman Catholic heresy: he had no plan to found a new ‘Church/church’ (which was impossible, since the Church is one, as he confessed in the Papist distortion of the Symbol of Faith), but rather to correct what he perceived were errors the Roman Catholic religion was making; therefore, when he was excommunicated on January 3rd, 1521 he found himself—despite his alleged belief in Sola fide—without the possibility of salvation.

It did not take Luther long to find a way around the situation he found himself in. Following his excommunication, while he was hiding out at the Wartburg Castle between May 1521 and March 1522, he redefined not just what the Church was (the Apostolic Body of Christ now became “the company of believing people”) but also where it could be found (“where his [Christ’s] believers are” as opposed to where the Apostolic Sees are). This word-play ensured for himself the possibility of salvation because he continued to believe—as all had, and as he himself continued to preach after his excommunication via his Wartburg Postil (1922)—that “outside of the [Catholic] church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.”

Clark Carlton, in the second volume of his catechism series, The Way, makes Luther’s redefinition very clear,

Martin Luther did not voluntarily leave the Roman Catholic Church; he was excommunicated. Once he found himself on the outside looking in, however, he was forced to rethink the very definition of the Church.

Because Luther had been excommunicated by the institutional Church, he immediately took aim at the very idea of the Church as an institution:

For this self-authenticating Church, Luther would substitute a Church composed of those who hear and accept God’s Word. He even held that the term “kirche should be discarded . . . [and] replaced by the word gemeinde [community, congregation] [now, doesn’t that word look familiar?-Thomas S.],” the idea being that the authoritative institution would give way to a group of Christians who gather themselves about the Word.

More than a thousand years before Luther’s Reformation, St. Augustine had said, “For my part, I should not believe the Gospel except as moved by the authority of the catholic Church” For him, as for the other Fathers of the early Church, the truth of the Gospel was confirmed by the living experience of the Church which is Christ’s very Body upon earth, animated by the Holy Spirit. Luther, however, turned St. Augustine’s theology of the Church on its head. For him, it is the Word—that is, the Gospel of grace and sola fide, not the actual text of the Bible—that validates the Church.

In order to justify his distinction between the true Church and an earthly institution, Luther invoked the distinction made by St. Augustine between the visible and invisible Church. Augustine developed his theory in response to the Donatist heresy, which was plaguing the Church in North Africa. The Donatists argued that the validity of the sacraments—indeed the very legitimacy of the Church herself—was dependent upon the moral purity of the clergy. Thus those leaders who had lapsed under persecution had, according to the Donatists, polluted the whole Church. The Donatists thus created their own, “pure” church. St. Augustine argued that the holiness and legitimacy of the Church was due to the holiness of Christ, not the holiness of Her several members. His famous statement that there may be some in the Church who are not truly in the Church and some outside who will ultimately be revealed as being truly in the Church was meant to safeguard the legitimacy of the historical, catholic Church—in opposition to the claims of the Donatist counter-church.

Once again, however, Luther turned St. Augustine’s theology upside down [here in the text Carlton gives a relevant footnote for us: “Jaroslav Pelikan, who is himself a Lutheran [at the time The Way was published, 1997, he was. The late Pelikan, however, converted to Orthodox Christianity in 1998] and the editor of the English edition of Luther’s Collected Works, emphasizes this point: “This definition of the church as the ‘number of the predestined’ was to figure prominently in the polemics of the late Middle Ages and the Reformation against the institutional [Roman] church, but in Augustine’s theology it had precisely the opposite function.” Emergence, p. 303.”]. Whereas Augustine sought to safeguard the unity of the empirical Church, Luther used the distinction in order to degrade the concept of the empirical Church and emphasize instead the non-historical, invisible Church (. . .)

Because one mark of the Church is the validity of its saving knowledge, it becomes extremely important for Luther to distinguish between the true Church of the Word and the Church of mere outward form. Using the Augustinian formula of invisible Church as opposed to visible Church, the great Reformer is able to claim that “the essence, life, and nature of Christendom is not a bodily assembly but an assembly of hearts in one faith.” It would be difficult to imagine a more docetic view of the Church [here in the text Carlton gives another relevant footnote for us: “Lee, p. 57. Docetism is the heresy that the Word of God did not truly take upon Himself human flesh. Therefore, his humanity is in appearance only, not in reality. Thus, according to Lee, this idea of Luther’s discarnates the Church as the Docetists tried to discarnate Christ.”].

There is a considerable degree of irony here, however. For, when Luther was confronted with the reality of the religion he described in theory, he reacted against it vehemently. Luther was not only vexed by the Roman Catholic Church that had excommunicated him, but also by Anabaptists, who insisted on putting into practice the idea that the Church was a community gathered by the Word.

In many respects the Anabaptists were simply trying to live according to the theological principles by which Luther justified his revolt against the Roman Church. Their complaint with Luther, as Philip Lee observes, was that he was inconsistent.

Luther redefined what “the Church” was to him, and his definition of the ‘invisible Church of those who hear and accept God’s Word’ has stayed with us to the present day, bringing us all the way through history from Germany to the question asked by my step-sister-in-law in present-day Manitoba, Canada, and thus has lead us back to what started this blog entry in the first place: would a pastor reading/studying the Bible and having revelations from God be in the Church?

Modern Confusion Due to Multiculturalism and the Heresy of Ecumenism

The reason why a question such as the one which leads to this blog post could even be asked after all the history has been sought through is due to multiculturalism (at least in Canada; cultural pluralism in the USA) and the heresy of the Ecumenical Movement. The many ways that this is clearly seen are diverse—through mixed marriages, converts, and even cradle Orthodox being secularised—yet all lead to the same confusion in correct ecclesiology.

The problem with multiculturalism when it comes to religion is that most (all?) cultures have some religion connected to them, the culture being more the reason for the perpetuation of the religion—especially when (eventually) most of those within a culture no longer believe in the culture’s dominant religion, which is why when people ‘switch churches’ it’s rarely very ‘far’ from where they started: Mennonites and Baptists become Evangelicals and/or Non-Denominationalists; Lutherans and Anglicans become Catholics; Catholics become Orthodox, Lutheran, or Anglican; Orthodox become Catholics etc.. A good example: I know a man who confesses the truth of Orthodoxy, but being Italian and Catholic, won’t convert—because he is Italian! The point being that culture reinforces one’s earliest religion through the food, the religious music, and the memories of going to services with one’s grandmother so on and so forth: it’s sentimental. And for most, that’s enough to stay put.

Most of us living today no doubt have grown up in the shadow of the Ecumenical Movement, with the Movement’s origins in the early twentieth-century it had already taken root and begun to spread by the time most of us reading this were even conceived. The problem with Ecumenism—and where its link to multiculturalism is most visible—arises when we see mixed marriages within the Church, as well as when we receive converts from amongst the heterodox; due to the Ecumenical Movement the zeitgeist—or our “Sitz im Leben,” if you will—that is indoctrinated upon all who are unaware of the theology behind the impetus of the Ecumenical Movement makes it next to impossible to extricate ones mind from the dominant worldview, which is that we all worship the same God (Muslims too), that the issue of salvation outside the Church is a non-issue because we are all in the Church, and dogma in unimportant because unity is what matters most.

The most difficult topic to deal with that arises from mixed-marriages and the reception of converts from amongst the heterodox ultimately ends up being the very issues which result in Ecumenism being seen for the heresy that it is: ecclesiology and soteriology. The theology upon which Ecumenism stands on, and of which most are unaware, is in Protestant missiology. From this cornerstone, the ‘invisible church’ ecclesiology of the Reformers ironically becomes ‘visible’ through the redefinition of ‘the Church’ detailed above, the redefinition of which is so important to the heterodox as it was for Luther because outside ‘the Church’ there is no salvation. This directly leads us to soteriology as it concerns those who form mixed-marriages and heterodox converts, both of whom will obviously have family and friends who by the historical and Orthodox Christian definition would be outside the Church; however, with the inextricably linked ecclesiology and soteriology at the root of Ecumenism they’re all good, bro—provided they at least belong to what we used to refer to as the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition,’ but now politically correct and ecumenically proper call ‘Abrahamic religions.’

Outro – A Matter of Soteriology

What initially started out as a question of ecclesiology is, as I hope has been made clear, actually a matter of soteriology. The ecclesiology of Martin Luther was an afterthought to his soteriology, and ultimately so—because when he redefined the soteriology of the Roman Catholic religion he was still in that religion of which he believed to be ‘the Church,’ one, holy, catholic (‘Christian’ in German), and Apostolic. While he was still in communion with Rome his understanding of what ‘the Church’ was had not had to be reconsidered, because his ecclesiology was the same as Rome’s; however, following his excommunication ecclesiology became a pressing issue of utmost importance for his soteriology, because as he himself has said: to find Christ one must find the Church first.

It is the reality of living in the historical fall-out of such theological difficulties that most converts to Orthodoxy don’t realize, and of which most of whom are looked to for guidance don’t as well, such as cradle Orthodox and clergy. Ultimately such a cavalier attitude about the Church comes down to the difference between the Orthodox Christian Church’s affirmation of Her belief in Herself consistently through two millenniums, and the Protestant uncertain ecclesiology which has lead to all the fragmentation we see today of which they sweep aside with the axiom “unity in diversity.”

But then, as we let this sink in, perhaps we come to think that if Luther’s ecclesiology was (and is) such a hastily assembled house of cards, maybe his soteriology before his excommunication was built upon sand and not upon the rock? The implications of such a question are far-reaching and nothing short of spiritually devastating if true.

Postface & Further Reading

This false ecclesiology can be seen implemented timeline of the Reformation.

Richard Rex: 95 Theses on Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation – LXXXIX Luther invented the concept of the ‘invisible church’.

The Reformation is over. Protestants won. So why are we still here?

Early Lutherans and the Greek Church – Fr. John W. Fenton

Martin Luther and the advent of the self

Martin Luther is the patron saint of individualism

[The three below can be found here]

Metropolitan PHILARET of blessed memory, former First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, from his First Sorrowful Epistle

Perhaps somebody will say that times have changed, and heresies now are not so malicious and destructive as in the days of the Ecumenical Councils. But are those Protestants who renounce the veneration of the Theotokos and the Saints, who do not recognize the grace of the hierarchy,—or the Roman Catholics, who have invented new errors,—are they nearer to the Orthodox Church than the Arians or Semi-Arians?

Let us grant that modern preachers of heresy are not so belligerent towards the Orthodox Church as the ancient ones were. However, that is not because their doctrines are nearer to Orthodox teaching, but because Protestantism and Ecumenism have built up in them the conviction that there is no One and True Church on earth, but only communities of men who are in varying degrees of error. Such a doctrine kills any zeal in professing what they take to be the truth, and therefore modern heretics appear to be less obdurate than the ancient ones. But such indifference to truth is in many respects worse than the capacity to be zealous in defense of an error mistaken for truth. Pilate, who said “What is truth?” could not be converted; but Saul, the persecutor of Christianity, became the Apostle Paul. That is why we read in the Book of Revelation the menacing words to the Angel of the Church of Laodicea: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth” (iii. 15-16).

From “An Open Letter to the Orthodox Hierarchy”, by Fr. Michael Azkoul

Of course, the heresy of the Papists and Protestants is a clear affirmation of the Orthodox Church as the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” as declared the Council of Constantinople (1672), the Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs (1848), the Council of Constantinople (1872), the Patriarchal Encyclical of 1895, the Holy Russian Synod of 1904, and the memorable words of [the] Patriarch of Constantinople, Joachim II, “Our desire is that all heretics shall come to the bosom of the Orthodox Church of Christ which alone is able to give them salvation …” (in Chrestos Androutsos, The Basis for Union… Constantinople, 1905, p. 36).”

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XIV, No. 2&3, 26

[In response to a question from a student at St. Vladimir’s Seminary …] Second, let us see what a “contemporary” Father of the Church—one who was awarded an honorary doctorate by your seminary, incidentally—has to say, in keeping with the true consensus of our Orthodox Patristic tradition, about the heterodox. In his essay, “Attributes of the Church” (Orthodox Life, Vol. XXXI, No. 1 [Jan.-Feb. 1981], p. 29), the Blessed Archimandrite Justin (Popovich) writes:

From time to time, heretics and schismatics have cut themselves off and have fallen away from the One and indivisible Church of Christ, whereby they ceased to be members of the Church and parts of Her Theanthropic Body. The first to fall away thus were the Gnostics, then the Arians, then the Macedonians, then the Monophysites, then the Iconoclasts, then the Roman Catholics, then the Protestants, then the Uniates, and so on—all the members of the legion of heretics and schismatics.

[Please reach out to me if you see any errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, dogma, and theology. Thank you.] 

That Which Has Been Believed Everywhere, Always And By All: The Perpetual Virginity of the Theotokos

Ἦσαν δὲ προσκαρτεροῦντες τῇ διδαχῇ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ καὶ τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου καὶ ταῖς προσευχαῖς.
-GNT-PT Πράξεις 2·42

“The Fathers formed dogmas on the basis of their experiences of theosis, and not after philosophical reflection on what is mentioned in the Bible.”
-Protopresbyter John Romanides, Patristic Theology

It is common for people raised with a Western φρόνημα to look to Scripture in search of a counter to why heterodox faith traditions don’t believe certain tenets of the Orthodox Christian Faith. This is even more compounded when said people do not know Koine Greek and instead are forced to use Protestant translations of the Scriptures into English (which is itself a Protestant language, which further adds to the problem of arriving at a correct hermeneutic).

The problem boils down to one thing: the approach is wrong. Orthodox Christians have never derived any dogma from Scripture; Scripture is the written record of the dogma which existed prior to it being written down. In the history of the Orthodox Church, it was always heresies that based their teachings on a novel extraction of portions of Scripture. We can see this with Gnosticism’s eisegesis of Scripture (q.v., St. Irenaeus), the Roman Catholic heresy of the filioque from St. John 20:22, Martin Luther’s novel doctrine eisegeted out of the Latin of Romans 1:16-17 (yes, novel. This why Philip Melanchthon had to strike out at the Church Fathers: this (new) doctrine is absent from them; therefore they were in error and Luther a prophet) and complicated further with his addition of “allein” in his German translation from the Koine Greek Textus Receptus. The sad irony in all this is that Luther himself believed in the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos, which is the topic of this post.

Failing to find Scriptural support in an English translation of Scripture for one’s ἀπολογία, one is forced into choosing a branch of theology as a hermeneutic. The thing is that no ἀπολογία is needed for the approach is off. For example, the Church has always believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. When has She not? Even Luther knew this, and he knew it not from Scripture but from <<τῇ ἅπαξ παραδοθείσῃ τοῖς ἁγίοις πίστει>> (GNT-PT Ἰούδα 3), for it was “Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est” (Vincentian Canon).

It is sometimes said as an argument against the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos that it is not found in Scripture; hence the teaching was arrived at via a typological exegesis of the Septuagint; the problem with this is twofold. 1., it is indeed found in Scripture (even the great Greek grammarian, Baptist A.T. Robertson was mistaken on this—but this was because he fell into the fallacy that doctrine is built from Scripture rather than Scripture being the written record of a part of the Faith). And 2., as I have already stated, the teaching is not based upon arguments from Scripture, thus whether or not it is “found” in Scripture doesn’t even matter. This last point will become very clear when we get to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Colbert below.

To elaborate upon No. 1., in the New Testament it isn’t explicit, but it is definitely clear in the Greek: καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως οὗ ἔτεκε τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς τὸν πρωτότοκον, καὶ ἐκάλεσε τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν. (Most?) Protestants look to ἕως and commit an exegetical fallacy by usually saying something like “ἕως means ‘until'” (C.S. Lewis would lose his shirt over this), and then also forget all the other uses of ἕως where it is very clear that it does not refer to a terminus, for example, Matthew 20:28 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος. Ἀμήν. At the end of the aeon Christ leaves us? Further, in Matthew 1:25 above ἐγίνωσκεν is in the imperfect active indicative, so past continuous, not simple past (aorist). To quote Zerwick, “ἐ-γίνωσκεν impf of duration: ἕως would require constative aor. (§253) if indicating termination of action” (Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1974), 2).

Also, many Greek and even Latin Fathers are clear on the grammar, see for example Sts. Chrysostom & Jerome. Going by an English translation, then yes typology definitely makes the perpetual virginity more clear; however, in the Greek vis-à-vis Greek, it is clear.

To elaborate on No. 2. I quote St. Vincent of Lerins,

(1) I have continually given the greatest pains and diligence to inquiring, from the greatest possible number of men outstanding in holiness and in doctrine, how I can secure a kind of fixed and, as it were, general and guiding principle for distinguishing the true Catholic Faith from the degraded falsehoods of heresy. And the answer that I receive is always to this effect; that if I wish, or indeed if anyone wishes, to detect the deceits of heretics that arise and to avoid their snares and to keep healthy and sound in a healthy faith, we ought, with the Lord’s help, to fortify our faith in a twofold manner, firstly, that is, by the authority of God’s Law, then by the tradition of the Catholic Church.

(2) Here, it may be, someone will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and is in itself abundantly sufficient, what need is there to join to it the interpretation of the Church? The answer is that because of the very depth of Scripture all men do not place one identical interpretation upon it. The statements of the same writer are explained by different men in different ways, so much so that it seems almost possible to extract from it as many opinions as there are men. Novatian expounds in one way, Sabellius in another, Donatus in another, Arius, Eunomius and Macedonius in another, Photinus, Apollinaris and Priscillian in another, Jovinian, Pelagius and Caelestius in another, and latterly Nestorius in another. Therefore, because of the intricacies of error, which is so multiform, there is great need for the laying down of a rule for the exposition of Prophets and Apostles in accordance with the standard of the interpretation of the Church Catholic.

(3) Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly ‘Catholic,’ as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.

(4) What then will the Catholic Christian do, if a small part of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal Faith? The answer is sure. He will prefer the healthiness of the whole body to the morbid and corrupt limb. But what if some novel contagion try to infect the whole Church, and not merely a tiny part of it? Then he will take care to cleave to antiquity, which cannot now be led astray by any deceit of novelty. What if in antiquity itself two or three men, or it may be a city, or even a whole province be detected in error? Then he will take the greatest care to prefer the decrees of the ancient General Councils, if there are such, to the irresponsible ignorance of a few men. But what if some error arises regarding which nothing of this sort is to be found? Then he must do his best to compare the opinions of the Fathers and inquire their meaning, provided always that, though they belonged to diverse times and places, they yet continued in the faith and communion of the one Catholic Church; and let them be teachers approved and outstanding. And whatever he shall find to have been held, approved and taught, not by one or two only but by all equally and with one consent, openly, frequently, and persistently, let him take this as to be held by him without the slightest hesitation.

The Chuch Fathers didn’t believe what they believed because they extracted it second hand from intellectual grappling of Scripture. To be sure, my point is that the belief in the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos is not derived from Scripture, rather it is known experientially by all baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians through the Holy Tradition, guided by the Holy Ghost in the Church. Just to be clear, I’m not arguing against typology as a hermeneutic, in fact, I think it is great. But by the same token, we need to keep in mind that the Fathers actually knew the language in which their writings and those of our Scriptures were written in—Greek and Latin.

This issue reminds me of a video I saw recently where Ricky Gervais and Stephen Colbert go head-to-head on religion. I have no clue who Ricky Gervais is other than that he is an atheist who shows up in memes on social media, but he said something here that is relevant to my point. He said that if all the holy books were destroyed, in a thousand years they wouldn’t come back as the same texts. This, of course, is only a problem for Protestants and atheists; for Gervais the reason why is explicit in the video, and for Protestants because their dogma is based upon various Reformers eisegesis of a specific “holy book.” Remove the book, and all you have is a dead false prophet.

For us in the Orthodox Church, however, you would have to remove all of us who make up the Church: we who live Tradition guided by the Holy Ghost. This truth is so well known that even throughout history this is exactly what has been attempted: in the Roman Empire, by the Muslim Turks, by the Bolsheviks, and now in our own times by legislating Postmodernism’s anti-Logos ideology via identity politics, and through sharia creep via “social justice.”

Further Reading

The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God By Fr. John Hainsworth

The Eastern/Greek Orthodox Bible, “Appendix E: Mark 6:3—The ‘Brothers’ of the Lord”

An Orthodox Hermeneutic by Fr. Stephen Freeman

Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Resource for Exegesis by Murray J. Harris, “Chapter 24. Notable Uses of Selected “Improper” Prepositions, E. ῞Εως οὗ–Matthew 1:25,” pp. 262-263

Defending the Vincentian Canon “Everywhere, Always, and By All” — A Response to Outlaw Presbyterianism by Robert Arakaki

A Protestant Defense of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity By Brantly Millegan

Interview with Charles Lee Irons: Syntax, Exegesis, and Forthcoming

Mary’s Virginity and its Perpetuity in Biblical Typology By Rdr. Isaac G.

Why is Mary Considered Ever-Virgin?

Early Lutherans and the Greek Church – Fr. John W. Fenton

Non-Lectionary Greek New Testament Reading Plans

4 Years – Master New Testament Greek Mastery Membership Program – Daryl Burling – Reader’s GNT

2 Years – Greek NT Two Year Calendar – Charles Lee Irons – UBS GNT: A Reader’s Edition, A Syntax Guide For Readers of the Greek New Testament by Charles Lee Irons, & BDAG

2 Years – Two Year Greek New Testament Reading Plan – Facebook Group – Any GNT (follows Charles Lee Irons’ 2 Year Plan)

1 Year – Greek New Testament Reading Plan – NT Greek Studies – UBS GNT: A Reader’s Edition & The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament by Cleon Rogers Jr. & Cleon Rogers III

1 Year – Greek NT One Year Calendar – Charles Lee Irons – UBS GNT: A Reader’s Edition, A Syntax Guide For Readers of the Greek New Testament by Charles Lee Irons, & BDAG

1 Year – Read through the Greek Gospels in 2018! – Accordance, a GNT, and Rod Decker’s Reading Koine Greek

260 Days – Reading through the Greek New Testament – Daniel Wallace – NA28 & A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament by Michael H. Burer and Jeffrey E. Miller

6 Months – 6-Month New Testament Reading Plan – From ESV.org, the new THGNT available there with many neat tools

28 Days – Reading through the Greek New Testament – Daniel Wallace – NA28 & A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament by Michael H. Burer and Jeffrey E. Miller

If any of my readers know of any plans I missed, send them my way. Thanks.

Postmodernism

Postmodernism is difficult to define, because to define it would violate the postmodernist’s premise that no definite terms, boundaries, or absolute truths exist. In this article, the term “postmodernism” will remain vague, since those who claim to be postmodernists have varying beliefs and opinions on issues.

– allaboutphilosophy.org

28 November 2016 – JRE #877 – Jordan Peterson

3 May 2017 – Challenges, Dr. Dan Wallace, Biblical Greek Grammarian

9 May 2017 – JRE #958 – Jordan Peterson

What we need to be clear on is that the Postmodernists’ war on so-called “phallogocentrism” is actually a spiritual war against the Logos, and sadly in this end game people suffering from the mental illness of gender dysphoria (http://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/…/appi.books.9780890425596.…) are pawns in the manipulating of our thoughts through the controlling of our speech via government legislation.

“2+2=5” -George Orwell, 1984

Evolution & Theodicy​

Last night I came across a recently posted question in the Eastern Orthodox Biblical & Theological Discussion group on Facebook. For the most part, the question remained unanswered, devolving into those who hold a black-and-white understanding of Scripture and the Fathers’ hermeneutics of Scripture vs. those who face no fear in approaching higher levels of comprehension. Or, as St. Paul wrote in Κορινθίους ά 3·1-3 (GNT-EPT),

“ΚΑΙ ἐγώ, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἠδυνήθην ὑμῖν λαλῆσαι ὡς πνευματικοῖς, ἀλλ᾿ ὡς σαρκικοῖς, ὡς νηπίοις ἐν Χριστῷ.

γάλα ὑμᾶς ἐπότισα καὶ οὐ βρῶμα. οὔπω γὰρ ἠδύνασθε. ἀλλ᾿ οὔτε ἔτι νῦν δύνασθε· ἔτι γὰρ σαρκικοί ἐστε. ὅπου γὰρ ἐν ὑμῖν ζῆλος καὶ ἔρις καὶ διχοστασίαι, οὐχὶ σαρκικοί ἐστε καὶ κατὰ ἄνθρωπον περιπατεῖτε;”

Or as he wrote in Ἑβραίους 5·12-14 (GNT-EPT)

“καὶ γὰρ ὀφείλοντες εἶναι διδάσκαλοι διὰ τὸν χρόνον, πάλιν χρείαν ἔχετε τοῦ διδάσκειν ὑμᾶς τίνα τὰ στοιχεῖα τῆς ἀρχῆς τῶν λογίων τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ γεγόνατε χρείαν ἔχοντες γάλακτος καὶ οὐ στερεᾶς τροφῆς. πᾶς γὰρ ὁ μετέχων γάλακτος ἄπειρος λόγου δικαιοσύνης· νήπιος γάρ ἐστι· τελείων δέ ἐστιν ἡ στερεὰ τροφή, τῶν διὰ τὴν ἕξιν τὰ αἰσθητήρια γεγυμνασμένα ἐχόντων πρὸς διάκρισιν καλοῦ τε καὶ κακοῦ.”

I encourage those who might object to my position to read the Patristic comments on the above and to keep in mind regarding the topic of this post that science and our Faith were not mutually exclusive.

The question was, “I have a question for this group, does the Eastern Orthodox teaching on evil and ancestral sin require the belief in or the existence of an historical Adam and Eve as the parents of all people alive today?” It brought to mind a picture I saw on Instagram last year:

One of the better arguments out there.  #Atheist #Godless #GodisNotGreat #GodlessUtopia #Islam #GodisDead #GodIsNotDead #Jesus #Mohammed #Christian #Atheism #RichardDawkins #SamHarris #ChristopherHitchens #AlbertEinstein #StephenHawking #CarlSagan #NeildeGrasseTyson #TheThinkingAtheist #Bible #Koran #Science #Skepticism #NoGod #AntiReligion #Humanist #Scientist #Quran #Torah
To actually answer the Facebook question, no; furthermore, there is a flaw in the arguments presented above with the quote and Instagram post. I believe the argument(s) contain a formal fallacy of affirming the disjunct; the crux of the argument—and the heart of the question—is that it was necessary for Christ to incarnate, which is to place on God our fallen human view of the situation, i.e., action/reaction. But we know that God does nothing out of necessity, and from this premise, you will find among some Orthodox theologians and Church Fathers the belief that the incarnation was to happen all along and that it wasn’t necessitated by the Fall.
Further Reading

Biblical Criticism, Biblical Studies, Exegesis, and Hermeneutics

Stuff I have actually read:

6 May 2014 – Is Orthodoxy Compatible with Modern, Biblical Criticism?

June 2017 – Figure It In by Michael C. Legaspi

10 July 2017 – The Corruption of Biblical Studies

Stuff I have yet to actually read:

Books

1871 – The last twelve verses of the gospel according to S. Mark : vindicated against recent critical objectors and established by John William Burgon

1896 – The traditional text of the Holy Gospels vindicated and established by John William Burgon

1896 – The causes of the corruption of the traditional text of the Holy Gospels : being the sequel to The traditional text of the Holy Gospels by John William Burgon

1883 – A Companion to the Greek Testament and the English Version by Philip Schaff – The second section of the first chapter is entitled “Three Elect Languages,” referring of course to Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. “While some of the Augustinian approach has been eroded by contemporary biblical criticism, its most fundamentalist ingredient has ironically survived as the foundation of that criticism. The fixation with scriptural words has been transformed into a fixation with the original languages of scripture, demonstrated especially through the preference for the Hebrew over the Greek Old Testament. In many respects, this preoccupation with the critical study of scripture in the original languages has reminded Romanides of the “three languages” heresy of the western middle ages which proclaimed that the true languages of theology could only be those of the cross’s superscription. But because the language of God is uncreated, the interpretation of scripture cannot reside with linguists but only with those who have experienced glorification.” – Andrew J. Sopko, Prophet of Roman Orthodoxy: The Theology of John Romanides

1908 – The Value of Byzantine and Modern Greek in Hellenic Studies

The Text Of New Testament 4th Edit

Saturday Morning Sex-Talk

Dr. Roy Ciampa on 1 Corinthians 7:1

This is a really interesting video about an important topic that is really rarely discussed in the Orthodox Church (“there is no sex in the Church”), and this video deals with Greek! We must keep in mind, however, that as great as academia is, “the Orthodox explanation and understanding of Holy Scripture must always proceed from the writings of the saints.”¹

This teaching comes from Canon 19 of the Œcumenical Πενθέκτη Σύνοδος of 692, as we read in τὸ Πηδάλιον (note: the only free copy in Greek can be found at the Internet Archive, but is the 1886 edition and does not contain the Canons from the Œcumenical Πενθέκτη Σύνοδος of 692; the physical Greek copy I have in my seminary room is in Toronto and not here with me in Manitoba. As far as my searches showed me, The Thesaurus Linguae Graecae® does not contain it. Accordance Bible Software has the Anglican English translation (which is currently on sale as part of their Father’s Day “Focus on the Fathers” sale), which I believe is the same translation found here, obviously lacking Accordance’s researching/searching/linking κ.τ.λ. abilities. And finally an Orthodox English translation and Greek of the version I have in my seminary room can be bought for Noet Scholarly Tools and Logos Bible Software (apparently this Greek is a different 1886 edition), where the Greek of Canon 19 below is from (notes removed)):

ΚΑΝΩΝ ΙΘʹ

   Ὅτι δεῖ τοὺς τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν Προεστῶτας, ἐν πάσῃ μὲν ἡμέρᾳ, ἐξαιρέτως δὲ ἐν ταῖς Κυριακαῖς πάντα τὸν Κλῆρον, καὶ τὸν λαὸν ἐκδιδάσκειν τοὺς τῆς εὐσεβείας λόγους ἐκ τῆς Θείας Γραφῆς ἀναλεγομένους τὰ τῆς ἀληθείας νοήματά τε καὶ κρίματα, καὶ μὴ παρεκβαίνοντας τοὺς ἤδη τεθέντας ὅρους, ἢ τὴν ἐκ τῶν Θεοφόρων Πατέρων παράδοσιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ εἰ γραφικὸς ἀνακινηθείη λόγος, μὴ ἄλλως τοῦτον ἑρμηνευέτωσαν, ἢ, ὡς ἂν οἱ τῆς Ἐκκλησίας φωστῆρες καὶ διδάσκαλοι διὰ τῶν οἰκείων συγγραμμάτων παρέθεντο, καὶ μᾶλλον ἐν τούτοις εὐδοκιμείτωσαν, ἢ λόγους οἰκείους συντάττοντες, ἵνα μή, ἔστιν ὅτε, πρὸς τοῦτο ἀπόρως ἔχοντες, ἀποπίπτοιεν τοῦ προσήκοντος. Διὰ γὰρ τῆς τῶν προειρημένων Πατέρων διδασκαλίας, οἱ λαοὶ ἐν γνώσει γινόμενοι τῶν τε σπουδαίων καὶ αἱρετῶν, καὶ τῶν ἀσυμφόρων καὶ ἀποβλήτων, τὸν βίον μεταρρυθμίζουσι πρὸς τὸ βέλτιον, καὶ τῷ τῆς ἀγνοίας οὐχ ἁλίσκονται πάθει, ἀλλὰ προσέχοντες τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ, ἑαυτοὺς πρὸς τὸ μὴ κακῶς παθεῖν παραθήγουσι, καὶ φόβῳ τῶν ἐπηρτημένων τιμωριῶν, τὴν σωτηρίαν ἑαυτοῖς ἐξεργάζονται.²

 

 

________________________

¹The Departure of the Soul According to the Teaching of the Orthodox Church: A Patristic Anthology, Master Reference Edition (Florence, AZ: St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, 2017), 60.

²Agapios, Orthodox Eastern Church, and Nicodemus. (1886). The Rudder: Greek Text (p. 195). Athēnai: Vlastou Ch. Varvarrētou.