Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Day 3 Part 2: Going East

Father Thomas Hopko taught the main session this morning. He is a father in the Easter Orthodox church. Fascinating man, fascinating talk, evidently in love with Maker.

Three basic thoughts from him:
1. Christocentric
Everything about the Church is oriented to Christ. All Scripture points to Christ. Christ is present as the Word made flesh. Christ enables us to become divine. The Psalms are God's prayers to himself for us to pray so that we can be shaped into being like him.
2. Tradition
The eastern orthodox church does church the way it has since the beginning. They desire to stay above culture, to have an unadulterated way of doing things. They believe that they have been removed from the dark ages, the enlightenment, and modernism. They continue to sing the words of their fathers, tying them to their greater family.
3. Standing Room Only
Apparently, there are no seats in the EO tradition. You come into the church and either stand or kneel or lay prostrate through a pretty long service.
4. Tongues
Okay, I said three basic thoughts, but I had to include this. This dude used the greek text and latin words like crazy. It was flipping awesome how well versed he was.
5. Prayers
Prayers are to put the mind where the mouth is. The mouth says the words that Christ has said, or that Christ is saying, in the hope that the heart and mind will be shaped. Prayers aren't to connect the mouth to the mind. That is meaningless expression, and not useful in divinization (not sure what I think of this yet...).

Okay, I must actually go to sup with my friends.

My question to him: how can his tradition remain so outside of culture? Is it possible?


Anonymous said...

Father Thomas Hopko's answer to you:

The Church itself is a cultural phenomenon -- I mean, it's basically christened Judaism.

I happened to be at McGill University once when they were having one of these discussions -- they had an Orthodox priest, a Jew, an evangelical, a liberal Protestant, and a Roman Catholic, and they were talking and talking, and finally somebody in the audience raised a hand and said, "I'd like to ask that Orthodox priest a question. What religion are you closest to anyway?" And just, I guess, for the fun of it, the guy answered and said, "Judaism."

And they said, "What do you mean, aren't you Christian?" He said, "Yeah, but in our way of hearing the Bible, worshipping the way we do, you might say that we feel that sometimes we are closer to the Jews than we are to other Christians because of the way they approach the Bible, the way they approach authority, the way they approach worship," and I think there is a certain truth there.

But the Church itself has a culture. It has songs and icons and hymns and sounds. I think there is a kind of ethos, a culture of the Church itself, that is not just reducible to Slavic or Hellenic or Semitic, that people can relate to. And so a thing like giving a kiss, or making a bow, or lighting a candle -- that's kind of Church culture, it's not just human culture.

For more answers go to:

Anonymous said...

My question to you: how can your tradition remain so outside of this Church culture?

Josh said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks so much for your feedback. Reading Hopko's thoughts was very enlightening and provoking.

It made me wonder about culture, and how the Church engages and impacts it. I like the idea of the Church having it's own culture, the culture of Christ, the culture that seeks to be Christ's love/justice/righteousness-bearers in a desperate world.

If you were Fr. Hopko, what would you say to new forms of worship? Is there any chance to mix the old with newer ways?

Anonymous said...

Hi Josh,

Father Thomas is one of my spiritual fathers so I will let him explain:

Because the Divine Liturgy exists for no other reason than to be the official all-inclusive act of prayer, worship, teaching, and communion of the entire Church in heaven and on earth, it may not be considered merely as one devotion among many, not even the highest or the greatest. The Divine Liturgy is not an act of personal piety. It is not a prayer service. It is not merely one of the sacraments. The Divine Liturgy is the one common sacrament of the very being of the Church Itself. It is the one sacramental manifestation of the essence of the Church as the Community of God in heaven and on earth. It is the one unique sacramental revelation of the Church as the mystical Body and Bride of Christ.

As the central mystical action of the whole church, the Divine Liturgy is always resurrectional in spirit. It is always the manifestation to his people of the Risen Christ. It is always an outpouring of the life-creating Spirit. It is always communion with God the Father. The Divine Liturgy, therefore, is never mournful or penitential. It is never the expression of the darkness and death of this world. It is always the expression and the experience of the eternal life of the Kingdom of the Blessed Trinity.

More here if you’re interested:

Anonymous said...

If I may paraphrase, the Divine Liturgy is LITERALLY what is described in the Holy Scriptures (open your Bible please) in the books of Isaiah and Revelation. We join with the Seraphim and the Cherubim, with the great Cloud of Witnesses to worship in the presence of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In the history of the Orthodox Church, change if it ever comes, comes very slowly, in time measured by centuries. Here’s an Orthodox-oldie: “How many Orthodox does it take to change a light bulb? Change? What is change?” As applied to your question, “New? What is new?”

The issue of the mixing of the “old” (e.g. Orthodox, Catholic worship elements) with the “new” (multimedia, contemporary music, etc.) is something that the Emergent/Emerging subset of evangelical Protestant movement is struggling to implement.

It is an impressive undertaking, but it is doomed to fail. McLaren doesn’t want to characterize the Emerging Church as a movement, but as a dialogue, an ongoing “Conversation”, or so he says to media outlets.

An “Emergent Church” can’t be built on talk on conversation, no matter how deep, yet the Emergent literature and Blogs breathlessly report this “conversation” to be some sort of transformation, a reformation within the “constant reformation” of Christianity itself for THIS generation.

Abba Theodore (writing more than 1500 years ago) said to a brother who began to converse with him about things which he had never yet put into practice: “You have not yet found a ship nor put your cargo aboard it and before you have sailed, you have already arrived at the city.”

Anonymous said...

The Emerging/Emergent obsession with “new” and “constant reformation” sounds more like shifting sands rather than a strong foundation on which to build a church. But the Emergents seem to feel that they have this problem licked by “dialogue” and capital “C” Conversation. Abba John the Dwarf (who was a spiritual GIANT) said about this: “A house is not built by beginning at the top and working down. You must begin with the foundations in order to reach the top.”
I gather that this is where the “ancient” Orthodox fit into the Emergent scheme. We’ve got the ancient, timeless, deeply rooted and, foundational stuff that the Emergents are missing.
Our old stuff is all new to you!
Keep this irony in mind when you read:
No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved. (The Gospel according to St. Matthew 9:16-17)
The “old garment” and the “old bottles” are the forms of evangelical Protestantism. The “new cloth” and the “new bottles” are all the wonderful “ancient” (though new to you) “treasures” (McLaren’s term) from the Orthodox Church.

This probably makes no sense to you now, but when this “new” Emerging/Emergent trend gets old and the next big evangelical-protestant thing comes along to replace it, remember the Orthodox Church, we’ll still be here, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Josh said...

Dear Friend,
I am very grateful for your comments and have found them insightful.

Don't you think the mixture of old and new has come about because people have realized that "new new new" just keeps us at surface level, and that the old connects us to Christians through the ages? I wonder if people would become catholic or orthodox, except for the fact that they would be leaving the family of faith to which they belong.

By your last statement, are you suggesting that the new wine is really the ancient tradition?

Josh said...

Also friend,
I think it's great that you are up to date on this whole Emergent movement/conversation. What keeps your interest in it if you feel like it's going to fail?

Anonymous said...

I consider myself to be an Emerged evangelical Protestant. The Orthodox Church merged-me (received me) into her bosom five years ago.

After over a decade within Evangelicalism, I undertook a journey that is not unlike what the Emergent/Emerging Church is undergoing, except that the EC is a mass movement and therein is the reason I am encouraged. I can't think of any other time when such a group of evangelical Protestants showed such an interest in things liturgical, in theology: Orthodox and Catholic.

My interest in the EC Movement/Convo is basically this:

I want to see how many EC people are going to make the move into Holy Orthodoxy.

The E/E C movement reminds me of a two women that I used to date. One, well, I dated, the other I married. Anyway, both of these ladies told me that they shared my interest in museums. One of these ladies would accompany into the museums and immediately head into the souvenir/gift shop. If I managed to drag her out for the actual exhibits, we would soon find ourselves back into the gift shop. I married the other lady who loved the exhibits and afterwards would go to the library or bookstore to go even deeper into the subjects that we viewed.

There will be some E/EC-ers who will be perfectly satisfied with the cool stuff of Orthodoxy: icons, incense, candles, robes, chanting, etc. without having to go any deeper than the mere appropriation of these things because of their sheer novelty.

However, I'm confident that there are E/E C-ers are into Orthodoxy because "deep calls unto deep" and this calling will keep them on the journey Home to the Orthodox Church once the E/E C fad moves on to the next big evangelical thing.

I still have an institutional memory of my years within evangelicalism, this E/E C fad will pass.

Look at the Promise Keepers movement. It followed around 5-10 years after the secular Mens Movement (remember Robert Bly and Co.?). In the 1990s, the secular world experienced a phenomena that sociologists labeled "Shopping Cart Spirituality" (the eclectic picking and choosing among various religious confessions and practices in order to tailor-make one's own Way). Then lo and behold, the Emerging/Emergent Church comes along and follows the same pattern.

These so-called "movements of the spirit" are just reactions to the market. These movements come from outside of the Culture of the Church and therefore will not endure like the Church.

In the words of G.K. Chesterton:

"A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

The evangelical obession with "transforming the culture" i.e. sanctifying the secular is this idea that one can infect the culture like a benign virus or cancer and thereby transform it into something Church-ly. But the history of evangellicalism tells the opposite story: The "World" infects the evangelical like a cancer.

The Emerging/Emergent Church will move on to something else.

Remember the words of Fr. Thomas Hopko. Remember the Orthodox Church.

Anonymous said...

Re: the "new wine."

Yes, to the evangelical Protestant, the "new wine" is indeed Orthodoxy.

It's new to you that's why it is so exciting!

Anonymous said...

Re: "I wonder if people would become catholic or orthodox, except for the fact that they would be leaving the family of faith to which they belong."

Hasn't it always been that way since the very Beginning?

34Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

The Gospel According to St.Matthew Chapter 10:

35For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

36And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.

37He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Brian said...

I love finding "anew" the old - in Christianity and its traditions (thank you Orthodox Church for being such excellent curators) and even beyond into Judaism and the Scriptures (both "old" and "new" testaments). For me the only value in my "discoveries" come not from new models, new methods, new things to market, but rather in the depths it takes me (and those with me) in Christ.

However, where I do struggle at times with those who are so opposed to new things is that even the old things were at one time new. I would say that some of the earliest church fathers and mothers, were they around today, would be rather upset with us for not continuing to bring something new - from within us through Christ - to the table.

Make no mistake - this is not newness for newness sake - this is something new from within the depths of my relationship with Christ. To put it in the language of the quote used in the comment above - perhaps we have indeed found a ship and brought our cargo on board.

Anonymous said...


Re: "...perhaps we have indeed found a ship and brought our cargo on board."

Perhaps, but is this ship the Ark of Salvation? (an Orthodox metaphor for the Church).

The Chinese have an expression: "putting a foot in two boats." That I think is the Orthodox perspective on the Emergent-types who think they can "mix" the so-called "old" (which is actually NEW to evangelical Protestants) with the so-called "new" (which is actually the old secular fads recycled).

The history of Evangelical Protestantism in the last 20 years or so is the very picture of the "tragically hip." Sooo, five minutes ago or rather, 10 years late.

Nope. I have not seen one "new" thing come "from within" Evangelical Protestantism. Not in twenty years. Not in 10, 5 or 2.

Emerging/Emergent? Sorry. (cf. "Shopping Cart Spirituality")

PoMo? No go. Here's Father Thomas Hopko on Pomo, 6 whole years ago:

Anonymous said...

A few quotes from Fr. Thomas Hopko on why PoMo is NoGo for Ortho:

In the post-modern pluralistic world there is no truth, right, good and beauty which all human beings are created to discover, know and believe; to which they are called to conform in thought, word and deed; in which they are privileged to delight and rejoice; and for which they are blessed to give glory and thanksgiving to God.

There is no meaning and purpose for all.

There is rather a creation of reality, or rather, more accurately, many creations of a plethora of pseudo-realities, produced by the subjective willings of individuals, parties and "interest groups" in the context of politics, power, self-creation and permissiveness.

The tenets of modern liberal democracy now become objects of worship and ends in themselves in a politicized, hedonized world.

Freedom becomes licence.

Acquisition becomes a right.

Differences are deified.

And happiness, now understood as material and pseudo-spiritual pleasure, becomes obligatory for all.

And finally we must not fall prey to the post-modern pluralistic worldview as some great new opportunity for humankind which Orthodox Christians should welcome as being inherently consistent with traditional Orthodox views of freedom, personal dignity, cultural diversity, incarnational theology and apophatic mystical theology; and our equally traditional (if sometimes facile and superficial) criticisms of "Western" rationalism, pietism, legalism and moralism.

Anonymous said...


From another EC blog that reported on WALP-EC and Fr. Thomas:

"He shared many interesting things including the idea that the "creativity" of the Orthodox Christian is NOT in the liturgy or worship of the church. Orthodox do create music CD's, films, and other forms of art, however it is simply not part of the liturgy but is considered 'para-liturgical'."

Anonymous said...

One last post Josh and Brian (esp. Brian)...

In my irritating, verbose and uncommunicative way, I've been trying to get youse Emergent-people to try to look beyond the Orthodox accoutrements that you might want to try on for size and look at the COMMUNION of the Church from the New Testament time to the present.

This is from the story that I linked to in my first post, an interview with Fr. Thomas in Canadian Christianity:

Jason, the Very Reverend Father Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary had this to say in an interview with Canadian Christianity: What would your response be to evangelicals who start using candles and incense and chants and possibly even icons -- all the accoutrements -- but without actually becoming Orthodox?

TH: It's interesting you should ask that, because the Evangelical Orthodox [under Fr. Gillquist] were doing that before they joined up, and I was there when they were doing it, and if you went, the ethos and atmosphere was very Protestant, but they had the words of the liturgy, they had icons.

I think Fr. Nicholas in Santa Barbara stood up that week and said the word that kind of did the trick.

He said, "You can't imitate or mimic or mock the Church. You're either in it, or you're not. And Orthodoxy isn't a set of texts or a bunch of pictures -- it's a living, organic community that has texts and icons, and it's that living community where the power is that you need, and if you're not in that community, you can have the accoutrements, but you don't have the power."

That's what he said.

And I think that made them realize they had to join up -- for better or worse, put up with all Orthodox ethnicisms and everything. You couldn't just imitate it, you had to be in it. Because it was a historical community, in history, that you had to enter into -- just like the Gentiles had to be grafted to Israel. Otherwise it just becomes the latest fad, in other words.

TH: Yeah, and it isn't any less individualistically self-willed than somebody who would get up in a polyester suit and necktie and bang the Bible and preach -- it's just, you happen to like these kinds of prayers and these kinds of pictures, but it's still not the Church that is doing it, it's you that's doing it.

Anonymous said...

oops, pardon the "Jason..."

That would be the "Jason Clark" Emergent Church blog on which I posted similarly irritating things.

Brian said...

My hope would be that the "one last post" phrase would not be true, but that the conversation might continue a bit. It's helpful for at least me...

A couple responses:
1) Re: "old" and "new" - my feeling is that most (I cannot speak for all) of my "Emergent/Emerging" friends and I would say that we are not interested in post-modernity as a way of life or even as something to be embraced. What we would say (and as I think Fr Thomas Hopko would say if I am reading him correctly), is that we need to realize that this post-modern philosophy of life is indeed real and a part of our culture and society - the world we find ourselves in. We would also say that there are good things in this philosophy that are opportunities for gospel and there are pitfalls that are major "traps" (just like modernity!). In fact one of my great pleasures in reading and knowing folks and traditions of the Orthodox church is her love of Christ and her ability to not only recognize culture around her, but to somehow stay with Christ in the midst of that.

Father Hopko said it well:
Wherever truth is, Christ is there. Wherever wise people find their way, however imperfectly, He is their wisdom and way. Wherever power and beauty exist, He is their origin and end. And wherever there is love, He is its source, content and rule; its definitive bearer and revealer in the world; its final fulfillment, completion and perfection forever.

I would hope that those of us who would considered ourselves at different levels "emerging" are those are looking only to point to truth wherever it may be (and it's all not just in my church).

2)re: "I've been trying to get youse Emergent-people to try to look beyond the Orthodox accoutrements that you might want to try on for size and look at the COMMUNION of the Church from the New Testament time to the present."

Thank you. Seriously.

My one thing to say here is simply that we must not fail to realize that we in the present are in fact part of the communion - that is, we are at the table. We too have influence on what this community is and will be. We too have been given gifts and dreams by God for this time and this place. To ignore them or to deny them would be not only a great shame, but also a terrible dis-service to those who have gone before us, those who join in our communion.