Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

My dear father confessor, Fr. Thomas Edwards, whenever asked what his favorite feast is, will always respond that it is the one we are celebrating that day. Each feast renews in us the reality of that feast. And so when we enter into Pascha we enter anew into our Lord’s resurrection. And just as all feasts are animated by this Feast of feasts, so the vivifying effects of Christ our God’s passion comes to as again through the intermediaries of the other, lesser feasts. Fr. Tom loved to tell on Theophany about the feast as it was celebrated in a Yogoslav concentration camp by the then Fr. Vladimir (later Bishop Basil) Rodzianko. On that day the prisoners marched in a circles, and Fr. Vladimir stood in the middle of the circles, praying the service for the blessing of waters, even though the only water they had was that of the mud in their boots, and the snow falling from the sky. But Fr. Vladimir could proclaim: “This day this snow has become for you the waters of Jordan.” Thus, by the power of the Spirit the grace of the Jordan came to those even in the midst of the tyrant’s prison. Another dear friend, Cyril Quatrone, told me that whenever he read the story of a martyr, that martyr’s passion, he would always pray for this martyr, since God, who dwells in eternity, can take his feeble prayers and use it to strengthen that martyr, e.g., St. Ignatius of Antioch, at the hour of his trial, even though his trial is long past.

These two points, that we enter anew into the grace of every feast, and that we are linked through Christ and the power of the Spirit with all Christians at all times, is true because through the power (energia) of God mediated to us through the single Person of the Son of God, and vivified in us by the Life giving Spirit, we transcend time and begin our entrance into the eternal Kingdom. This also helps us understand what is said at the end of every Divine Liturgy, and indeed all the services of the Church, “Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us!” In praying this we ask again the Mother of God (Theotokos) to give her ascent to the words of the angel Gabriel, and to bring to us anew the Incarnation of our God. We also confess that Mary truly bore God in His human nature (for now the Second Person of the Trinity has a human nature just as surely as he has a Divine one). To deny her the title Mother of God is deny that we are united to God

I thought about this as I saw someone post this piece of ludicrous tripe on Facebook. Herein one R. C. Sproul, a man I once heard speak the most bizarre sentiments about the properties of deity that not even the most austere of Calvinists would ever scruple to pronounce (that God plays his mercy off of his justice so we can be saved), here scruples to openly embrace not merely Nestorius’s heresy, but indeed even aspects of Arius’s. God did not die, he says, and then trundles out the usual Nestorian inanities about the impassability of the divine nature. But he then goes on to announce that it was the human nature of Christ that wrought our salvation. Get the auto de fe ready, boys, for this is exactly what Athanasius pointed out about Arius: a creature is his redeemer. And this is what St. Cyril was decrying as well, that in the Eucharist we partake of the very flesh and blood of the Son of God, and not that of some person united to the Word. Christ rises, says St. Irenaeus, not as a mere man through the power of God, but in that God himself, the Logos of the Father, died, he conquers death. This is what we await on this coming Sunday, when Christ our God tramples down death by death.

I wonder why these sola scriptura types who keep complaining about we Orthodox going beyond the text can’t read St. Paul’s words about the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory, or of St. Peter’s that “Christ has suffered in the Flesh?” Let’s go further into Holy Week!


About Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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77 Responses to Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

  1. Pingback: Sproul the Nestorian « Energetic Procession

  2. man-worshippers, every one.

  3. Davd Fraser says:

    Ok. Here’s the discomfort with this for one who is broadly Reformed Catholic.

    Where are we encouraged by anything in Scripture to invoke Mary to “save us”? Having just been to Ephesus to see the house of St. Mary, I must admit to having some new thoughts about the whole Marian thread in Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and even Protestantism.

    Sproul may well be wrong -headed and -worded in his attempt to protect divine impassibility (though that is a rather philosophical and not so well grounded theological notion). We may even have no problem mouthing the divine liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: Ἄξιόν ἐστιν ὡς ἀληθῶς μακαρίζειν σὲ τὴν Θεοτόκον, τὴν ἀειμακάριστον καὶ παναμώμητον καὶ μητέρα του Θεοῦ ἡμῶν. We understand, as Jarislav Pelikan put it, that Theotokos means more precisely “the one who gives birth to the one who is God.” Jesus the Messiah is begotten from all eternity by the Father and in time by Mary. But “save us”?

    Another discomfort: Cyril’s third letter to Nestorius contains the line: “If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is, in truth, God, and therefore that the holy virgin is Theotokos (for she bore in a fleshly manner the Word from God become flesh), let him be anathema.” (Cyril’s third letter to Nestorius) It is the part that comes after “therefore” that is the problem. Are we to believe that those who confess that the Christ is God and has come in the flesh but differ in precisely how we speak about Mary’s role are anathema? (I John 4:1-3 argues the gnostic danger of making Jesus so divine that the “spirit” could not be contaminated by the “flesh” and blood of ordinary humanity). I wonder…. Is this really something that should divide those of us who are Christ followers and understand him as the incarnate God in the flesh, savior of the World and resurrected Lord of all creation? We are separated because we cannot speak properly of his Mother?

    I’m no defender of Sproul. But I am not comfortable calling on Mary (under any nomenclature) to “save us” or to say “anathema” over anyone who is uncomfortable and has problems with the “Theotokos” title because of its associations with given liturgies and practices. There needs to be so much more than simply that to merit breaking the unity of the body. We are saved by the incarnate Son of God through his death and resurrection. That is enough for me.

  4. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Davd that may be enough for you and within your comfort zone, however it puts you squarely heterodox territory. It may appear comfortable, but it is not a good place to be. You are wrong, St Cyril is right, it is as plain and simple as that.

  5. David Richards says:

    “It’s the God-man Who dies, but death is something that is experienced only by the human nature, because the divine nature isn’t capable of experiencing death.”

    Someone doesn’t grasp the distinction between persons and nature…

  6. Davd Fraser says:

    @apophatically speaking:
    I’m glad you don’t get to decide who passes through the pearly gates. Neither does St. Cyril. Nestorius may have been wrong but that does not make the anathema of St. Cyril right.

  7. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Davd, I am made no judgment as to your salvation.

  8. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    But I do understand your discomfort, I don’t blame you as I would be uncomfortable too. It is a matter of one’s epistemology, that is the bottomline.

  9. strickland00 says:

    Not all sola scriptura types would have a problem with St. Peter and St. Paul’s words. The prayer to Blessed St. Mary is a different matter.

    In the same way it is also true that the nature of the Logos, what is, the deity itself, is not torn by the scourges or pierced by the nails or wounded by the spear. For these are properties of the flesh. But yet it is most important and comforting for us to believe that it was not only a bare human nature which suffered for us or a plain man who died for us, but that “the Lord of glory was crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:8), and that “God has redeemed the church by His blood, for we are not redeemed with corruptible things…” (1Peter 1:18). Nor should we believe that Christ’s Passions is to be attributed to the deity only by a figure of speech, as when Paul speaks of his own sufferings as the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24). For the the sufferings of Christ would be of no more importance than those of the saints, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:13; “Is Paul crucified for us?” But the importance and efficacy of Christ’s sufferings and death are so great because the person of God’s Son both wills and sustains the suffering and death in the flesh which He has made His own by the hypostatic union, and which He has strengthened so that it can bear the immeasurable burden. Thus we can truly say that God suffered, because that flesh suffered in which dwelt the whole fullness of the deity bodily. Martin Chemnitz

  10. Cyril says:

    David, when we call Mary Theotokos, we are saying something definite about Mary because we are saying something definite about the Incarnation: that Christ who draws his human nature from her is just as much human as you or I. Only the person of the Incarnation is not human, but the Divine Logos. The Word’s flesh suffers just as your and my flesh would suffer were we injured. That I call upon the Blessed Virgin to save me is noting other than what I see at the end of St. James’ epistle, and all the attributes he applies to someone who reclaims the wayward: that such a one “covers” sins, “converts” the sinner, and “saves” their soul. Pretty strong language. And as Mary is the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New, she is certainly instrumental in doing all of this for us.

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  12. David,

    You said, “There needs to be so much more than simply that to merit breaking the unity of the body.” I wouldn’t agree with the sentiment since denying Mary the title Theotokos distorts one’s Christology, but I would simply point out that the Orthodox weren’t the ones that broke unity over the issue. The Orthodox held and continue to hold the same position, without change since it was instituted in the unified Church. So who broke unity, and when?

  13. Vincent says:

    I forgot how bad things were over there in Reformedom.

  14. Steve Allen says:

    Believe it or not, while I do think R.C. Sproul, on examination, would turn out to be Nestorian (most Protestants, especially of the “low church” variety, such as Sproul, would), I do not think that the article linked here is proof of that. He is staying within bounds by affirming on the one hand the unity of the God-man, and on the other the distinction in the two natures. He doesn’t give enough information about his view of the unity of the God-man to determine — just from this article, anyway — whether he is Nestorian or not. His statements here could be read either way.

  15. Davd Fraser says:

    To be clear: I do not have a problem calling Mary Theodokos. There are some who do. I can understand why in looking at the veneration of Mary and the space it takes spiritually in the life of some traditions.

    I have a problem crediting (as the Deesis [Δέησις] Mosaic in Hagia Sophia portrays) Mary and John the Baptist as intercessors in the Great Judgment — or other roles and events attributed to Mary in the traditions and legends that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communities have surrounded her with, post-apostolically. Or crediting Mary as someone to invoke in prayer as though she had attributes like that of the Father or the Son to hear the prayers of millions and respond individually to them — or that I need her to intercede with her Son because she is so holy and I am not, he is so distant and I can only reach him through his mother’s intermediation (so he is such a distant High Priest, I cannot really come near to without human intermediation).

    Perhaps I misunderstand what these words “Most holy Theodokos, save us” mean for the Orthodox. I know what they would mean for me.

    As for James: he is talking about living people engaged with other contemporaries, not some distant, deceased saint. Where do we have the precise pattern you describe: living Christ followers praying to dead saints to save them?

    What I wonder about is building this whole tradition (as large as “Hagia Sophia”?) on a foundation as small as…. well theologically, textually speaking, the size of a pin’s head. If this is something we are led to do by the prophets and the apostles, why do they not instruct us better, with more comment and example? Where is it in the Psalms of the Old Testament? The pattern of Jesus when he taught his disciples to pray? The letters of Paul? The Catholic Epistles or the book of Revelation? Where do you have an canonical example of God’s people invoking deceased saints as part of their discipleship and devotion? Or saying to them “save us”?

  16. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    It’s all over Davd, but in a canon you don’t accept (going back to epistemology again). And she definitely is not some ‘distant, deceased saint.’

  17. Davd Fraser says:

    Point taken. If we have different foundational sources, we will credit different practices (and beliefs). To demonstrate to a Reformed Catholic like myself that I am in the territory of heterodoxy, you must do it using the 66 books of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Greek New Testament. We can argue about later documents and their importance (since all interpretation of even the canonical Scriptures are understood only within a tradition). But for the Reformed, Scriptures are decisive and are the “razor” by which later traditions are removed from the face of Jesus.

  18. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Yup. And hence the twain shall never meet.

  19. Cyril says:

    Hmm, David . . . this is not how the early church used either canon or regula, and of course it begs the canonical question: what canon did you use to get your canon?
    Back to papers (blogs are more fun though).

  20. David, to ask if this in scripture is to measure ORthodoxy by a stdnard it doesn’t accept, namely sola scriptura. It just tells us something that we knew already, Orthodoxy isn’t Protestantism.

    Secondly, saints can save us in a derivative sense. They are sent to preach, teach, visit, aid, feed and so forth, all for our salvation. In this sense the saints participate in our salvation and do so in a derivative way. That the Theotokos has a unique relationship to Christ and participates in our slvation unqieuly is the supreme human participation in the salvation of others, barring of coruse the humanity of Christ specifically for consideration.

    At some point, it doesn’t matter what you are comfortable with. People’s comfort levels differ. Plenty of people may not be comfortable with anathematizing Arianism. It matters what the Church teaches, for if they hear not the church, treat them as an unbeliever, as Jesus teaches.

  21. What you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.

  22. Steve, what does “god-man” mean for him? It seems as if it means a titlte underwhich the person fo the Logos and the human nature is put. If that isn’t Nestorianism, what would you say would count?

  23. Joel says:

    Fr. Georges Gabriel – Mary: The Untrodden Portal of God

  24. Davd Fraser says:

    I think I am stating what Reformed Catholics mean by “canon” — at least “canonical scriptures.” I agree, canon is also used to mean several other things: a priest in a chapter, a rule established as the measure or criterion for truth or other marks of authenticity. So we do talk about canon law etc. But I thought your appeal was to James so I was simply asking for more from those canonical scriptural documents since I do not think the early Church fathers and mothers to be at the same level of authority. The Reformed “Occam’s Razor” is the canonical scriptures which measure the validity of subsequent tradition: the apostles and the evangelists and the prophets that the New Testament writers (including Jesus) appeal to: “It is written…” Deus dixit.

    But your question is double-edged: what canon did you use to get your (Orthodox) canon? It is something that can be argued and the rationales laid out. But in the end I suspect we are talking about different canons and different traditions with their wirkungsgeschichte. I’m not sure either of us could convince the other of the more limited canon of the Reformed or the more expansive canon of the Orthodox. We argue from different foundational documents and give them very different roles in our theologies and liturgies.

    Since you were (again) telling us Calvinists what we believe — I thought I might suggest how best to convince us and not simply follow a pattern of telling us good reasons within your Orthodox tradition as to why we Calvinists should call on holy Mary to “save us.”

    You say: “These two points, that we enter anew into the grace of every feast, and that we are linked through Christ and the power of the Spirit with all Christians at all times, is true because through the power (energia) of God mediated to us through the single Person of the Son of God, and vivified in us by the Life giving Spirit, we transcend time and begin our entrance into the eternal Kingdom.” This first point I say Amen to! It is the second point and its meaning that is the problem.

    It is the problem of “and” (as Karl Barth put it in the Reformed Catholics issues with the Roman Catholics): Faith AND works; Scripture AND tradition; Jesus AND Mary. We may not follow the Orthodox all the way, but we do share the Father, the Son and the Spirit — and confess him through the Nicene Creed (and can do so even with or without the filioque clause). One does not have to speak all one believes to realize we share more than we disagree about. I realize the AND the Orthodox cannot say is that Latin addition of the late 6th century. So perhaps we Catholics of all stripes have our own ANDs we need to rethink.

  25. cd says:

    Perry et all. Could you comment briefly on the difference between the Orthodox understanding being discussed here and theopassianism?

  26. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    “Since you were (again) telling us Calvinists what we believe — I thought I might suggest how best to convince us and not simply follow a pattern of telling us good reasons within your Orthodox tradition as to why we Calvinists should call on holy Mary to “save us.”’

    Now Davd that is just plain silliness. “I will be convinced if you do it in such and such a manner and with such and such content, on my terms.” Of course we know all about your ‘razor’, but your ‘razor’ is precisely what constitutes the problem and is what places your position outside o(O)rthodox faith and praxis. The good reasons of the orthodox tradition Cyril stated as to why people should be calling on the Theotokos is what should convince you. Nothing else, no less, no more. You are free to reject it and raise your ‘razor’ in protest, but you will have rejected Christ Himself in so doing.

  27. Steve Allen says:

    We don’t know from that article what the term “God-man” means for Mr. Sproul. That part of the article is left as a fill-in-the-blank.

    If an Orthodox reads this, he or she fills in that blank with the proper understanding of the term as a single acting subject (hypostasis), and the key is turned so the entire article, then, is Orthodox. If a Nestorian reads it, he or she fills in the blank with the heretical understanding of the term as referring to the moral and active unity (i.e. a unity of person as in “prosopon”, i.e. as in “presenting a single face to the world”) of two acting subjects — God the Logos, and the man Jesus. And thus the key is turned and the article becomes heretical.

    My point is that the article can be read either way, and so this blog post, which excoriates Mr. Sproul for a Nestorian reading which isn’t -necessarily- there (although we -suspect- he means it that way) is, I think, incomplete at best. This post should show other articles of Mr. Sproul’s that confirm our suspicions regarding his meaning of the term “God-man”, on which the interpretation of the rest of his article turns, and which he conveniently fails to elucidate.

  28. Davd Fraser says:

    How so? I reject that idea of St. Cyril not Christ Himself. Am I to believe that St. Cyril’s words are equivalent to Christ’s words? I do not have a single word in the gospels telling me to call on Mary. Nor a single word in Paul’s epistles. Not a single word in the General Epistles or the Johaninne literature — or Revelation. Nor a prophecy that Cyril was coming to make clear to me what Jesus and the Apostles had not made clear: to invoke the name of His mother rather than call upon the name of the Lord for salvation. What I am instructed is: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:13, Joel 2:32). Show me one place in scripture where it says: ‘everyone who calls on the Theotokos or Mary will be saved.’ One place. Not Cyril. Where does Cyril get his “regula” for this invocation?

  29. Pete says:

    “I reject that idea of St. Cyril not Christ Himself. Am I to believe that St. Cyril’s words are equivalent to Christ’s words?”

    David, with that argument, why would you trust any of Scripture? Why trust Saint Paul to be speaking the truths of Christ? Why trust the Evangelists’ accounts of the Gospel?

  30. David,

    Jesus says, “Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. ” Matt 23:34.

    Is it your view that this is not true after the NT period, that Jesus sends no teachers, wise men and prophets after the apostles die?

    If not, are ministers sent by Christ? if so then Cyril seems via his ordinary commissioning as a bishop to qualify as one who is sent. Again, if they hear not the church, they are to be treated as unbelievers. What else then can the voice of the church be than the voice of Christ? As Augustine said, Christ and his church make up one whole Christ.

  31. Steve,

    That seems to imply that we can’t know what Nestorius meant by the term theanthropos, which is rather absurd. We can know what Sproul means since he denies that the subject of the Logos suffers. That all by itself is heterodox given Chalcedon and Constantinople II. Whether he takes the human nature to be a subject or not is just icing on the cake since either take is heterodox. His denial logically entails that the human nature of Christ is not taken into the divine person, in short, he has no composite person after the union. The relation is logically speaking less than that of a hypostatic union. So the article is heterodox on its own merits. It has nothing to do with my bringing in Orthodox assumptions to the reading. Such a claim at lest borders on an ad hominem. In anyc ase, Sproul should know better.

    It seems that Sproul’s TBN salary and lifestyle has brought out heterodoxy along with it.

  32. Karen says:

    One problem with David’s “razor” canon, if my understanding is correct, is that it is not the same one the Apostles were using, (the LXX or, for some books, the Hebrew Scriptures the LXX was translated from) being their OT. Also overlooked is the fact that in the inspired NT canon, Jude (among others) quotes what is now extra-canonical Jewish tradition (although this is anachronistic, since the OT canon was not decided until around 300 A.D. if I am remembering correctly). So is that tidbit from Jewish tradition now inspired or not? For an Orthodox, whatever is spoken from Christ through the Holy Spirit is inspired and authoritative. The Scriptures are the supremely authoritative written Apostolic witness to this Christian Tradition of the Holy Spirit speaking in His Church, but what St. Cyril teaches is entirely consonant with a right interpretation of that written witness. We do not recognize the regulative principle regarding Scripture as Apostolic Christian teaching.

  33. Karen,

    Either way it is quesiton begging. We only know what the apostles used either from chruch tradition or from works already deemed canonical. But which books are canonical is the point in question.

  34. PJ says:


    The saints, whether they are living on earth or living in heaven, are part of Christ’s Body, which is one and united in the Spirit. James told us to pray for one another. Thus, I ask brethren in Christ, both in this world and the next, to plead to God on my behalf. Do you think Mary is dead and rotting, lying mute and deaf and dumb in the ground, her body decomposing? No, she is more alive than I am, and she and I are intimately connected in the Body of Christ. Your ecclesiology is morbid and hollow.

  35. PJ says:

    Wait, of course you think she’s rotting in the ground somewhere! Nonetheless, you cannot deny she is alive in spirit, and one with all Christians in the Lord’s Body, can you? And if that is the case, what is wrong with asking for her prayers and intercession? Seems more risky to call upon a friend for his prayers, for he might at heart be wicked and satanic, whereas we know from Holy Scripture that Mary is blessed among all women.

  36. Davd Fraser says:

    Hmmm. Seems some seem to know what I think even when I have not said it.

    Mary is indeed part of the Church triumphant, the “church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven” (Heb 12:22) to whom we come — and to the tens of thousands of angels and even to Jesus (12:18-29). She is validly called Theotokos. But I do not suppose Mary is more than a perfected human, anymore than any other of the “firstborn” who have been made perfect. Again: with millions calling upon her, how does she manage? Or is she thought of somehow as possessing omni-competence as possessed by God alone? Whence comes her special competence to respond to our calls for her intercession? How does she know you, PJ, have called upon her and can then intercede for you, specially for you and not the other million who also invoked her in the liturgy this past Sunday?

    The only mediator I know between God and humans is a divine One and the One who can hear and respond to us all and to us individually.

    As to asking fellow humans who are alive today, in my generation: I am only following Jesus’ example when he prayed for his band (John 17) — I too pray for other Christ-followers who are facing a variety of struggles. I follow Paul who asks living “saints” (which seems to be a much broader category for him than how some modern Christians take it) to pray for him (Romans 15:20-33; 2 Cor 1:10-11; Eph. 6:19; Phil. 1:19). He does not exhort them to pray to Mary on his behalf (or Elijah, or Moses, or John the Baptist). They are to present their petitions to God (Phil 4:6). No where does he disciple them into a pattern of prayer or petition to saints.

    To be sure we ask weak, sinful fellow Christ-followers to pray for us — as Paul did the troubled and difficult community of the Romans, the Corinthians with all their warts and failings — and the Ephesians and the Philippians. So I am not sure what the problem is with doing that.

    I do not think prophecy has ceased (I disagree with a number of the Refomers on that count). But I do not think we know which are true prophets without some canon to compare them to. It is a challenge to “test the spirits.” The broader “canon” is helpful and the councils have helped us in thinking through some of the matters that go beyond Scripture but not against it (such as the Trinity).

    Now about the LXX and Jude. We often quote English or other translations today as well as authoritative expressions. All interpretation is “translation” and the translatability of Holy Scripture is one of its virtues (unlike the Muslim Koran). It bears authority even in translation though not all translations are equally good.

    As to the quotation of other sources (non-canonical sources): their use does not make them canonical. It is their use by the prophets, sages, apostles and evangelists that renders them part of revelation. Why stop with Jude. What about the use of foreign proverbs in the book of Proverbs? Or Paul’s quotation of Epimenides possibly and certainly Aratus on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 18:28)? His use of them does not canonize them and all their thought, any more than Jude’s quotation of an extra-canonical source bestows on it such blanket authority.

    To put one of the points I have been making again: what “razor” do the Orthodox use to distinguish the true from the pseudo-true? The orthodox from the heterodox? We all use “razors” — just some shave a lot more off the face of the Church than others. As an admirer of Mary but not one who can invoke her, my “razor” finds its sharpest (not sole) edge in canonical Scripture, in the original langauges but also in translations.

  37. PJ says:

    Mary manages through the Spirit, with whom all things are possible. The same is true for the other saints, both capital “S” and lowercase “s.” It is not through the saints’ own power, but the power of God. God is not jealous of His grace, for Love is not miserly: He lavishes it upon His darling children, that they may help one another ascend to His throne. In His wisdom, God gives some more grace, more power, more authority than others. But make no mistake — the grace, power, and authority are His to give and His to take away.

    As for the Bible: the Word is legitimate because the Body says so. The basic Protestant error is confusing the priority of Word and Body. The Body takes precedence over the Word. Indeed, the Word issues from the Body.

    The root of the Protestant heresy is the haunting belief that God is vainglorious, miserly, and jealous, when in fact He is humble and gracious, freely sharing His infinite wealth with His saints, for His satisfaction and their benefit and delight. This malformed vision of God explains their inability to understand the Church and the mysteries, both of which bring the Divine into the most intimate contact with mankind. In many ways, a certain sort of Protestant — say, an adamant Calvinist — has more in common with a Muslim than with a Christian of the ancient, apostolic Faith.

  38. PJ says:

    This is not to mention, of course, the Virgin’s innumerable appearances to Christians of all sorts — men, women, children; lay and religious; sinners and saints — as well as the universal testimony of the Church for fifteen hundred years. The very Word of God dwelt within Mary’s womb! She is the living Ark. She is, as Christ said, our mother. O God-Bearer, pray for us.

  39. Davd Fraser says:

    Again. hmmm.
    Have you read Calvin or Luther or other reformers and seen their appreciation and depth of knowledge of the Church fathers (and the larger Catholic tradition)? Or for that matter, to take the greatest reformed theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth and his thousands of references to the Church fathers, the confessions and creeds?Or his “malformed” vision of God? I’m astonished at this level of ignorance about the doctors of the Protestant (or better Reformed Catholic) tradition. It is no wonder the division remains: it is built largely on fantasy and on the extreme edges of the movement. One can argue with an opinion but one cannot argue rationally with ignorance.

    So back to another of my points: it is not good form to try to tell your interlocutors who sit in a different place what they believe or must believe. If it makes you happy to think we Protestants have not read the Church fathers or the great Catholic tradition, that we do not believe in the One, Holy, APOSTOLIC Church, …. well I’m not sure anything I say will help.

    You are spot on in one of your assertions: In the beginning was the Word… Deus Dixit. We do believe in the priority of the Word that created all things, including the Church, not the other way round. The Church recognizes the revelation that constitutes and founds it. But it does not control, create, or confirm it. Deus dixit. The Word is not what the Church says it is. The Word says what the Church is. The Church is no more than an ear that hears and heart that obeys, not the author, creator, or legitimator of God’s life-giving and living Word. It is GOD’s Word, not the Church’s Word.

    19th century liberalism made this sort of reversal into a virtue: they substituted the priority of the human community (even the church community) for the priority of God. In the end theology (and preaching and liturgy) more and more was simply no longer about God but about the human experience of the divine, spoken in a funny clerical tongue. Feuerbach was right to a degree: theology lost its subject matter and became anthropology. It no longer spoke about God. It spoke about human experiences of God as though it were speaking about God.

    All I ask (as a Christ-follower who is seeking to know God) is: show me the roots and foundation of any practice in Scripture. Don’t tell me the Church says ‘do this.’ (Which Church? Why? On what basis?) If I can see it is built on the foundation of the apostles and evangelists, then I will join gladly and obediently with you and all Christ followers of all denominational sorts in engaging that practice. That is what I keep asking for and all I seem to get back is: your theology is wrong, St. so-and-so spoke thusly, Protestants have malformed and hollow ideas. Show me how that is the case and connect it with Scripture and I’m all ears.

  40. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    “All I ask (as a Christ-follower who is seeking to know God) is: show me the roots and foundation of any practice in Scripture.” – Stop cutting us with your razor, we are bleeding to death! Davd, I thought we had established our vastly differently epistemologies? And no, this is most certainly not the “most extreme edges of the movement.” What anyone here has presented to you here is smack dab in the center of orthodox tradition. Nothing fancy, nothing extreme.

    “Don’t tell me the Church says ‘do this.’ ” – now you are getting to the heart of the issue – this is exactly the problem with your position.

    “(Which Church? Why? On what basis?) If I can see it is built on the foundation of the apostles and evangelists, then I will join gladly and obediently” – of course, and we have been trying to demonstrate this to you, but you reject our testimony: Orthodoxy is built on the foundation of the apostles and the evangelism.

  41. Cyril says:

    Well, David, first off, yes, I have read them, all of them. Granted, I never finished the Weimar edition of Luther, but I have pretty much gotten through both Calvin and Martyr, as well as Zwingli (and all in the Latin – – and in Calvin the old French- – if you want to know). Their readings of the fathers were skewed by, largely emphasizing the same sort of inchoate musings that we see in Bauer, Koester, and now such nullities as Pagels and Ehrman, that there was no such thing as the unanimity of the faith in the early Church. You can see it all clearly in Luther’s Leipzig disputation and go from there. Please David, please spare me this patronizing nonsense about the Reformer’s knowledge of the fathers: if they aren’t reading them through Ockham (Luther) or Gregory of Rimini (Martyr) then they certainly were through a conflation of them: how else to explain Calvin’s voluntarism on the one hand, and his Platonism on the other?

    Finally, two very key points: I thought St. Paul said that the Church was the pillar and foundation of the truth. Your statements in your penultimate paragraph have so perversely represented what Orthodoxy believes I can think only that they are said from sheer ignorance and not from spite. You are welcome here, but not if you are going to write such, well, to try to be charitable, nonsense. If you want to know the answers to why we believe what we believe, fine: I can give you all sorts of suggestions. Try Fr. Behr’s three volumes on the Nicene Faith, or better Jaroslav Pelikan’s first volume on his history of dogma, one written, why wonder of wonders, to counter the crap from Harnack. You can also look at his Christianity and Classical Culture. After that look to Fr. McGuckin both on St. Cyril and on St. Gregory of Nazianzen, and then if you have some more time you can have a nightcap by reading St. Basil’s On the Holy Spirit, St. Athanasius Against the Arians, and either St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Contra Eunomium or St. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. As it is, most of us Orthodox are rather pressed this week as we have about, conservatively, 30 hours of services over the week, and can only half mind our blogs.

    Secondly, the hypothesis, to use a term that the Greek Fathers loved (and its origins as to their use can be traced back to Aristotle) is that Eternal God unites mankind to himself through the Incarnation. Thus the Incarnation is our hypothesis, our presupposition (thought the term hypothesis entails so much more than that), our axiom that we accept uncritically, given to us by Christ himself, and handed on to the Church before there were any NT scriptures. It is the rule your rule is judges by. This is the only way we know and are united to God. Scripture is not God, and Scripture cannot prove God, otherwise you have made Scripture your hypothesis, and it is your God, not the living God it testifies to, along with the rest of the Church. Is there a verse in the Bible that tells you that you need a verse for everything? No, there is not, so you don’t. So then, again, what is the canon of your canon? For the Orthodox it is the Faith once and for all delivered to the Saints, to which the Saints, the Holy Scriptures, and the living Church, the Body of the Living Christ (which he received from the Theotokos) testify too. If the Church is not the Body of Christ as his flesh and blood, then why should I even give you the time of day? You are nothing but another self-appointed expert: how are you different than from Bart Ehrman? I don’t mean to be insulting, but you have left me not to the community of Christ’s body but to the will and changeable disposition of experts, and their now 30,000 communities of readings worldwide since the time of Luther. I shall stand with those poor babas and the poor and persecuted of the Middle East, myself. You can mark it from St. Ignatius and his notion of us having a share in God, the unity of the Church with Christ, through St. Justin the Philosopher and St. Irenaeus and up into great hierarchs of the fourth century: God became us so that we might become God.

  42. Davd Fraser says:


    Thanks for your rebuke. I do not confess to know when I am stepping on the sensitive toes of the Orthodox. I do know that what I hear attributed to the “Calvinists” is as much a charicature as what I seem to manage to produce for you of Orthodoxy. I would like to learn better.

    I did not meant to say the Orthodox have committed the same error as 19th century liberals did (in translating all theology into anthropology). Just that I wonder how making the Church prior to the Word does not fall into that same temptation. I apologize for the unintended slur.

    At the same time, you need to know the characterizations of Reformed Protestants on this same blog are in many ways as outrageous as what you claim I have done. I do not recognize myself in them or many contemporary Reformed thinkers and practitioners. So perhaps we are both in need of repentance for what we think about each other. That is why I think it is better to listen to what others say they think and believe and are seeking words to say clearly — than to attribute to the others things clearly they would not recognize as true or fair about them and their position.

    As to Scripture: the Word of God is prior to Scripture. We agree there. But even the Word is prior to the incarnation (as is even the written Word in the Old Testament, if we are speaking in time). The Word is prior to creation. The written Word is witness to the Living Word. My point is not that we need a scripture verse for everything. It is that when we consider faith and practice, then we follow Jesus (and Paul) in seeking such a pattern — and ask for or say “it is written…” I certainly don’t need a verse for everything. But if I say, “Lord, teach me to pray.” Then I will look for the patterns of prayer in Scripture (and even in more mature Christians in Church history and in contemporary time). But I will look in Scripture first and foremost. If I say, what is the best statistical test for a comparative survey, I will not look for a verse, well that is a different kettle of fish. I thought we were talking about prayer. There I do think I need not just a verse but the whole pattern of scripture on this important matter. That is what I keep asking for. Show me the pattern of invoking dead saints in prayer in scripture. I will take a lot more than one verse!

    I suspected you had read Calvin and Luther, given your field of study. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of their readings of the Fathers. Only that they did read them and value them.

    Have you read the Church Dogmatics of Barth and his occasional theological writings? I suspect, were you to read through the Church Dogmatics, as I have (and some volumes more than once) you would find a challenging interlocutor who has read deeply, even if from a different standpoint.

  43. Davd Fraser says:

    I’ll shut up now. Leave you to your 30 hours. That is more important than dialog on this matter. Besides it is also a better use of my time to do my prayers than to blog about another’s blog. I’ve said enough.

  44. Cyril says:

    My brothers and sisters, I wish to say just a quick word about David (by your leave, including Davids). David has been, and always will be, my friend (he’s Spock, I’m more like McCoy, though I guess on this page, better Chekov). If my story is correct, David has come out of Prot liberalism and into evangelicalism. He basically drug himself into this creed while doing grad degrees in Theology and sociology at Stanford, Vanderbilt and Harvard. Of late he has been a staunch defender of what has been called the traditional view of marriage and Christian sexual ethics. On top of that, he has also been a more than staunch defender of the integrity of the historical claims of Holy Scripture against those who have taken up the obtuse historicism of some of the schools. This is why I poked him last night with Bart Ehrman, and perhaps I was unkind in doing so. The medieval Latins had a tendency, when seeing such heretics as the Cathars, to label them Manichees. This was largely because their mental world was dominated by St. Augustine: since they looked like what Austin had described, they must be a recrudescence of that very plague. I think this animates David’s response in his misunderstanding of our approach to Holy Scripture. Granted, this may look like every-problem-is-a-nail-to-the-guy-with-only-a-hammer mentality, but I would be a bit more charitable.

    David, one of the people who was instrumental in my coming to Orthodoxy, Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, noted that he never discussed the Theotokos with those outside of the Tradition. First, the presuppositions in no wise exist for people to carry on the conversation, and second, lacking these axioms, these hypotheses, there is not the requisite empathy needed for fruitful discourse. Essentially, we come at nature and grace in completely different ways. We see no conflict between them, and distinctions are largely products of sins. Humans as created were made for God: we have a supernatural end, and our desire to see God arises within us as part of our created nature, the imago Dei. I would suggest, Jesuit though he be, that you read Henri de Lubac’s The Mystery of the Supernatural (an expansion of his Surnaturel). This is one of the fundamental issues dividing the Orthodox from you Latins, and de Lubac suffered abuse no end for his position. While I am not his disciple, his reading of the sixteenth century is a great starting point for any Protestant who is at all interested in Orthodoxy, or even in understanding them, for he sets the whole context of the world of the Reformation into a completely new perspective.

  45. PJ says:

    The New Testament is not an exhaustive treatment of the Church and its practices. There is nothing in the New Testament that stipulates that it alone is the sole source of guidance for Christains. That being the case, why do you insist on limiting your theology to its explicit declarations?

    The Protestant cannot understand those passages of Scripture which imply a high ecclesiology. For instance, how in the world is the Church the Body of Christ when there are myriad churches divided over matters large and small? How is/has/will the Spirit lead the Church into all truth? How is it the pillar and ground of truth? These lofty promises and sacred realities, so dear to ancient apostolic Christians (Orthodox, Catholics, Orientals), are utterly senseless in a Protestant context.

  46. PJ says:

    Of course, I suppose the cults of Mary and the saints are small beans compared to the Eucharistic mystery. With the denial of the real flesh and real blood, Protestantism effectively cut itself off from the Faith. The Eucharist was from the start the center of Church life. It is the new manna, the true Bread of the Presence, the genuine paschal meat. By radically diminishing the importance of the Eucharist (and the other mysteries), Protestants rejected the immanence of God and initiated a chain of events that led to deism and ultimately to the mass agnosticism of today. Even those who remain faithful cannot escape the idea of what Father Freeman calls the two-storey universe: God “up there,” man “down here.” This foolish Protestant creation is the God of Dawkins and Dennett, the Santa Clause God. I could not escape the secular world, the world of rational materialistic scientism, so long as I remained a captive of Protestant novelties.

    All ye who have strayed by the schemes of Calvin and Luther and Zwingli, return ye to your Mother, the Israel of God, Holy Zion, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church!

  47. PJ says:

    Christ said that He did not come to destory the Law or prophets, but to fulfill them. Protestantism does not seem to understand this. It is a rejection of the Law, at very least. The Protestants, in denying the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the real presence of God through the priesthood and in the sacrifices, spurn the Church’s true identity as Israel fulfilled.

  48. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Davd, to be sure I did not mean ‘to shut you up’, but because our vastly different authoritative sources, your insistence on merely using yours (and restrict us from using ours) is simply unfruitful, and it will lead us nowhere, nor allow us to understand each other’s position. Yes I have read Barth, the Reformers etc., and yes they read the Fathers for their own purposes, and no I am not impressed by this at all, as they misread and reintrepret what the Fathers mean, taking them out of context for their protestant purposes. This is not to say that Barth, or Luther, or Calvin, etc. had absolutely no good thing to say about certain subjects, or that they misread the Fathers on each and every subject. No. But that is not the point here.

    Of course there are many Scriptures that we could point to you about the invoking of ‘dead saints’, about the salvific role of the Theotokos, and so forth. Such scriptural references are numerous, the Law and Prophets, for instance, are loaded with them. But you reject them Davd, as you reject our ‘hypothesis’, the Orthodox understanding of these matters.

    If there is anything I could point out to you Davd, is that your ‘razor’ is not simply and purely the Scriptures (as if they interpreted themselves), but rather a particular way of using them, a particular interpretive lens – that is your ‘razor’. To unpack this a bit further, this entire discussion here is to point out that the Protestant interpretive lens conflicts in key points with o(O)rthodox hypothesis, the hypothesis of the Apostles, Fathers, the Ecumencal Councils, the Tradition etc.

  49. Steve Allen says:


    To get into the details…You say, “Show me the pattern of invoking dead saints in Scripture.”

    Two things here. First, we do not invoke “dead saints”, for “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” I would have thought that would be rather obvious.

    But, for the sake of discussion, let’s agree that when you say “dead saints” you mean “those who have passed from this life to heaven.” I will give you a great example of invoking these for help: when Saul called upon Samuel by the witch at Endor.

    “But wait!”, you might say, “He was cursed for doing that! He lost his kingdom over it. There are commands against that!”

    True, he was cursed: for using a witch, a medium. Nowhere in the entire story is Saul condemned for wanting and asking for “dead” Samuel’s help. And nowhere in any of the commandments is this forbidden either. Necromancy (“magic” involving the dead) and witchery are both condemned, but the actual invocation of those on the other side is nowhere spoken against. In fact, it is treated as a matter of course.

    A New Testament example of praying -for- the “dead” can be found in the story of Peter’s imprisonment. Nowhere in that story does it say that they were praying for his release. In fact, if they are, and then everyone says “It’s his spirit” when he actually shows up…they seem rather faithless, don’t you think? What makes far more sense is that they thought he was dead already, and were doing the vigil for the newly departed (or some early edition of it).

    Regarding that Jesus, while being the only mediator between God and man, is NOT the only intercessor, simply read the entire chapter where the “one mediator” verse is found. In the first verse, Paul commands that intercessions be made everywhere for everyone. Of COURSE these are not done on our own power, but by His. Duh.

    And Mary in particular is seen as “mediatrix” not in that she mediates between God and Man…far from it. Rather, she mediated God TO man — by her “yes”, and from her body, He came into the world. This is an entirely different kind of mediation. In this sense, she is the ladder of Jacob, or at least the ground on which the ladder stood.

    So when we say, for example, “This be my lot, O my lady, most holy Theotokos, by thy mediation and help,” it is only in the context of the Incarnation, which is precisely how we immediately continue and complete the prayer, viz. “through the grace and love for man of thine Only-begotten Son, our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, together with His unoriginate Father, and His Most Holy and good and life creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

  50. Davd Fraser says:

    Point made. Just again to insist: you misread me and seem to have misread Barth, Luther and Calvin, given what you suppose are the conclusions and content of their notions about the Church and other matters.

    Finally, someone says there are many Scriptures to point to. Please, can you give me 5? Is that too much to ask? All I get is the Orthodox abuse of Protestants. Do you want to persuade me or is the idea to excoriate and execrate? I’m looking for the sort of argument that will invite me into the larger world of Orthodoxy, not the walls that exclude.

  51. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Davd I think Steve provides you with some Scriptural references. As to how precisely I misread you, as well as misread Barth et al on patristics, please demonstrate how precisely you come to this.

  52. Steve Allen says:

    Regarding Mary and John sitting on His right and left hands respectively…

    The fact that SOMEONE is going to sit at each hand in the Kingdom is evident.
    The fact that the two who are going to sit there are a specific two, given the positions by the Father is also evident.

    So who sits on the right, and in glorious apparel? See Psalm 44/5:9. “The Queen.”

    Who is this Queen? Well, in the literal context of the coronation of Solomon for which the Psalm was originally composed, it was Bathsheba, his mother. I Kings 2:19

    In fact, in Israel, the Queen was not the wife of the king, but his mother. See I Kings 13:15 for example, and also 2 Kings 8:26, cf. chapter 11, and 2 Chronicles 12:13. (The mentions of the Mother are significant because she was Queen. But notice that in each case, her rule as queen depended on her being the Queen Mother. If her son died, she was no longer queen, unless there was no other heir. Also, if her son removed her from queen, she was no longer queen.

    So the one who sits on the right hand of the King is a) his Mother, and b) the Queen. Well, the Mother of Christ the King is…you guessed it…Mary.

    So, who sits on the left? That is not addressed in Scripture, beyond the fact that a) it is a person, and b) it is a specific person.

  53. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    I am especially curious as to how you make such a judgment about my alleged misreading of Barth, Luther and Calvin’s use of the Fathers as earlier you stated about Luther and Calvin, “I cannot vouch for the accuracy of their readings of the Fathers.”

  54. Steve Allen says:

    P.S. We Orthodox have a saying, “Orthodoxy is all the Scriptures you didn’t underline.” (Plus, of course, the ones you did.)

  55. Steve Allen says:


    I forgot to put this one regarding “dead” saints…

    Take a good hard look at Hebrews 12, particularly the sentence beginning in verse 22, and cross-reference James 5:16.

  56. Davd Fraser says:

    Thanks for all the clarifications. I have much to think about. I’m not persuaded by the allusions to the OT as to who will sit at Jesus’ right and left hand. That seems to be left a mystery even by Jesus in response to the request of his disciples. Nor by the analogy of Saul and the witch of Endor. I need more positives to base a strong practice on. Perhaps I am asking too much.

    I have not read Calvin and Luther as carefully as I have read Barth so I am only saying that I cannot speak with any precision on their reading of the Church fathers. As to Barth, I can only say that the characterizations of Protestant (Reformed/Calvinist) thought offered in this blog does little justice and not a little misrepresentation of the Reformed theology he offers. I take him to be the premier Reformed theologian of the 20th century. That is why I reference him rather than the somewhat bastardized versions of reformed thought that even I can skewer. I have read him and find much in him (not all) of real help beyond some of the rigidities of conservative evangelicalism and the Calvinists who out Calvin Calvin (I wonder if Calvin would say of them as Barth has said of Barthians: I am not a Barthian!).

    Here’s what I mean by a misreading and misrepresentation: “The root of the Protestant heresy is the haunting belief that God is vainglorious, miserly, and jealous, when in fact He is humble and gracious, freely sharing His infinite wealth with His saints, for His satisfaction and their benefit and delight. This malformed vision of God explains their inability to understand the Church and the mysteries, both of which bring the Divine into the most intimate contact with mankind.” I don’t know a single Reformed theologian who believes this sort of theology.

    I have wondered what Hebrews 12:22ff means as to the boundary between this world and the world of God — and how much interaction there is. I think this (though not James 5:16) is a good text to work what I’m hearing here about how we relate to the Church triumphant. We are part of a larger (invisible) reality that surrounds us and stands in witness to what we do (like the obscure reference to angels and worship in I Cor 11:10). I just wish there were more encouragement in the direction of invoking angels and “saints” and the “Elijahs” on that side of the divide for action on this side. But I will certainly allow as legitimate those who take a maximal interpretation of this. I am not yet there.

    I like the saying the Orthodox have about all the Scriptures we don’t underline. Hadn’t heard that before.

    Now one other area perhaps that would help me. In ecclesiology it seems to me there is a more basic category: the “kingdom of God” — Jesus proclaimed the “kingdom of God” as the central message. My understanding is that the Church is not the kingdom of God but serves that Kingdom, that the Kingdom of God is broader and wider than the Church. What I tend to hear (mishear) in this conversation from the Orthodox is language about the Church that sounds more like language I would use about the Kingdom of God. How does the Kingdom of God and the Church relate to each other in Orthodox theology?

  57. Steve Allen says:


    I am encouraged by your statement that you will allow as legitimate those who take a maximal interpretation. My intent wasn’t to convince you by positive proofs that you should be doing these things, but rather to show that we are not out of bounds to do them. Since we do not require positive Scripture (although we do have a lot of it, particularly regarding the outward worship forms like incense, written prayers, etc.), this is not that big of a deal. (See 1 Thess. 2:15)

    Yes, in normal conversation it is understood that the Church is the Kingdom of God. There is some nuance to this, if we want to start getting technical, but that’s the gist.

  58. Steve Allen says:

    P.S. Regarding the allusions to the Old Testament…it might help to remember that the Hebrew Scriptures speak of Christ, and that the disciples’ minds had to be opened to see exactly how. I’m sure that if Paul hadn’t written it down we might be a little skeptical of anyone saying that Melchisedec is a type of Christ, or that the crossing of the Red Sea was a baptism, either. But that Psalm 44/5 is Messianic, I think should be obvious. Also the clear allusion to this Psalm (vs 17) by Mary in her Magnificat (Luke 1:48).

  59. Steve Allen says:

    Oh, and if we establish that Mary is the virgin daughter/queen mother in Ps. 44/5, then we see clearly the prophecy of those praying to her (vs. 12).

  60. Davd Fraser says:

    Thanks. Helpful to understand where the Orthodox are coming from. On the Church and the Kingdom, clearly different places. I hope those of us who are “weak” (Rom 14-15) with regard to some of the Orthodox practices are not written off — at least I feel a kinship even if I can not lisp with quite the same words.

  61. Cyril says:

    David, however amiss we may think you are in your thoughts, we are not allowed to judge anyone, for only One is our Judge, and we leave all to his mercy (even if we only have a relative love of Origen – – some of us more, some less).

  62. Karen says:

    Thanks, Perry and Cyril.

  63. Steve Allen says:


    This is where the nuances come in. But it’s kind of hard to just explain it because of the rather strong associations between the two. This one is going to be more “No, it’s not like that….yes, more like that” in response to assertions or questions on your part.

    Also, a lot of it will depend on our definitions of both “Church” and “Kingdom” and “Kingdom of God”, so…we may be meaning/understanding vastly different things without realizing it.

    Not sure what you mean by “written off”…I mean, we even have some monks and saints that pray for the devil, that the Lord would have mercy on him as much as possible, and bring him to repentance if at all possible. So I’m pretty sure you’re not being “written off” in a final sense….haha…

  64. Steve Allen says:

    This post of mine from a while back might help some, regarding the Kingdom…

  65. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Davd, as I wrote earlier, and echoing Cyril above, I have made no judgment as to your salvation. As to your example of misreading (i.e. ““The root of the Protestant heresy is the haunting belief that God….”) I agree with you on that, but this was PJ who wrote this, not me. I remain curious how it is you can make a judgment about my misreading of Luther and Calvin’s use of the Fathers in light of your earlier admission.

  66. Davd Fraser says:

    Sorry apophaticallyspeaking. I was thinking of PJ’s comments and not meaning to suggest I know how you read Barth. Tell me how you read him and what you think his actual Reformed theology is. I have also not made a judgment on salvation of anyone in this dialog. I am convinced that those who name the name of Christ as Lord in the Spirit belong to him and to me as a fellow member of that larger body that knows no denominations.

    Thanks, Steve, for your link on the Kingdom. In my mind there are a number of inadquate ways of defining the Kingdom of God. Were I to define it simply I would say:

    The Kingdom of God is the programmatic center of Jesus’ preaching and teaching. Nothing is more basic or central in all he communicates. Even when different terminology is used to capture Jesus’ message for a new audience (as in John’s use of “eternal life”), the reality referred to remains the same.
    In brief compass we may say the Kingdom of God refers to the undisputed sovereignty of God in creation, established and expressed in a complete order of peace, justice and righteousness on a new earth within a new heavens.
    The Kingdom of God is one way of speaking of the direct presence and power of God. The fullness of the Kingdom means God is triumphant in history and the Kingdom is visibly perceptible. All the promises and hopes of prophecy are completely fulfilled when the Kingdom comes. Then the events portrayed as necessary for the final things to be realized will be past events. God will dwell in complete harmony with creation and with all those who, through Christ, have entered this time and place.
    The Kingdom of God involves the strong action taken by God to re-assert the divine will and way in the current rebellious creation. It is God’s effective action against the hostile powers that have arisen and threaten the order and purpose of creation. The Kingdom of God is the royal exercise of dominion by God, intervening in nature and history to redeem, restore and rectify all things. This action is inaugurated in the ministry of the historical Jesus who is the messianic Spirit-anointed servant of Yahweh. This counter action against evil will climax in the second coming of Jesus Christ when everything is brought into submission. Then a new heavens and new earth will appear, within which all evil and evil doers are permanently excluded.
    This Kingdom is God-centered. It is of God. It is God’s action and gift. Its source and dynamic is from God and acts for the agenda and redemptive purposes of God, not necessarily those of the institutional church, or the humanization of history, the political stability of given human kingdoms, the institutional well-being of para-Church structures or the existential well-being of religious people.
    The Kingdom is also God-centered in the way it is presented in the teachings of Jesus Christ. As proclaimed and represented in the Gospel narratives, the Kingdom focuses explicitly on the activity of God. Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom only has an implicit concentration on Jesus as the Son of Man, the messenger of the Kingdom and its implicit King.
    Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom primarily stress its future reality. Yet the Kingdom is also already present in its effects. The Kingdom has already arrived within this Age without abolishing it. This Age continues to structure existence until the coming of the un-earthly, entirely new world brought by the power of God in the unveiling of Jesus as King of kings and the Judge of the living and the dead in the parousia.
    Jesus unveiled the “mystery” or “secret” of the Kingdom of God. This “secret,” as expressed in the Kingdom parables (Matthew 13; Mark 4), is the startling disclosure of the actual arrival of that unearthly, entirely future new world “ahead of its time.” That very Kingdom is inaugurated in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Already that entirely future new world has come into this one without abolishing or ending the old. So near is the Kingdom of God that it can already be entered. The effects of healing, exorcism and power already manifest that Kingdom’s power. Those who look for the coming of the Kingdom need now to acknowledge its limited but real presence already. The baptism in the Holy Spirit serves as a foretaste and guarantee of the coming new world. Already we are to live as active participants in the power and potentials of the Kingdom of God as though it is already present–because it is.
    There are a number of ways through Church history that the Kingdom has been misunderstood, including, I think:

    1. Individualized gospels that lack relevance to social worlds of oppression and poverty, that create communities of pietistic indifference or injustice often combined with a refusal of Christian civil responsibility or identification of such responsibility as completely fulfilled by personal evangelism and Church planting [such as in Dutch Reformed theologies justifying apartheid or elements of contemporary North American conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism]
    2. Social gospels that secularize the call for explicit individual repentance and faith in Christ as the sole remedy and hope for God’s salvation and identify specific this-worldly socio-political action with the Kingdom of God (“properly changing the social environment will lead to a perfect society”). [This is embodied in postmillennial movements; in progressivist reformist movements looking to a Christianized society or world order brought about by human action; or in semi-Marxist initiatives looking to human revolutionary praxis as laying the foundations for a Christianized world order]
    3. An ecclesiastical confusion of the institutional Church with the Kingdom, either in the form of an overarching “Church-type” or theocratic state that encompasses the whole of society and persecutes alternatives [as in the Medieval Catholic Church] or as the “Sect-type” that sees itself as the counter-cultural kingdom community rejecting various involvements in “the world” as incompatible with authentic Christ following [as in a number of anabaptist movements, communes or religious orders such as the early Franciscans]
    4. Movements driven by apocalyptic utopian hopes or eschatologically obsessed constituencies who seek to date the parousia and engage in radical withdrawal from or even attack upon the ordinary structures of institutional life [as in Thomas Münzer and the Zwickau prophets; various adventist movements; elements of contemporary premillenialism; “cargo” cults and millenarian movements]
    5. A subjectivizing of the Kingdom of God into the mystical communion (“the Kingdom of God is within you”), either in an individualistic fashion [as in some Quaker inner light doctrines and medieval Christian mysticism] or in a communal direction [“the communion of saints” in liturgical forms as found in some eucharistically-centered Christian communities]
    6. A theologically liberal demythologizing or resymbolizing of the Kingdom in which the “husk” of myth, apocalyptic, and miracle are removed to expose the “kernel” or essence of the Kingdom: a set of ideals, values and categorical imperatives realizable through the on-going progress of education and social reform [such as we find in Ritschl who argued the Kingdom was “this-worldly, monistic and ethical in character” or Adolf von Harnack’s reduction of the Kingdom to the principles of the fatherhood of God and infinite value of the soul, the brotherhood of humankind, and the higher righteousness and law of love]

    As you might tell, I do not think the Church = the Kingdom of God. It is a participant in that kingdom as the community of believers and as the servant of the King. The Kingdom includes the Church but also includes more than the Church (as the King rules creation and time). But I’m sure there is more to say and I’ve already said far too much. I’m just glad that Kingdom language is much more present in current theological discourse than it was when I met Christ at the age of 13. The one thing I do like (if I may be so bold to say so in this blog) about the Reformed is their central affirmation: Jesus is Lord of all! (gloss on God is Sovereign aka God reigns in His World).

  67. David Lindblom says:

    David, as a somewhat Orthodox youngster (30 years Protestant-almost 4 as Orthodox) I know exactly what you’re feeling and thinking. This is one of the tough obstacles for we Prots to get past. I cannot prove this practice using scripture alone…perhaps others can. But, perhaps, as a basic part of the foundation of intercession of the Saints and the Theotokos you could start your thinking w/ two little passages. One being Heb. 12:1:

    Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)
    1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
    2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

    Those who have passed on are “watching” us. They are involved in some sense. W/ this in mind we are to “look to Jesus” They are our pattern, they are watching us and this should encourage us to look to Jesus w/ their witness in mind. Would it be a stretch to think that they, being Christ-like glorified people, would wish for the best for us and pray for this very thing? Would not they do this in their earthly life? If so, why not when they are w/ the Lord in Glory? Not proof but something to chew on a bit.

    The other passage I was thinking of is found in Rev.

    Revelation 5:8 (ESV)
    8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

    If we view the 24 elders as being representative of the Chruch Triumphant (which the Orthodox Study Bible states) and the bowls of incense represents the prayers of those of us still down here then, again, those who have passed on to be w/ the Lord have some connection w/ our prayers before Christ. We can argue what that connection entails but I don’t think it would be out of bounds logically to think about calling on these Saints to pray for us. Not that they aren’t but our requests are a kind of line of communication of connection between us.

    Maybe this isn’t much but, to me, it’s a place to start thinking of other possibilities. Couple that w/ the very early examples we have of asking prayers of saints and onward and the Church’s incredible nitpickyness over anything that smelled of new practices/beliefs and how they did not try and stamp this out but encouraged it.

    You’ve shown a lot of patience and I commend you for it. One more thing…have you come across Orthodox-Reformed Bridge blog? It’s really good and the Orthodox view is given in a very irenic way.

  68. Davd Fraser says:

    Thanks for the link to the Orthodox-Reformed blog. I’ve bookmarked it and look forward to reading more in it. I like your passages as grounding to enter the nave of Orthodox practice in prayer! I too think they watch and wonder. How I am to connect to them is less clear. So it may be at this point all I can get into that nave is one big toe or a foot.

    I do think there are two hermeneutical approaches:

    1. The maximalist looks at a passage and tends to say: how do I know an author of a text did NOT mean this or that — and requires proof against a given possibility of interpretation to exclude it from the explication of a text. The danger of this is adding meanings the author did not intend, thus endangering the originary meaning of a text. (I’m not saying that texts can’t “gain” meaning over time and through cultures — as Jaques Ellul puts it — the divine author’s fullness of meaning that goes beyond the human author — just that such an approach adds meanings that may not be there simply because they cannot be excluded on this test. You know the Protestant discomfort with this in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. But I am Gadamerian so do believe texts “change” meaning as they pass through time and culture — and must if they are to retain their relevance).

    2. The minimalists look at texts and asks: how do I know the author of this text meant this possible meaning? This requires proof to include given possibilities of meaning to explicate the text. It endangers the author’s meaning in that its high standard of admitting meaning may well exclude the author’s intended communication simply because we no longer have the surrounding cultural/historical/linguistic context that would weigh a possiblity favorably. We exclude meanings an author intended because we (today) cannot prove that such meaning was there. This tends to be where many Protestants sit — or at least modern biblical scholarship has tended to opt for precision and proof of this sort.

    You guessed my issue: I am coming from more of a minimalist approach, feeling my way through reconstructions of the past social worlds in order to better figure out what such teasing texts as you have cited might mean for contemporary spiritual practices.They are not as clear in my mind as to praying to the “living dead” saints as it seems they are to Roman Catholics and Orthodox.

  69. Steve Allen says:


    Wow! That’s a lot of text to go through. Well-written, though. 🙂

    You have put things quite well (I think you may have left the door open for Adoptionists, Arians, etc., but you didn’t assert any of those things, so it’s still in


    However, I would change the following.

    The announcement of the Kingdom was threaded throughout the prophets. The anticipatory announcement (“prepare yourselves, it’s coming!”) culminated with John. You

    are correct, though, that the announcement of it’s actual arrival commenced with Jesus.

    Also, in your sentence, “Its source and dynamic is from God and acts for the agenda and redemptive purposes of God, not necessarily those of the institutional church,

    or the humanization of history, the political stability of given human kingdoms, the institutional well-being of para-Church structures or the existential well-being

    of religious people”, I would not put “or the existential well-being of religious people.”

    Certainly, God’s breaking into this world is in fact for the existential well-being of all. It is God’s action, yes, but it is not an action for it’s own sake, but

    rather for the Church’s sake, the Bride of Christ.

    Of course the Kingdom is God-centered. It’s the Kingdom of GOD. duh. 🙂 But it is administered through humanity. Even the King Himself took on flesh, and He also

    makes us kings. I mean, one cannot be the King of kings if there are no other kings.

    I also thoroughly disagree that Jesus’ teachings emphasize the Kingdom’s “futureness”. I heartily admit that He does teach about it’s future, but He says over and

    over again, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” and “The Kingdom IS like”, not “the Kingdom WILL BE like”. On a few occasions, He does teach saying, “In that day,” so

    I agree that there is an “end of time” when the Kingdom’s fullness will arrive — “And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose Kingdom

    shall have no end.” But the Kingdom is here already, breaking forth, as you said. That Kingdom is manifested — at least most fully — in the Church, thus the Great

    Commission. Thus, we see the Church as the Kingdom. The Church’s kerygma (outward preaching to the world) is STILL “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

    The Cross and Resurrection is the details.

    I thoroughy agree with most of your points where the Kingdom has been misunderstood. I would (rather gleefully…forgive me!) point out that each and every one of

    these has been a heterodox Church, or the influence of heterodoxy in the Church. I would modify your statement number 3 to say, “An ecclesiastical confusion of the

    Kingdom of God with a kingdom of this world,” etc. That way the examples follow the statement.

    Also, I would appreciate if you wouldn’t soft-pedal it. If in #5 your second example means the Orthodox Church, then say so. And the communion of saints is part of

    the Kingdom of God, not opposed to it. You’re setting up a false dichotomy there.

    Also, if the King is the Kingdom, and rules it, and is also Head of the Body…that is, that each of the anointed “little Christs” is also a king under the Kingdom of

    the Apostle and Forerunner of their faith, then that means that the Kingdom of Christ is the Kingdom of Christ — both Head and Body. Or is Christ divided? You

    forget that Jesus Himself is a Member of the Church — Her very Head! He is also God, and it’s His Kingdom. So…Church = Kingdom of God, insofar as Christ as King =

    Kingdom of God, and we as His Body = Kings and Priests with Him.

    FYI: Kingdom language is just now being rediscovered by the heterodox, but it never left the Orthodox Church.

  70. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Since you enjoy Georg Gadamer, I can highly recommend to you Andrew Louth’s “Discerning the Mystery” as he draws heavily on Gadamer’s hermeneutical approach to texts.

  71. David A. Fraser says:

    Thanks for the comments — and Louth’s recommendation. I will look him up.

    On the Kingdom: I think part of the issue are the antinomies in the use of the Kingdom (despite the fact that both Jesus and the Apostles use it largely in an eschatological manner). Here is what I think:

    The prayer, “Thy Kingdom come,” seeks from God something human beings cannot bring into being. The Kingdom is not an imminent possibility within the evolution of civilization or Church (“Thy Kingdom evolve”; or “Build Thy Kingdom through the Church”). The spiritual and ethical implications of that Kingdom’s presence include the hallowing of God’s person (name) and the doing of God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven by humans who pray for the fullness of Kingdom come.

    The Kingdom of God “may be described as social, political, personalistic (respectful of individual freedom), universal in intent, transcendent in origin, earthly in realization, present in sign, future in fullness.” (Willis, 1987:107). Most difficulties in coming to terms with the meaning of the Kingdom of God have to do with its multifaceted nature (Synder, 1993). One delicate question is the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Church. In addition various distortions of the Kingdom come about when the tension between various facets of the Kingdom are dissolved. These tensions exist because the Kingdom is both future and present, personal and social, spiritual and material, gradual and climactic, and involves both divine and human action. By removing one side or overemphasizing one dimension of the reality of God’s Kingdom, such theologies plunge Christian thought and action into inadequate or truncated expressions of the mission and message of Jesus Christ.

    In my estimation, both the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox engage in inflationary language about the Church. Language I would often reserve for the Kingdom! Someday it will all be much clearer!

  72. Steve Allen says:

    “In my estimation…”

    Well there’s your problem. 😉

  73. David A. Fraser says:

    OK. Better, in concurrence with the millions of my fellow pilgrims and many of the doctors and saints of the church, I think….. Don’t mean to mislead by using the first person as though it were without the guidance, insight and wisdom of many. I did not come up with it on my own! :- )

    But I am certainly ready to argue it, having studied the matter (and to cite good “authorities”)…. So it is also, but not alone, my estimation.

  74. Karen says:

    David Fraser, (and anyone else who has some insight feel free to chime in),

    When you mention that you believe the Kingdom of God is talked about in the NT primarily in eschatological terms, it might be helpful for you to understand that the Orthodox believe we live in a “one-storey universe” where the heavenly realm (in all its eschatological glory) interpenetrates the Church, Creation, indeed everything! The Holy Spirit is “everywhere present and filling all things” as one frequently employed Orthodox prayer states it. Part of our salvation (sanctification) is growing in our ability to perceive this experientially and cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. You might enjoy reading about this at Fr. Stephen Freeman’s site:

    This does not mean that we simply equate everything about the institutional Church with the Kingdom of God. Not everything that goes on IN the Church militant is OF the Church! While on earth, her members are still a work in progress and they still sin and they can also err. When they do, this does not mean the Church is sinning or committing an error. Does this help?

  75. Pingback: Sproul the Nestorian » Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

  76. Rob Cottrell says:

    I have read this blog with interest and although the exclusion of David from the ‘catholic church’ is muted and at most times gentle I read with some sadness.
    I myself am of charismatic persuasion and also consider myself a member of the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’. I must confess to being of much lesser intellect and knowledge to those of you posting here but have read a little of Orthodox theology. Reference to the 30,000 Protestant denominations I think is something less than genuine as the vast majority of them enjoy full inter communion they are frequently simply originate from different evangelistic efforts in spreading the gospel of our Lord and Saviour. I hope that as I ramble on somewhat my contribution may be of value to you whom I consider to be my Orthodox brothers.
    Lately following the conversion of a prominent Muslim my wife and I have been ministering to I have been concerned over the advances of Islam in the West. I think we need to forge as much unity in a ‘generous orthodoxy’ between one another as possible. Currently I am working as a missionary in a country that has no ‘Orthodox Church’ (using the term in your more restricted sense); as ‘Orthodox Believers’ what would you advise I do in this situation?
    Being a Charismatic I would like to recount two experiences I have had with ‘Orthodox’ believers.
    Before moving to the mission field I am currently working in we saw about 100 converts to Christ in Wales where we were working and sought to teach and pastor them. A lady giving lodgings to one of these converts started to attend our meetings quite frequently. One Sunday following the service she asked me to pray for her as she was experiencing prolonged and sever pain in the shoulder and if I remember correctly had a large bruise that was not clearing. I do not know why but instinctively I just commanded the pain to leave her in the name of Jesus and the pain immediately left. When I say ‘I do not know why – I know it was at the direction of the Holy Spirit – but I had never prayed that way previously. We did not see her for a while and then she attended again this time with pain in her feet. On this occasion I did not experience the same instinctive awareness to pray for her bur reasoned this lady has faith to be healed so I gave the same command ‘be healed in the name of Jesus’. I then told her to walk around stamping her feet – which she did as said the pain was completely gone.
    The next experience was on a mission in London UK we were calling at homes with the purpose of introducing Christ and proclaiming the Kingdom of God (no I’m not a Jehovah’ Witness). I understand the Kingdom of God as the present ‘rule of God’, the activity of God by His Spirit, frequently, though not exclusively through His Church and it members; and its eschatological consummation.
    Anyway a gentleman answered his door and said he was ‘Greek Orthodox’ but had been talking to the Jehovahs’ Witnesses but he could not talk long now as he had severe pain due to gall stones. I presume he thought I was a Jehovahs’ Witness, as probably and sadly not many ‘Orthodox’ were doing the orthodox thing and spreading the gospel door to door (sorry for the dig but let us all make sure we prioritise the orthodox task of evangelism). This was my response I said:
    “Well I’m, orthodox as well. I believe God made a beautiful world but we have messed it up. God in His love sent His son to us, born of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. He is fully God and fully man, he lived a sinless life healed the sick and raised the dead, died on the cross, paid for our sin, rose from the dead on the third day conquering death, ascended to heaven, sits on the right hand of the Father who poured out on the church His Holy Spirit to be with us, and that Jesus will come again. But also that Jesus promised that in the meantime wherever two or three of His disciples are gathered in his name that He would be there with them. I said is this the orthodox faith you believe”
    The gentleman replied “Yes”! (Good job Orthodox Church he had the gospel!).
    So I replied well Jesus is here now with us on this doorstep with all the power He ever had! (In my mind I was thinking, because of my previous experience with the Greek lady attending our meetings, “Greek Orthodox” these people have faith). So I said in the name of Jesus pain go and asked the man what was happening. He replied I can feel a warm heat where the pain was and the pain has gone.
    I said “There you are keep believing your Orthodox faith and do not listen to those Jehovah’s Witnesses”. I wished the man goodnight and left his home with joy.
    I have had similar experiences with Catholics and generally found there is less Biblical knowledge but often more faith in the Lord’s reality and presence and current activity than amongst many evangelicals.
    Our theology is important but let us have an orthodoxy of brotherly love, mission and the power of the Spirit. For me the church is found where Jesus is Lord amongst His people, where they seek to follow in sincerity of heart whatever their label or history.
    We will need this if we are to meet the challenge of Islam that our Eastern brothers have suffered most

  77. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Rob I don’t think Orthodoxy and love/mission are antithetical.

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