To my surprise many (most?) of the comments I got yesterday were related to my question about whether to write about the history of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th century or not. Thanks to all those who replied! And the various comments have given me an idea which I want to run by you:
What if, instead of writing a 10’000 words essay (I am only slightly exaggerating!) about the history of the Russian Orthodox Church in the past 100 years (or more!) I did something much, much simpler? Here is my idea:
It is my claim that 95% or more of so-called “Christian denominations” are Christian only in name and that this is empirically and logically provable! The *only* element required to be able to do so is a correct understanding of what the original Christians (at the time of Christ, His Apostles and the Fathers) adopted as their “criteria of truth”! Once you (really) “get” “just” that it becomes comically simple to prove that modern “Christianity” has almost nothing in common with the original Christianity of Christ and the Church He Founded.
This is as true for the Latins, as it is for the MP or for the innumerable sects resulting from the Reformation. Furthermore, I also note with horror that 95% or more of the people who sincerely think of themselves as “Christians” don’t even know the very basics of what Christianity is. So the real problem is not that this or that off-shot of Christianity sincerely, but mistakenly, thinks of itself as “Christian”, the problem is that the overwhelming majority of those who seek to truly follow the commandments and teachings of Christ do not have the means to find out what these commandments and teachings are!
Yeah, yeah, I know, solo scriptura and all that! Sounds good in theory, but in practice this is literally a chain-reaction like phenomenon in which the more the slogan solo scriptura is chanted, the more denominations result from this. Not exactly what Saint Paul intended when wrote “One Lord, one faith, one baptism“…
So rather than dealing with lofty and subtle issues of Patristic teachings on ecclesiology or dogmatic anthropology, which would be a waste of time in our post-Christian societies, why don’t I “go minimal“? What I am thinking is to start a series of short “Christian vignettes” dealing with basic but important issues: what is the purpose of our life? what is our nature? what is a “saint”? what is the “Church”? What did Christ teach about His Church? How did the Fathers deal with heresies and schisms? What is the “symphony of power” and how is it different from the “caesaropapism” invented by western “theologians”? How did the Fathers deal with all the innumerable crises (persecutions, heresies, schisms, infiltrations by enemies. etc.) the Church of Christ faced in its history (especially since “there is nothing new under the sun” and we have no commandment to reinvent the wheel over and over and over again!)? etc. etc. etc. Yes, one could write several PhD theses on any of those deceptively “simple” questions, but my goal would be to write a short vignette and maybe add a few useful links to some relevant text.
Again, I won’t be “going after” the Latins, the Sergianists or anybody else. I will just present what I believe is the “real thing” and you can them compare and contrast it with whatever putatively “Christian” denomination at your own leisure (or not).
Believe me, when, for example, the Latins and the Orthodox use the exact same words (Virgin Mary, Church, grace, sin, redemption, tradition, authority, obedience, etc.) they appear to be using the same categories. In reality they never do, because the meaning they give to these concepts are radically different. So I would probably start with simply worded Orthodox definitions (understanding) of some basic concepts.
Here is my underlying view of the original of the Church: Christ very much came into the world to create an “organized religion”, in fact I would even describe it as *highly* organized (at least in theory, on the day to day parish life, not so much, alas!). He created His Church. Over the centuries, the external power, influence and authority of this Church in the world went through many ups and downs, and the fall of the entire West into schism and heresy resulted in the post-Christian society we live in today. That original Church of Christ still exists today, but it is small, almost tiny. But compared to the times of, Saint Maximos the Confessor, the Church of Christ is booming and doing great! In fact, any QUANTITATIVE argument in defense of any faith is a logical and spiritual fallacy and was, therefore, never used by the Fathers. It so happens that my life has lead me to this tiny “spiritual island” (the traditional image would be one of a vessel with Christ at its helm) which is in the world, but not of the world, and which truly (in its essence) is still the same, a-temporal, Church Christ founded 2000 years ago. I want to share what I found there, if only to convincingly prove that that which is nowadays is commonly referred to as “Christianity” has nothing in common with the real thing. What I propose to do is to begin my demonstration with the very basics.
My suggestion for a first such vignette? The question of “how much is enough”, i.e. how big (# of followers or # of bishops) or small can the Church of Christ be to still qualify as the original Church of Christ? Would one true Christian (however you defined this concept) on a desert island still be “The Church”? How about 10 Christians and I will even toss in 4 deacons, 2 priests and even one bishop! So “Church” or “no-Church”? True, I did hint at the correct answer above, but I did not explain it. So – interested or not?
Let me repeat here: the original Church, as created by Christ and His Apostles still exists today, this Church has lived through very different historical periods and it has therefore appeared to be externally changing. And sometimes this Church did change. Externally. But in its essence, we know two things: that the Church of Christ is the Pillar and Foundation of Truth which will never and, in fact, cannot “change”, if only because “change” is something which happens over time, whereas the (real) Church is “outside time”.
The Latins call themselves “The Church” and even lapsed-Latins STILL call the Latin Church “The Church”. Why? Well, because of the Pope, of course! What other religion can claim to be headed by this putatively “infallible” superstar with his Papamobiles and an opinion about everything, especially secular matters?! (note for non-Latins: Latins do NOT claim that the Pope is always right, but only when he speaks “officially”, in his quality of Pope, and on issues of faith and morality. But still, this is a crazy notion, especially if one accepts the Augustinian/Thomistic views on original sin and salvation!).
“Infallibility” is another perfect example! The original Christians have always believed that the True One Church of Christ is infallible in its essence being the Theandric Body of Christ filled with the Holy Spirit. But while the ENTIRE CHURCH is infallible, no single individual, not even a saint, is infallible. The Latins trasferred that which was always considered an attribute of the entire Conciliar Church into one man. Do yes, both Christians and Latins speak of “infallibility” – but what we mean by that are diametrically opposed concepts!
The truth is that real Christianity is completely in-compatible with not only modern “values”, it is in direct contradiction with the vast majority of the tenets/beliefs/certitudes of our post-Christian world. So all the forms of “Christianity” which “go with the times” and innovate are, by definition, axiomatically NOT Christian. Again, that could be the topic of a short “vignette” which can demonstrate that in 2, max 3, paragraphs.
So I want to set the record strait: I only propose to restate present what I believe is a truly Christian understanding of issue/concept “X” and I leave you, the reader, the freedom to choose to accept or reject what I submit (like in an AA meeting!). I could start with a vignette entitled “a Christian view of pragmatism” or “why are there so many religions?” or even “what is progress” or can dogmas change and, if yes, which ones?”. I am really talking about the basic “building blocks” of the original Christianity.
So, rather than dealing with the Papacy, the MP or the innumerable Evangelical sects, I will simply present you with a short summary how of original Christianity was different. Then, at least, you will be equipped to try to ascertain the degree of actual Christianity in your own denomination (or in the denominations you criticize if you are an agnostic/atheist).
Finally, I will place these “vignettes” in my “sandbox” for two reasons: first, this is probably not a topic most readers will be interested in; second these will be short, quickly written, items (“vignettes”) which do not fit into any other category (and I sure am not creating a new, separate, category for that).
So, good idea or goody idea?
Kindest regards to all,
PS: one more idea I just had: I could ask a person (I trust does know real, Patristic, Christianity) for his/her “vignette” on this or that topic. That would make this all much more interesting since different persons would present their understanding of these issue, not just one guy!
IMPORTANT PPS: speaking of “just one guy”. Yes, I do have a formal (academic) education in Patristics (aka Traditional Orthodox Theology), but that still leaves me “just a guy”! I have NO clerical title, NO blessing from anybody to teach (though, technically speaking, by Licentiate does give me that right, at least in a seminary) and I claim NO original insights whatsoever, nevermind anything even remotely resembling any “authority” of any kind. I have received absolutely NO charisma whatsoever besides my baptism! I am but a sinful layman, please never forget that, and never let me forget that either!