The inner meaning of tradition Orthodox history is marked outwardly by a series of sudden breaks: the capture of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem by Arab Mohammedans; the burning of Kiev by the Mongols; the two sacks of Constantinople; the October Revolution in Russia. Yet these events, while they have transformed the external appearance of the Orthodox world, have never broken the inward continuity of the Orthodox Church. The thing that first strikes a stranger on encountering Orthodoxy is usually its air of antiquity, its apparent changelessness. The doors!
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This book, by the English theologian Timothy Ware, who as a bishop uses the baptismal name Kallistos, is a classic introduction to Orthodoxy. It was first published in but has more recently been revised, so it is fully up to date on historyand doctrine has not changed in Orthodoxy since , or , for that matter.
Ive actually owned the book for several years, As I and my family continue our inevitable pivot toward Orthodoxy, I have been reading more works on, you guessed it, Orthodoxy. It was first published in but has more recently been revised, so it is fully up to date on history—and doctrine has not changed in Orthodoxy since , or , for that matter. And they were right—it is an excellent book. People in the modern West, even Christians, are largely ignorant of Orthodoxy. In the twentieth century and today, with modern communications and emigration, the Orthodox have become somewhat more prominent in the West—especially in America, where large numbers of Orthodox immigrants have established their own churches.
The first two-thirds of the book is a detailed and well-written history of Orthodoxy. There is therefore no equivalent to the Pope, something that is turning out, after all, to be a feature, not a bug. Ware discusses the seven general councils, the last one in , which determined the outlines of mainstream Christian beliefs. Naturally, since the Great Schism, the breach between Orthodoxy and Roman Christianity, is traditionally dated to , these beliefs are shared by all Roman Catholics, and by many Protestants as well.
As remembered today, the most critical issues related to the nature of God in Christian doctrine, though many other matters were also decided at these councils.
For Orthodoxy, another critical matter was the treatment of icons, which are more central to worship than are images in the West. Ware, at least, sees it as a symbiotic, cooperative, relationship, and he along with many Orthodox, I suspect sees Byzantium at its height as, if still far from an ideal society, the closest Christendom has gotten to one. Next Ware narrates the complex events leading up to and following the Great Schism, covering everything from the theologian Saint Photius to the Normans in Italy to the Crusades.
Interesting information, particularly showing contrasts to the West, frequently crops up, such as the continued prevalence and prominence of lay theologians in the East, where the secular education system had not collapsed as it had in the West. Later chapters cover, among other matters, the conversion of the Slavs, with a long and fascinating narrative about the Orthodox in Russia, and then detailed coverage of the twentieth century, a time of trials for the Orthodox and renewed conflict between Orthodox and Roman Catholics in the Balkans, unfortunately.
Along the way, Ware also covers the precise current organizational structure of the Church who knew that Finland was part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople?
The Orthodox, with justification, have a dim view of the Crusades, especially the Fourth, but Ware does tend to elide important details running counter to that narrative, such as that the First Crusade in was largely a response to a specific request for aid by the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, after a series of brutal defeats at the hands of the Turks, beginning at the Battle of Manzikert in Its earlier use, before the age of global Muslim terror, was to attack Roman Catholics and Christianity generally; it appears in atheist Enlightenment tracts.
No doubt, as in all medieval wars, lots of people were killed by the Crusaders. Oddly, I have never seen this basic fact noted anywhere, though I must have seen the quote itself a hundred times. Ware also relies heavily on biased and outdated sources like Steven Runciman, which undermines what he has to say. Still, the Orthodox aversion to the Crusades is understandable. But what is less understandable is the relatively gentle touch Ware gives to Muslim conquest of the East and the subsequent destruction of most of Eastern Christianity, which seems like a much larger imposition on the Orthodox than were the Crusades.
Ware also notes the truism that although direct violent persecution of Christians was intermittent under Islam though certainly frequent enough to keep the Christians in their place, and Christians were always required to be subordinate or face death , what ultimately caused most conversion to Islam was simply the financial and social benefits accruing to Muslims—martyrdom inspires, social debility does not.
On the whole, therefore, Ware lets the Muslims off far too easy, something that seems very common among the Orthodox. In several places, Ware points out the tendency of the Orthodox toward slowness of action, of any type. The downside of this is that those not fond of action are also those less likely to accomplish things, which is, perhaps, why it is the Roman Catholics of the West who made the modern world, followed by the Protestants. The introspective nature of Orthodox practice and theology, focused on unchanging ritual, does not lend itself to crusade or, perhaps, to the drive that pushes humanity forward.
That begs the question, of course, whether pushing humanity forward is a good thing, or, instead, the monks of Mount Athos have the right of it. Maybe there is a synthesis to be had, but I suspect that what makes the Orthodox who they are would not survive an attempt to make them more active and outward-looking.
The latter third of the book is doctrine, which, like the first part, is excellent. Here various Orthodox practices that contrast with their Western analogues are noticeable, especially the emphasis on mysticism over strict rationality, and that the Orthodox are more comfortable with some degree of ambiguity, with not delineating every matter of doctrine specifically.
Around that explanation Ware also offers a fantastic discussion of the Trinity itself. He further discusses the importance of prayer and ritual, the rejection of Quietism, the specifics of ritual, and much more. He ends with a plea for reunion of Christians, something devoutly to be wished, but which looks even less likely nowadays, given the corruption of most Western Christians—though maybe the focus should not be on the West, but on the rest of the world, and what can be done there.
We will see soon enough, but either way, my bet is that Orthodoxy will have a much more prominent role in the immediate future of the world than it has played in the past thousand years. He covers the basics of the faith and is sensitive to many outsider objections. He is not neutral and writes with a clear bent towards Orthodoxy, which is understandable and to be expected. The book has two parts: a historical introduction to the Orthodox faith and a systematic exposition of the major themes of Orthodoxy.
Historical Introduction. Ware traces the rise of the Orthodox faith from the New Testament through Bishop Ware gives the layman a thorough introduction to the Orthodox Church. Ware traces the rise of the Orthodox faith from the New Testament through the Councils and ends with the Orthodox Church in dispersion largely due to Communism. Ware gives particular attention to the Great Schism and while he notes many failings with the Orthodox at the time, much of the blame inescapably lies with Rome.
Rome never could combine papal imperialism and humility. Theological Exposition The authority for the Orthodox is Tradition, but it is a tradition different from Rome.
Instead of Rome which subordinates in practice, anyway Scripture to tradition, and contra to Protestantism subordinating Tradition to Scripture, Orthodoxy notes that Tradition is simply the presence of the Holy Spirit speaking in the life of the Church. Tradition is not simply a nebulous teaching about the Bible that cannot be referenced as is often the case with Rome , but tradition is comprised of the Councils, icons, teachings of the Fathers, and Scripture p.
The heart of the Christian faith is the dogma of the Trinity. The main exception, as noted, is the Filioque.
The Orthodox argue that Western Filioquism reduces to a quasi-Sabellianism. Ware tries to be sensitive on this issue and notes the difficulties involved. It is the idea of a personal and organic union between God and the saint It is implied in the doctrine of Christ. Christ became man that we might become god. The goal is that the bodies of the saints will be transformed by divine light and one day will be bathed with the uncreated light seen on Mt Tabor This is an important point because the Orthodox insist that God saves both body and soul The Orthodox advance the claim that they alone constitute the true Church of God on earth.
The argument is thus: the church is an image of the Holy Trinity and like the Holy Trinity, it cannot truly be divided This is difficult for many Protestants looking in. Is Ware suggesting that despite their love for the Lord Jesus, despite their piety, yea even despite their prayers, they are lost? He notes there is one Church, but there are different ways of relating to that one church and many different ways of being separate from it Most noticeably are the icons.
Icons are windows to the spiritual world. They are venerated but are not worshipped. However, it does raise a few questions and these are exciting issues in ecclesiology.
I ask the following of my Orthodox brethren: 1. The fathers do not give a unanimous witness Origen, anybody? And that Gregory and Maximus delighted in Origen.
The Orthodox Church