Last week Thursday was the final night of our Local Explorations in Ecumenical Dialogue series. Here are Dean’s reflections on what was a great night to end a remarkable series.
Truth, Tradition, and Treatment: Fr. Daniel Daly on Eastern Orthodoxy
Well, after five weeks, the series finished last night with Fr. Daniel Daly, pastor of St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church. My sincere gratitude to Fr. Daly and those who came in attendance. It was great to see a few regulars and past attendees back in the chairs, including Rev. Greg Lawton. Like Fr. Geaney, Fr. Daly’s presentation took a conversational tone, and he preferred to be off the stage. Fr. Daly did not grow up Orthodox but became a member of the faith about thirty years ago, having already had experience as a missionary. In introducing his talk, he explained that the Orthodox have just celebrated Easter, or Pascha, offering us the customary Orthodox greeting: “Christ is risen!” to which we were to respond “Truly, He is risen!”
Fr. Daly proceeded to present to us a customary black robe and cap worn by Orthodox priests, still worn publicly by many, especially overseas. He presented this reminding us that Christian tradition in the early documents states that many converts were priests from the Temple, and even St. John the Evangelist is reported to have donned vestments and a mitre. The showing of these vestments highlights a commitment to retaining the faith delivered by the ancient Church. This provided an opportunity to introduce the Orthodox Church as the church of the east, a church that is best introduced not theologically but geographically and historically, and which prides itself on maintaining the life and thought of the early Christians. But, of course, the Orthodox Church is not the only group of Christians laying claim to such a genealogy, and it is here that Fr. Daly discusses the split between eastern and western Christianity.
Most people who are aware of the Orthodox Church and its split trace the rupture to 1054 with the addition of the “filioque” to the Nicene Creed, that is, the clause stating that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The original form of the creed did not contain procession from the Son, but the clause was added later, making eastern Christians unsettled by the idea that one could add to something that was directed by the Holy Spirit. Further, the increasing authority of the bishop of Rome, now the Roman Catholic pope, made eastern Christians wary. While this certainly added to already existing tensions, Fr. Daly actually highlights an event much later during the fourth crusade, about 1204, when the city of Constantinople was sacked by western Christians. During the Crusades, Eastern Christians in fact fought alongside Muslims against western Christians to defend their cities, the most important of which was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople. With the sacking of Constantinople, eastern Christians felt betrayed, and the split was, in many ways, something recognized rather than chosen.
As a result of this split, Christianity grew up in two different regions, east and west, which produced both cultural and theological nuances. Theologically, Fr. Daly highlighted three distinctives: Divine Revelation, Holy Tradition, and Salvation. Divine Revelation concerns what we call “Truth.” For the Orthodox Church (and this is true of other Christians as well, but especially true of the Orthodox), Truth is not a concept, not something to be written down and declared “true,” but is a person, the person of Christ. Jesus is the Truth, and all other things are made relative to this Truth. Holy Tradition concerns the way we access that Truth, and this introduces the difference between Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodoxy. Protestants, especially of an evangelical sort, tend to view their faith as rising from the Bible alone, Sola Scriptura, the result of private interpretation. Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians add one more element to the authority of the Bible, that is, the authority of the Christian community, especially considering the early Church lived almost three centuries without a finished Bible, and the writings contained therein were organic and in pieces for quite some time. It is therefore the Church, which in fact put the Bible together with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which must be considered as we access the Truth of Christ. The Orthodox Church adds another nuance, however, differentiating it from Roman Catholicism, that is, an emphasis on the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the process of developing the canon and Christian doctrine. This commitment precludes any attempt to revise or alter previous Church consensus on matters of faith (hence the filioque adding to the split between east and west).Finally, the Eastern Church differs with regard to salvation. For eastern Christians, humans inherit death, and salvation is fundamentally understood as being healed and treated by a great Physician, a model forwarded by Athanasius, an early Christian father. The western church inherits a model from Augustine, who, according to Fr. Daly, had a good knowledge of Latin but not of Greek. In his Latin translation of the Bible, he came across a translational error in Romans 5:12, which is the benchmark for his entire theory of guilt and salvation. Where Augustine’s translation presented Adam as an individual in whom all have sinned, inheriting his guilt, the translation should have read whereas all have sinned. In other words, while for western Christians (following Augustine) humans inherit guilt, which must be legally atoned for by Christ, for Orthodox Christians (following Athanasius) humans inherit death, which must be healed by Christ. Western Christianity emphasizes a legal relationship, while eastern Christianity emphasizes a medical relationship. The difference is between Christ as a lawyer and Christ as a doctor.
In all of these points, Fr. Daly was careful to add that while he believes Orthodoxy has something legitimate to give to the world as a gift, individuals are on their own spiritual journeys, and this must be treated with sensitivity and openness. He made it a point to say that all were welcome at St. Nicholas, and, in fact, he and his wife offered my wife Emily and me a tour of the church after the event, where he explained all of the icons and many architectural curiosities in the building. I highly recommend the tour. With the closing of our series, I am glad to say it was both informative and entertaining.
We must thank Baker Book House for the opportunity to explore these traditions in an open environment. I am happy to maintain that the series held here was helpful and important—ecumenism is a Christocentric issue, and I was surprised to find many of the fundamental differences between these groups were, in fact, mostly marginal. There is a possibility that Baker may hold another series like this in the future, inviting traditions that were not represented here. Since Grand Rapids also hosts Anabaptists, Puritans, a slew of evangelicals, and even a Coptic community, it is clear that the resources are ripe, provided the interest is there. In all of this, it is my prayer and hope that these dialogues have contributed in some way to the prayer of Christ himself, that all of his followers would be one, with unity and without division, working for the Kingdom of God in love by the power of the Holy Spirit. Though it seems unthinkable, perhaps someday we might truly honor this prayer—after all, the one thing all five of these individuals seemed to agree on is that Christ is key, and while it may seem like it could take a miracle to unify once again, to that I say: “Christ is risen!”
(cue the Paschal response)