Friday, January 23, 2009

Credo

A catechumen was received into the Church this past Sunday; a former Episcopalian priest for some forty years, he had held out due to his post as a professor and as a pastor to those still continuing on in his flock. Deciding he could no more abide the position, he has now joined the Orthodox Church with more fervor than anyone I think I've seen in my relatively short Orthodox life. Prayers for Jared, as his family life is quite a hostile environment now.

When he was received, he recited the Nicene Creed by himself, in the presence of the faithful. Never have I heard that creed read with so much conviction; indeed, after one or two articles of faith, he choked up. It is this Creed which is quickly becoming my favorite part of any service in which it is found. That a confession with such a relatively general theological nature has become so much more meaningful as of late is something that both surprises and comforts me.

Steve Robinson has stated quite rightly in a comment on this blog that converts to the Orthodox faith (or any other, for that matter) make the worst apologists, at least at first, as they end up focusing almost exclusively on the often-esoteric distinctives of their new faith rather than its catholic core. Such a tendency is understandable, even if it is horribly wrong. Indeed, focusing on the universally-accepted tenants of the Creed would almost be anticlimactic, as one might be tempted to wonder why one would convert from what many consider one of several nicene faiths to another in the first place, much less a more exotic, less palatable one. Indeed, much more titillating is the idea of focusing on all of the exclusively Orthodox practices and theological distinctives, as one can use those to browbeat fellow nicean-constantinopolitan Christians into a hierarchical, sacramental, theosis-based soteriological corner wherein they must become Orthodox because they have been manhandled into that particular confession through a type of forced process of elimination. As one was taught, so one will teach, as it were.

So it is therefore a comfort to me that, when someone asks a question to the tune of, "So, what is it you Orthodox believe," I immediately begin with the person of Jesus Christ, His work on the Cross, His Resurrection from the Tomb, His Ascension into Heaven, His Second Coming, and the Resurrection offered to all who will have faith in Him. I do not talk about fasting for half the year, uncreated grace, essence v. energies, apostolic succession, the Real Presence, the filioque, icons, incense, liturgy, or bishops. While all the latter components of the faith were new to me (a former Southern Baptist), the strongly-preached kerygma of the Creed I had grown up with was something I'd taken for granted, whereas the former Father James (now John) was blessed beyond words to affirm in the assembly of like-minded faithful who would have him what those from whence he came were desperate to denounce as irrelevant. We may confess (correctly) that the Holy Spirit precedes from the Father, full stop, thus distancing ourselves from the West, and we may ascribe "belief" to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church -- belief which is equally ascribed to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as well -- thus distinguishing ourselves from Protestants who have markedly lower ecclesiologies, but by and large, the rest of this Creed is affirmed by all of Christendom, and that is because it is the gospel, the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.

My three year-old has taken to lighting and holding candles (which we've "rescued" from being thrown out at church) during the Creed in our household morning and evening prayers. It is a wonderful focal point for her to slow down, say the Creed deliberately (praise God, she can say the whole thing herself with very, very little prompting) and focus on the light as she speaks luminous words. If this Faith is to be more than a form of godliness without the power thereof (and it can be and has been countless times over for innumerable souls), it must be because of the radiant συμβολο which stands at the center of our Faith and, in true symbolic fashion, unites us to that which it proclaims. May its radiance illumine the words we say and those we pray, as well as the work which our hands find to do.

12 comments:

Philippa said...

Well said. Thanks for the reminder.

s-p said...

May Jared John and his family be blessed. And yes, Amen, well said.

Rhology said...

Did Jared not recite the Creed in his former communion?
I certainly wish that my church did...
And describing one's faith is a balancing act, b/c you can say what you say, and that captures the heart of it, but it doesn't distinguish your faith from other similar ones (or similar to the outsider), so that can be tough. But, if you do it right, it can lead to longer conversation, which is better anyway.

Anonymous said...

This article is very helpful. It is going to change how I respond to people who ask me, as they do all the time, what the Orthodox believe. Thank you!

-xenia

Mimi said...

OH my goodness, you've nailed it, thank you Reader.

And, Many Years to the newly Illuminted.

David Bryan said...

Thank you all for your replies.

Rhology,

Yes, Jared John did recite a creed as an Episcopalian (though it may have been the Apostles' instead of the Nicene; I'm not sure) -- regardless, the meaningfulness of the moment for him was not so much that he could recite the Creed in Church, but that he could recite it as part of an assembly whose believers and leaders actually believed what they were reciting. He knows he no longer belongs to a group that sees the Creed as an embarrassing throwback to a more barbarian time, and this is such a relief to him.

As to the rest of it, true, I'm not sure what the beef with the Creed is amongst Baptists -- the article on the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church can certainly be understood in a way agreeable to Baptists (if they have no qualms with imposing an ahistorical understanding upon said article, that is). Good word on our balancing act, as well.

Audra Wooten said...

This post, like so many of yours, is beautiful AND meaningful. What a rare gift you have, husband!

s-p said...

RE: Baptists...Once in my Sunday AM Bible class in the church of Christ, I jumbled up the creed, substituted "universal" for "catholic" and asked the class to say AMEN if they agreed with the statements I made. I got 'em all, then read the creed and said the Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists etc etc recite this same thing every Sunday so that must mean .....? I got called in to the elder's meeting on Monday night. :)

The Ochlophobist said...

Great post.

Some Baptists do say the Creed, or have said it, formally, in the past.

In England, until the last 15 years or so, it was not entirely uncommon for Baptists to recite the Creed (indeed, the Nicene Creed, though with filioque). In these same churches the pastor would usually wear robes essentially the same as the traditional ecclesial garb worn by Congregationalist ministers. One of the most prominent Baptist churches in London recited the creed at every service, had the pastor in robes, and held communion not every Sunday but many Sundays. A couple I know (Americans) became Christians at that church while living in London, and when they came back to the States looked for a Baptist church to attend. They both also happened to smoke and drink, so you can imagine how difficult their search was.

Also, on the matter of the Creed and Baptists, Clark Pinnock, back when he was still an ordained Baptist minister in Canada, and before he became an open theist, in a couple of his writings articulated his views on the Creed, in which he argued against the filioque, on theological, historical, and pastoral grounds (he also argues this in Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit which came out after he went openness). He influenced my father and some other pastors in the American Baptist Churches (the ABC - one of many Baptists groups in the USA, a northern group of Baptists that split with what is now SBC at the Civil War; the ABC a group that is more liberal, generally, more ecumenical, and more academically oriented than other Baptist groups) in this regard.

My father, while I was still at home, would have his congregation recite the Creed in services from time to time (after I left home he eventually got to the point where the congregation recited the Creed almost every service, but, as he suspected would happen, the Deacons had a fit, thinking the practice too "Catholic", and Dad had to retract it considerably). I know of another half dozen or so of his pastor friends who did the same thing, and in each case, following Pinnock at his Baptist church in Canada, they recited the Creed without filioque. It is quite an amazing phenomenon, if you think about it.

On a few occasions trad Orthodox have chastised me a bit for not being rebaptized because I was baptized Baptist (some synods specifically single out Baptists in their discipline as a group whose Baptisms should not be accepted). Technically it did not matter for me as I came to Orthodoxy from the Roman Catholic Church, and was received having to renounce the error of Roman Catholicism, etc., following traditional slavic practice. But one of the things I have pointed out to my rebaptizing friends, is that I was baptized in a church which recited the Creed without filioque, and, in fact, my father had each person he baptized recite the creed, without filioque, before they were baptized.

On another note - my Dad once told me that he and his pastor friends that followed Pinnock in this practice never once had anyone tell them that they noticed that the filioque was not in the Creed. This is no surprise among Baptists, who would not have grown up saying it, but as anyone familiar with Baptist circles knows, there are a lot of former RCs in Baptist churches, and though all of these made mention of the reciting of the Creed at these Baptist churches (inevitably they were among those against it, as they wanted nothing to do with the images of their old faith), none of them noted that the Creed lacked "and the Son."

What a fragmented, scattered, fascinating, stupefying mess American religion is!

The young fogey said...

... converts to the Orthodox faith (or any other, for that matter) make the worst apologists, at least at first, as they end up focusing almost exclusively on the often-esoteric distinctives of their new faith rather than its catholic core.

Spot-on.

Anglicans do recite the Nicene Creed with filioque at the Communion service.

John said...

Thank you for this incredibly wonderful post. The Creed is where it is at for me. It is my favorite part of the service as well--the part where I tend to perk up a bit and take especial notice. I never took it for granted before I became Orthodox, mainly because I never had it! I came out of a group that rejected all creeds and had silly slogans like "No Creed But the Bible," and pretended that we were creed-less (We had them of course, they were just unwritten and unacknowledged.) We would have never, ever recited the Creed, nor even known what it said, but would have dismissed it out of hand simply because it was a creed. That is why I now cling to the Creed and understand how one could get choked-up in reciting it.

Och, I was interested to read of your dad and others' experiences with the Creed in the American Baptist Church. I had assumed (wrongly) that really no evangelical churches recited the Creed. I am also curious as to why some Orthodox synods would suggest rebaptism for Baptists and not other evangelical Protestants.

Again, great post and comments.

David Bryan said...

John,

Thanks (to you and, again, to all) for your comments. Och, I, too, am surprised by your father's use of the Creed. Good for him. As for s-p being ornery, well, what else is new? ;-)

As to your question regarding why some synods (re)baptize Baptists and not others: My response wound up being so long that I'm going to post on it on the blog itself.