Sunday, April 29, 2007

Faith and Works, Paul and James

Much is made in the literature/blogs/podcasts of Evangelical converts to Orthodoxy about how faith alone does not save, but faith and works does. This catch phrase is usually accompanied by a pseudo "counterattack" of the Evangelical prooftext of Eph. 2:8-9 --
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
-- with corresponding prooftexts from the second chapter of St. James' epistle (vv. 14, 17, 20, and 26, in particular). The resulting fights (for that is what they usually are; few discussions of this topic seldom ascend into the realm of true, civil, reasoned argumentation) rarely amount to anything more than people taking these two supposedly opposing sides and beating each other over the head with the aforementioned prooftexts. My problem with this scenario isn't even in the use of prooftexts (at least not primarily, though I do find the practice abhorrent--context should always be provided, elaboration always made); rather, the problem I have with this technique is how it takes two great saints of our Church and makes them appear to be "versus" one another. My friend and fellow blogger Alan asked me if I would elaborate on the idea that, while both serious Evangelicals and serious Orthodox would agree that it is impossible for apostles of the Lord to be divided dogmatically, differences lie in our understanding of where exactly they harmonize in their doctrine (I agreed to go into that in this post, in the comments). So, without further ado, I shall attempt (that being the key word here) to set forth the Orthodox position on the insanely broad topic of the harmony of Ss. Paul and James in regard to faith and works in our salvation.

I would posit, first of all, that our central point of reference for this topic should be from the third chapter of St. Paul's letter to the Philippians. He opens this chapter with warnings against those who would have the Jewish Christians follow the observance of the Mosaic Law in order to be in good standing before God. He outlines his own credentials within his pre-Christian, Jewish life, then states the following:
"But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (vv. 7-14).
This passage will be referenced in several places in order to clarify the Orthodox position on the role of "faith" and "works" within the works of St. Paul and St. James. Suffice it to say that we believe that both Ss. Paul and James confess that
  1. faith in Christ is absolutely necessary for our salvation,
  2. the objective establishment of the reality of our salvation rests solely and squarely in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ,
  3. the subjective application of that reality to individuals requires effort, within the context of that faith, for as long as God grants the person life, and
  4. the ultimate state of the believer is not assumed to be one of salvation, as the believer's striving within the grace of God is not yet finished.
The context of St. Paul's epistle to the Christian Hebrews living in Rome is one of contrasting those who seek to be made right before God by the fulfilling of the Mosaic Law with those who seek to be made right before God, or justified, through faith in Christ Jesus. As St. Paul told the Philippians, "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ," and again, "Yet indeed I also count all things [in pre-Christian Judaism] loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" (3:7-9). The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews--we attribute the epistle to St. Paul along with Romans, so it works out consistently for my purposes here--clearly states that the Mosaic Law is inferior in every way to the coming of the New Adam, Christ (3:5-6). Christ has fulfilled the Old Law in Himself and has brought it to a whole new level of reality; thus, to go back to the old ways--i.e., following the Mosaic Law before the coming of Christ--would be to shun all that was done to usher in this new Kingdom, this new life. St. Paul, then, is dealing with the question of whether works done outside of union with Christ will save you. It is clear that St. Paul believes that, without union with Christ through faith in Him, no man will be saved. Yet, it would be a mistake to say that St. Paul subscribes to "easy believe-ism," or a salvation apart from working out your salvation (Phil. 2:12) in any way.

We are told to "make every effort to enter into the rest" God has prepared for us (Heb. 4:11), or "lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of [us]," as St. Paul told the Philippians, yet while all this is done with the understanding that the grace of God undergirds, surrounds, and permeates all things at all times, we must, within the context of this grace made available to us apart from anything we might have tried to do to deserve it, beat our bodies and make them our slaves so that we will not become disqualified after beginning our life in Christ (1 Cor. 9:27). Again, St. Paul makes his goal knowing Christ "and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." He states that, in his quest to share in the sufferings of Christ and thus apply them to himself towards the reward of the future resurrection, he does not consider himself to "have already attained, or...have apprehended" the objective reality that was established, unshakably, by Christ, but he presses on towards the goal of that union with God. We would say, then, as Orthodox, that St. Paul was not so much preaching against works of any kind as being efficacious in helping us journey further into our salvation, but rather against works apart from union with and faith in Christ Jesus. Such works apart from Christ, in his estimation, were the very works outlined in the Old Testament Law, which had been made null and void, useless to save since the coming of grace in the person of Christ.

This idea--that men must work within the context of their faith in order to perfect it--is perfectly consonant, then, with St. James' injunction that "faith without works is dead." In the context outlined above, where Christ laid the groundwork for our salvation in His crucified, buried and risen flesh, and we then "fill up in [our] flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church" (Col. 1:24), we see that not only is St. James telling us that by our works we will be justified and seen to be holy in the eyes of those around us (an important part of being a light in this world, cf. Matt. 5:16), but that only such a faith that is active will be salvific for the person who has said faith. Indeed, St. James asks rhetorically if faith, apart from any works, will be enough to save the person who claims the faith (2:14). Obviously, St. James says that no man will be justified by faith alone (v. 24), and that faith is made perfect through the works a man does (v. 22). It is not, therefore, a foregone conclusion to St. James that everyone who professes faith in Christ will automatically perform the works appropriate to such faith. There is no direct link between "those who profess faith in Christ" and "those who actually do what is required of them by God." Many may agree with this at first, but this declaration of St. James would have much to say to those who profess to know with assurance, based on their current profession of faith in Christ, that their eternal destiny is secure. Indeed, our Lord showed through the parable of the two sons of the vine dresser (Matt. 21:28-31) that our initial reaction to something can be misleading, for the end result of our response may be totally contrary to said response. Thus, St. James says, we are only fully justified when we act on what we say we believe--otherwise we only have the theology of demons: assent without deeds. This, both Ss. Paul and James affirm, is why it is absolutely essential to "press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me." Christ has laid the groundwork of our salvation out by taking our flesh upon Himself, dying in that flesh, being buried and rising again in that same flesh. The potential to be saved is something no one can take away from us; God's rest spoken of in Hebrews 4 has been forever established, and the apprehension of our race by Christ's victory spoken of in Philippians 3 is now unshakable. Yet it is not enough for that to happen; we must strive to enter the rest, and press on to apprehend the reality which Christ has already made available (but not necessarily actualized) for us.

Let us rejoice, then, in the sure knowledge that heaven has been made available to us, that our path to return to the House of the Father has been cleared, and the doors have been flung open for us. However, "since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of [us] seem to have come short of it." The reality is there, and only by trusting in the steadfastness of that reality fashioned for us by God will we ever be saved, yet an indispensable part of participating in that salvation is our continual response to the grace that makes it so possible. The response is hard, and we are given grace to help in time of need, so that, somehow, we may attain on the last Day to the resurrection of the righteous dead to life everlasting.

(For a more comprehensive analysis of the Orthodox view of asceticism in salvation--one that incorporates the entire New Testament, see Fr. Georges Florovsky's lengthy but excellent essay, "The Ascetic Ideal and the New Testament: Reflections on the Critique of the Theology of the Reformation")

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Paloozahead...or..."If You've Got Nothing Better to Do..."

And, yes...that's me rockin' in there...

Create Your Own PaloozaHead - Visit

UPDATE!!! - Here's another one of me -- the decidedly mellower side...


Come, O true light!
Come, O eternal life!
Come, O hidden mystery!
Come, O indescribable treasure!
Come, O ineffable thing!
Come, O inconceivable person!
Come, O endless delight!
Come, O unsetting light!
Come, O true and fervent expectation
of all those who will be saved!
Come, O rising of those who lie down!
Come, O resurrection of the dead!
Come, O powerful one,
who always creates and re-creates and transforms
by your will alone!
Come, O invisible and totally intangible and untouchable!
Come, O you who always remain immobile
and at each moment move all,
and come to us, who lie in hades,
you who are above all heavens.
Come, O desirable and legendary name,
which is completely impossible for us
to express what you are or to know your nature.
Come, O eternal joy!
Come, O unwithering wreath!
Come, O purple of the great king our God!
Come, O crystalline cincture,
studded with precious stones!
Come, O inaccessible sandal!
Come, O royal robe
and truly imperial right hand!
Come, you whom my wretched soul
has desired and does desire!
Come, you who alone go to the lonely
for as you see I am lonely!
Come, you who have separated me from everything
and made me solitary in this world!
Come, you who have become yourself desire in me,
who have made me desire you,
the absolutely inaccessible one!
Come, O my breath and life!
Come, O consolation of my humble soul!
Come, O my joy, my glory, and my endless delight!
I thank you that you have become one spirit with me,
without confusion, without mutation,
without transformation, you the God of all;
and that you have become everything for me,
inexpressible and perfectly gratuitous nourishment,
which ever flows to the lips of my soul
and gushes out into the fountain of my heart,
dazzling garment which burns the demons,
purification which bathes me
with these imperishable and holy tears,
that your presence brings to those whom you visit.
I give you thanks that for me
you have become unsetting light
and non-declining sun;
for you who fill the universe with your glory
have nowhere to hide yourself.
No, you have never hidden yourself from anyone
but we are the ones who always hide from you,
by refusing to go to you;
but then, where would you hide,
you who nowhere find the place of your repose?
Why would you hide,
you who do not turn away from a single creature,
who do not reject a single one?
Today, then, O Master,
come pitch your tent with me;
until the end, make your home
and live continually, inseparably within me,
your slave, O most-kind one,
that I also may find myself again in you,
at my departure from this world
and after my departure may I reign with you,
O God who are above everything.
O Master, stay and do not leave me alone,
so that my enemies,
arriving unexpectedly,
they who are always seeking to devour my soul,
may find you living within me
and that they may take flight,
in defeat, powerless against me,
seeing you, O more powerful than everything,
installed interiorly in the home of my poor soul.
Yea, O Master, just as you remembered me,
when I was in the world
and, in the midst of my ignorance,
you chose me and separated me from this world
and set me before your glorious face,
so now keep me interiorly,
by your dwelling within me,
forever upright, resolute;
that by perpetually seeing you,
I, the corpse, may live;
that by possessing you,
I, the beggar, may always be rich,
richer than kings;
that by eating you and by drinking you,
by putting you on at each moment,
I go from delight to delight
in inexpressible blessings;
for it is You, who are all good and
all glory and all delight
and it is to you,
holy, consubstantial, and life-creating Trinity
that the glory belongs,
you whom all faithful venerate, confess, adore, and serve
in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Saint Symeon The New Theologian (949- 1022)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Stuff to Read, Stuff to Listen to

My sidebar changed a little bit ago; you can read some other stuff I wrote during Lent (it was published on the forum) on baptism; another one is due to be published either this weekend or early next week on sola scriptura. Check it out if you like.

The Our Life in Christ boys, Steve and Bill, have put up parts one and two of a yet-to-be-finished series on prayer (specifically the Jesus Prayer), which is mostly a lengthy interview Steve did with Fr. Jonah (Paffhausen) of St. John's Monastery in Manton, CA.

Good interviews, imo.

And, yes, before you ask, I AM fond of the hyperlink function, thankyouverymuch...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bright is the New Clean

The glow of Bright Week--the week following Pascha--has receded; the regular cycles of the Church have resumed (though, mercifully and gloriously, the refrains of "Christ is risen!" still punctuate our liturgical conversations)...'twas strange indeed, after so seemingly long a time, to actually fast on a Wednesday...and not even a total fast, which would hearken even further back to the weeks in which we did so in preparation for reception of the Presanctified Gifts, but rather the "plain," three-squares-of-grains-fruits-and-veggies that mark our weeks during the rest of the year.

And then Vespers tonight...(on a random note, met John's son, which was an unexpected treat)...All of it seems to be settling in to the part of the year that is, ironically enough, actually referred to often as "Ordinary," while still retaining the echoes gleaned from the walls of an empty Tomb. Last week I was wanting to blog about the subject in the title--Bright Week functioning as Clean Week--but was detained...end of grading period, business at home, general feeling of "not now; not yet"...I always tend to think of that "forced silence" as a mercy. Perhaps I should dread the fact that I'm up typing now, but things seem more "open" I suppose...Lord, have mercy...

Clean Week is interesting, because it offers us a chance to engage, wholeheartedly (wholebodily?) in the sweeping clean of the body of the rule of the passions. It's often marked by the total absence of food in monasteries (Monday-Wed. night, at least ime), a bodily discipline which takes away the compliance with the demand of the belly for food, and thus makes us aware of the food the world knows not of: doing the will of our Father in Heaven. Yet, as one is sanctified, so one must be glorified, else a vacuum of sorts is left in place; the cleansing or purging of Clean Week would not only be useless, but even dangerous (I would even go so far as to say demonic) were it not filled and fulfilled with the glory found in the Resurrection of Christ, wherein we wait for our (final) adoption as sons, the redemption of OUR bodies. Fasting without this hope, without this contact with the risen, immortal, God-man, still-circumscribed yet seated at the Father's right hand--such a "fasting" is little more than starvation, and in its weakening of the flesh nothing more than a door for the enemy.

Indeed, they come out not only by fasting, but by prayer and fasting--the former being communion with the One who is risen. Our cries of "Let begin the fast with joy; let us prepare ourselves for spiritual effort. Let us purify our soul and cleanse our flesh; let us abstain from passion as we abstain from food" are effectual because they are done in relation to our desire and need "to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy Pascha.”

And so comes Bright Week--the Bridegroom is still with us in these 40 Days!--and the grasping at the mere hem of His garment yields nonetheless the Power that is within Him; our feeble obedience ("When you fast...") meets the harbinger of what will fill the space we clear for Him, and a joy that truly is inexpressible and full of glory (yet not what I'd call emotional) truly is there, a taste of love that makes the darkness of this deathly world the foil it must be seen as, rather than the foreground it's often made out to be. St. Maximos the Confessor said once that this life is a clash of loves; how wonderful that, here in Bright Week we have a divine eros in our incorruptible Bridegroom that is sufficient to clash (and prevail) against the eros of this world.

One last anecdote that will bring this rambling and most likely hopelessly naïve and triumphalistic post to a close: Fr. Tom Hopko once mentioned a young lady who was a member of his parish and confided in him that, at one point while she was away (I think at college?), she was on the verge of engaging in some form of immorality. She refrained from doing so, yet (so she told Father Tom), the reason she refrained was not because she remembered that "The Church said 'no'," or that "The Seventh Commandment said, 'no'," or whatever else...the image that stopped her--and I love the fact that it was a mental icon that did it--was her remembrance of Fr. Tom on Pascha night crying out, "Christ is risen!" At that moment, the pull of what she knew to be darkness and death was too weak to topple the purity, the piercing reality of the blessed cleansing that is the risen Christ.

Prayers for me during this Paschal season are appreciated.

Christ is risen!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Fr. Tom Ponders the Scriptures

Fr. Thomas Hopko, one of my favorite voices in the Church today (if not the favorite), was interviewed (and answered excellently, imo) here about the Church, the Scriptures, Orthodox and Evangelical interaction...good stuff.

Thanks to the newly-illumined Jacob for the heads-up.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

¡Cristo ha Resucitado!

The gates of death opened to You from fear, O Lord!
When the guards of hell saw You they were afraid,
for You demolished the gates of brass and smashed the iron chains!
You have led us from the darkness and the shadows of death, and have broken our bonds!

¡Cristo ha resucitado de entre los muertos,
La muerte por la muerte pisoteando,
Y a los que yacían en los sepulcros,
Otorgando la vida!