|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Protestantism|
Protestantism in search of Orthodoxy(Historical-Dogmatic Essay)
The purpose of this essay is to identify the root of the differences between Protestantism and Orthodoxy and to get those Protestants thinking who have not become properly acquainted with the Orthodox Church of the Lord.
500 years had already passed, when the Franks had placed the Italo-Frankish Pope Benedict the 8th on the throne in the place of the last Orthodox pope, John the 18th. During these 500 years, they succeeded in materializing their plan to disintegrate the Roman Empire, where the main religion of its peoples was Christian Orthodox. They achieved this, by adulterating the dogmas of the Christian faith. Thus, the religious unity of the Empire was disrupted and a large part of the populations of the West lost their communion with the Church of the Lord.
For 5 centuries, Franks and Latins managed to boost their authority by using that false Pope as an instrument in their political schemes. And while in the East the people of the Orthodox Church struggled against the Ottoman Empire, which was continuously expanding, in the West the Orthodox faith was slowly being extinguished by the schemes and the persecutions of the Papists.
However, it was not only the Orthodox, but also the people of the papist “Church” who were being plagued by the oppression of the pope’s Holy Inquisition. Soon, Europe sank into spiritual darkness, having lost a vital teaching and method of the Orthodox Church for mankind’s salvation: the teaching on purification of the heart, enlightenment of the nous and participation, by Grace, in the uncreated Divine Energy. The natural outcome of this loss was, what came to be known as the “Dark Ages”.
The peoples of Western Europe needed a solution, a means of breaking away from the insufferable rule of their lords. And then, 5 centuries after the ousting of the heretic Papists from the Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Lord, they sought to find a solution, by following three main religious reformers: Luther, Zwiggle, and Calvin.
Luther made the first move. His exasperation peaked, as he watched the Pope accumulating personal wealth by selling indulgences for the forgiveness of the sins of the deceased. Very soon, he openly displayed his disagreement with the Pope, and this disagreement of his also received the support of the oppressed people of his land. This new faith spread throughout Europe with the speed of lightning. The Holy Inquisition was unable to react effectively in time. A large part of Europe had managed to break the chains of Papal authority.
However, in their struggles for a more pure faith, the Reformers committed a grave error. By believing that the Orthodox Church was similar to the Papist one, they did not ask for Her help. They searched on their own for a solution to the problems that the new faith had created.
The Orthodox Patriarch Jeremiah, on learning about everything that was happening in the West, strove to elucidate the Orthodox faith to the Protestants, but they would not dedicate any time to listen to him.
Because of their disgust over the anti-Christian dogmas of the Pope, they doubted even the divinely inspired Holy Tradition of the Church. And when we say “Holy Tradition”, we do not imply every single custom that certain peoples may have preserved.
This is the faith that was “delivered once only, to the Saints” (Jud 1:3) and was experienced by multitudes of faithful, who proved to be victors in their Christian struggle. This faith is experienced by those who have cleansed their heart and have placed their life in the hands of the Lord. This life is also described in the Holy Bible, in the narrations of the experiences of certain Saints.
The Apostle Paul spoke of the need (for Christians) “to keep the traditions of the apostles, which they received either through their word, or through their epistle”. In the Holy Bible however, we have only their epistles and not their words, which had not yet been recorded in writing (2 Thess. 2:15).
However, the Protestants “kept only a small part” of the Traditions: those which had been recorded in writing during the 1st century. They “kept” only the New Testament and a part of the Old Testament. The books of the Holy Bible that created problems to their Reformist faith, Luther discarded as “unreliable”. Entirely arbitrarily, he selected only those books, which in his opinion were correct.
Thus, even from its very beginning, Protestantism did not submit to the Christian faith, but instead sought to subjugate it and place it under its own authority. From the ensemble of Divinely-inspired Christian Traditions (which had been preserved intact by Christians throughout the ages!), Protestantism re-designed only some of them, in order to accommodate the requirements of its own traditions.
This uncertainty regarding the source of faith, led the Reformers to a continuous fragmenting among themselves. If they had asked the Orthodox Church, She would have been able to inform them on the matter, and also provide Her guarantee regarding the sure and God-inspired sources of the faith.
They would have learned that “the Holy Bible is only a small part of the faith”, as taught by the apostles, and that it does not constitute the entire divine revelation” (John 21:25, and Heb 5: 11, 12).
They would have been told that they should also search for additional information and accept whatever else has been verbally preserved in the Church but was never recorded in writing in the Holy Bible (2 Thess. 2:15 and 2 John 1: 12).
They would have learned that the source and “the foundation of the faith” is not the Holy Bible alone, but the Church Herself (1 Tim. 3:15).
Therefore, that is where they should have turned to and asked for help, in their attempts to find the pure and unadulterated faith. The Church would have shown them how the purpose of the prophetic word of the Holy Bible (like every other prophetic God-inspired word) is basically to direct the faithful towards the acceptance of the Light-bearer (the Holy Spirit) in their heart, together with the gifts of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1: 19, and 1 Cor. 12: 27-31).
But the Protestants did not understand the meaning of these words of the Holy Bible. They sought to interpret their significance through their own scant experience. Based on their own arbitrary interpretations and not on the living experience and the living tradition of the Church, they did not realize that these words were factual, so they began to theorize that in this passage, the Holy Bible is speaking metaphorically about the “dwelling of the Lord inside the heart of the faithful”. Given that they lacked the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they assumed that this was merely an old arrangement of God, which was now obsolete.
If they had acquainted themselves with Orthodoxy, they would have been surprised to see that the gifts of the Holy Spirit never ceased, and that as for long as the Church exists, God would continue to bestow His gifts, in order to edify Her by producing saintly persons that He would make His dwelling. (1Cor.12: 4-20, 10Acts 2: 38,39 and Rom 8: 5-17, 26,27).
The Protestant world would have had the opportunity to familiarize itself, to see for itself and come in contact with those charismatics, on whom the Spirit of the Lord rests. They too would have been taught and also become “a temple of God” and be taught directly, by the Holy Spirit (1John 2: 27, John 16: 12-14).
In this way, they would have come to realize that not only the Holy Bible, but also the remaining, divinely-inspired sources of faith are equally valid and guaranteed, because the Christian faith is a living one, and God Himself validates and confirms it directly, in every generation, by not allowing any foreign elements to infiltrate Holy Tradition.
Unfortunately though, Protestants remained Christians of the “dead letter”, and not of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3: 3-6). They sought guidance, from within an amputated tradition of the Holy Bible (which they themselves had detached from its Ecclesiastic hermeneutic framework) and not from the Holy Spirit, the living God (2 Cor 3:17,18).
They created a combination of their own, with the Holy Bible and their arbitrary traditions, and they also interpreted the Bible with the same arbitrariness. Without providing any proof whatsoever to back their action, they finally “kept” only 66 of "the 76 books of the Holy Bible" and they claimed that we should believe only whatever is mentioned therein.
By not having an “unbroken trail” in its faith that leads back to the apostles, Protestantism attempted to explain its sudden appearance in History by arbitrarily teaching that the Church apostatized during the 4th century and that it was restored in the 15th century, in the persons of the Protestants. They were not aware of the unbroken lineage of the Orthodox Presbyters (Elders) and Saints, or that the Lord would not have allowed His Church to be “lost” for 10 whole centuries (Matt 28: 20).
They did not learn that the Church –as a single body- partakes of the one bread (during the communion of the Lord’s Body and Blood) and that for this reason, Protestants could not co-partake of the same bread, along with those who belonged to the unbroken succession of the Church through the ages. So instead, they arranged to distribute their own bread (often unleavened), in a new unity outside the Church (1 Cor.10: 17).
They failed to comprehend the significance of the Christian Priesthood, having been given the wrong impressions by Papism. Being devoid of Apostolic Succession themselves, they rejected “Special Priesthood”, asserting that it was only a phenomenon of apostasy. They never learned that Priesthood was one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, within the general framework of the “Regal Priesthood” that all Christians possess (1 Pet 2:2;9). They furthermore were not aware of the multitude of archaeological evidence that shook Protestantism of our time; evidence that was brought to light, proving precisely the apostolicity of the “Special Priesthood”!
Convinced that they had rediscovered the lost true faith, Protestants began to look for mistakes in others. Whatever Protestants believed to be arbitrary, (because it was supposedly not fully analyzed by the Holy bible), they would dismiss it as incorrect. They would look for detailed analyses, because they believed the Holy Bible to be a “statute of the faith”, and that absolutely everything could be found in there. But the Bible was only an introductory book to the faith. (2 Pet 1: 19).
Along with the Papists, Protestants also blatantly accused the Orthodox as “idolaters” for venerating Holy Icons. Without even asking us for an explanation!
We would have told them that an “honorary veneration” is one thing, and a “veneration of worship” is another, and that the only one we worship is God! Furthermore, an “idol” that portrays God, is one thing, and an image that portrays saintly persons –and never God Himself- is an entirely different thing.
And we would have pointed out all these facts to them in the Holy Bible itself, which they claim to believe. We would have explained to them that we do not worship the saints, but merely honor them as members of the Body of the Lord, and not arbitrarily at that, but according to the instructions of the living Lord Himself! They would thus have realized and understood that the honor we accord the Theotokos is not an exaggerated honor – in the manner of the Papists - but only as much as is proper for the Mother of our Lord, and only as much as befits the one who gave flesh to our Saviour.
In the 5 centuries that have passed from the time of Luther to this day, the Orthodox Church has been vindicated. Protestantism disintegrated, into thousands of different and often (dogmatically) opposite denominations within itself. And yet, each group separately insists that it has not strayed from the dogma of the Holy Bible, and that it accepts only whatever the Holy Bible says - nothing less and nothing more.
This reveals two things:
The first is that Protestantism lacks the unifying power of the Holy Spirit.
The second is that the Holy Bible was never a “statute of the faith” as the Protestants wanted it, and consequently it cannot be –on its own- a sure guide for the correct and complete understanding of the Gospel. This is why it is necessary for the Church Herself to interpret it; not only because She was the divinely-inspired author, but also because She compiled it, into one, uniform book, under the divinely-inspired suggestion of the Bishop, Saint Athanasius, in the 4th century.
It was precisely these deficiencies of the Holy Bible (that were the result of its severing from is natural environment - the life of the Church) that rendered it so unintelligible. Thus, those who had regarded the Bible as an all-encompassing guide, now strived to fill its “gaps” with their own traditions - both arbitrary ones and often contrary to the traditions of others (also Protestants). As a natural consequence, they began to disagree among themselves and a series of consecutive disintegrations ensued.
In the first 15 centuries of Her history, the Orthodox Christian Church has faced the persecutions of idolaters, heresies from within, onslaughts of barbaric hordes that fought against Orthodox Christendom and the schism that was deceptively fabricated by the Franks.
When Protestantism was born, the Church was agonizing over the Papist persecutions in the West and the expansionism of the Muslims in the East; during this time, millions of Orthodox martyrs had not ceased to lose their lives for their faith. The Orthodox peoples struggled to keep the faith alive during the domination of the Ottoman Empire. And when the Ottomans finally began to withdraw, they left behind deserted schools, poverty and illiteracy. The few Christians, who still knew the faith properly, were unable to effectively help the people.
That was when the Papists grabbed the opportunity; and, using the pretext of help for the impoverished people, they spread the heretic Papist religion. Along with them came the “missionaries” of numerous Protestant religions, in the belief that the Orthodox territories were fertile ground for the spreading of their faith.
In Greece, the Orthodox people were caught unprepared. The Papist and Protestant influences confused them. In their attempts to “attain” the European standards of living, the Greek people took the superiority of the West as a given fact, at all levels, including the religious one. So, instead of Romanity helping the Westerners -with the superiority of the Christian faith- to properly understand the Gospel, instead, on account of their own ignorance of it, they became confused by the Westerners. Thus, they began to regurgitate many of the incorrect positions of the West (both the Protestants’ and the Papists’) and eventually lost all that they had preserved so painstakingly, even during the centuries of Turkish occupation. They even accepted the West’s warped version of Roman history, which the Franks had purposely disseminated, in order to present themselves as the genuine expressers of the Roman Empire and demote the Eastern Church.
When Romanity eventually realized what had transpired, much had been lost. The people assumed a defensive stance – in fact a hostile one - towards the Protestants. This widened the chasm even more. Instead of attracting them back to the Orthodox faith, they repulsed them, because of the nasty and often anti-Christian tactics that had been implemented by them.
With this Westernized, unbecoming behavior exhibited by many Orthodox, the Orthodox Church of Greece became hated by the West and was thereafter disparaged. Thus, by emulating the intolerant behavior of the Westerners, the people not only did not repel, but in reality they embraced the Western ways, thus pushing many more into the ranks of the Protestant visitors who by then had become permanently rooted in Greece.
Reversely, Protestantism had not yet succeeded in expanding in the Northernmost countries, since the atheist wave of Communism did not only persecute the Orthodox Church, but all the other religions as well.
Today, after the fall of communism, the faith in these Northern countries is being revived. However, the big loser is once again Orthodoxy, which used to have the majority of the population there as its followers. Millions of people lost their ancestral Christian faith, after so many decades of persecution. And now, in this tormented population which had just started to remember the Orthodox faith once more, the Protestant “missionaries” arrived once again, finding the people unprepared one more time.
The Church in these countries now turned to Greece for help, given Greece’s past experience. And indeed, something was now beginning to change in Greece. The Orthodox faithful had begun to recover. They already had their fill of Protestantism; they knew what it was, they had analyzed it and pitied it.
We eventually learnt to regard its people, not as enemies but as people who had lost their roots, because they had indeed lost the Orthodoxy of their fathers; because they had never acquainted themselves with it, the way they should have. They were familiar with the “what” of faith, but not the “how”.
At this point, even Protestants began to notice in Orthodoxy everything that they hadn’t noticed until then. They discovered that the Orthodox faith is primarily a “worshipping society” and a “psychotherapeutic” method.
Their studies of ancient Christian writings surprised them. As far back as they could search, in every century, not a single Christian text testified to the existence of Papism or Protestantism. Everywhere they looked, they saw only Orthodoxy!
Seeing the Church on the rise, they are now realizing that in there, they can see their past, which they had long forgotten. Now, many of them no longer come to teach the Orthodox, but to ask them. And we have so much to tell them!
Despite international attacks against the Orthodox in various countries, we remain optimistic! Our Lord Jesus Christ, who preserved His Church for 2 millennia, is strong enough to preserve Her now also.
God has delivered us innumerable times into the hands of our enemies so that we might be purged of our iniquities; however, He always preserved a remnant, like leavening, so that the Truth - His gospel – can continue to be propagated in the world.
Nowadays, the world has become a neighborhood. Technology has made it possible to transmit information to every corner of the planet. It is time for our voice to be heard once again. Now that we ourselves - after so many hardships - have begun to remember our past, it is time to remind everybody else of it. Divinely inspired words, which were being written for 2000 years about things that we ourselves had forgotten, must now come to the surface, by divinely-inspired bearers of Grace.
We should extend the following invitation to our Protestant friends, wherever they may be, and whatever they may believe:
“Friends, listen to us! We are your past and we are your future. The Church is your eternal life, because She is the body of your Lord - the Church that was never extinguished; She is the one that you were looking for and yet was right next to you! Get to know Her! Ask us! Forget the fanaticism with which some (who believed themselves to be Orthodox but were not) treated you. Seek from among us those who can tell you about everything that you want to learn. Seek them from among us: not those who do not know, but our evangelists, our teachers, our spiritual fathers! Then you will find the peace of Christ in your hearts; then you will understand the depths of God, and your knowledge of Him shall be complete for you, the way that waters completely cover the sea.
It is our desire, that the prayers of the millions of Orthodox Martyrs and Saints will accompany you in your research for “the faith that was delivered once only, to the Saints” (Jude 1:3).
Text: N. M. and Agapios MatsagourasTranslation: M. D.
Article published in English on: 18-8-2007.
Last update: 18-8-2007.