Home > Eastern Orthodoxy > How to Recognize, and What to Do, When the “Orthodoxy Bug” has Bitten

How to Recognize, and What to Do, When the “Orthodoxy Bug” has Bitten

March 2nd, 2009
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A friend of mine posted some remarks recently about the temptation some Lutherans feel to run off and join Eastern Orthodoxy. I won't reveal my friend's name since he may wish to say more, or something other, at some other time, elsewhere. But his remarks, posted below, are extremely wise and helpful. We were talking about the "EO Bug" and I told him I can spot those who have been bitten a mile away by now. I've watched over the years as men are bitten by the "Orthodoxy bug" and the symptoms begin, usually, with an unhealthy fascination with all things Eastern Orthodox, at the expense of neglecting their own Lutheran fathers and confessions. Incessant quotations from Early Church fathers, and usually Eastern fathers, and not uncommonly, the more obscure desert fathers, start filling their blog site posts. The only art you see them using is Eastern Orthodox iconography. You rarely see them quoting with praise and a positive attitude Luther or our Lutheran fathers. Suddenly Lutheranism is treated as merely a little "glitch" in church history. Next thing you know they are quoting, ad naseum, contemporary Orthodox theologians and gushing over the wonders of Eastern Orthodoxy. Then there develops a keen defensiveness when they are questioned about where they are headed. Passive-aggressiveness sets in and they even deny they are being tugged toward Orthodoxy, but they start blaming others and adopting a "I'm being picked on" mentality. At any rate, these symptoms are just that: symptoms of deeper problems to come. Here is how my friend put matters when asked what to do for folks who have been bitten by the "Orthodox bug."

"First, once one is bitten by the bug it is very hard to find ANY
inoculation. I know this from first hand experience. But if a person IS
willing to consider facts, it might be of help for them to read through
the Patristics for Lutherans section that Eric put up in the resource
section some time ago – in numerous ways, the Fathers stand closer to
Lutheranism than to modern Orthodoxy. Second, I'd encourage them to
look exactly at what the Orthodox DO in the invocation of the saints.
They will tell you what they have been indoctrinated in: we're only
asking Mary to pray to God for us. But the Orthodox do more than this.
I cite from the Antiochian Service Book, page 130:

"O all-holy Lady Theotokos, light of my darkened soul, my hope, my
shelter, my refuge, my consolation and my joy; I thank thee that thou
hast permitted me, unworthy though I be, to partake of the immaculate
body and precious blood of thy Son. O thou who didst bring forth the
true Light, give the light of understanding to the eyes of my heart; O
thou who didst bear the Fountain of Immortality, quicken me who am dead
in sin. O compassionate Mother of the merciful God, have mercy upon me
and grant me humility and contrition of heart, and humbleness of mind,
and deliverance from bondage to evil thoughts. And permit me, unto my
last breath, to receive, without condemnation, the sanctification of
these Holy Mysteries, unto the healing of both body and soul. Grant me
tears of repentance and of confession, that I may hymn thee and glorify
thee all the days of my life. For blessed and glorified art thou unto
all the ages. Amen.

"That is an idolatrous prayer; there is no other word to describe it. I
can't imagine that it would be pleasing to the Holy Virgin at all!

"Third, invite them to run it through the John 3:16 test. What happens
to John 3:16 under Orthodoxy? God so loved the world that He gave His
only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him (and is a member of the
true Church!) shall not perish (probably, but we make no guarantees -
that would be prideful) but have eternal life (provided that he has
suitable works).

"Finally, pray for them. This is in many ways a spiritual battle. And
the sad thing is where will their final confidence be placed in the
last battle – when they are facing death and Satan suddenly throws up
to their memory so many sins and evils. A friend of mine who is now an
Orthodox priest likes to tell the story of a priest begging for longer
life so he can do more penance, because he didn't even know if he had
begun to repent. Contrast this, please, with the comfort of God's Word
which allowed the great saints to depart in peace – not because of
their accomplishments in repentance, but in the certainty of Christ's
forgiveness and His victory over death and the grave for them."

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Categories: Eastern Orthodoxy
  1. Jen
    March 2nd, 2009 at 20:07 | #1

    Hey, I know who you’re quoting. I got bit by the EO bug… and all that itching and irritation drove me here… to Lutheranism. Now I have peace.

  2. March 3rd, 2009 at 00:01 | #2

    I lived in an Orthodox country (Romania) for over five years. While there were things that I admired about the Orthodox Church–stability and a much deeper sense of history and rootedness than what can be found in the evangelical churches I was part of both here in the US and over there–there were also some very serious red flags.
    Shortly after I arrived in the country as a missionary/teacher, I attended an excellent “Romanian cultural awareness” seminar put on for us expatriate Christian workers by a Romanian evangelical organization. One of the topics was Orthodoxy. They brought in an Orthodox seminary professor who spoke to us for an hour, and then there was a question and answer time. One of the first questions was something like, “How can a person become right with God?” The answer from the Orthodox professor: “Go to church, do good works.” That was it, even when pressed for how Jesus would fit into the picture.
    I asked the professor about the iconostasis, which is the wall that stands between the congregation and the altar. Often during the liturgy, the congregation cannot even see what is going on behind the iconostasis (though one can still hear the liturgy). I asked how this could be compatible with the NT teaching of the temple veil being torn in two when Christ died, symbolizing our access into the presence of God through Christ. The iconostasis, on the other hand, implies that there is still a barrier between us and what occurs on the altar. He had no answer for my question.
    My assessment of Orthodoxy as a whole: Too many things missing (e.g. justification by grace through faith), and too many things added (e.g. icons).

  3. Ken
    March 3rd, 2009 at 00:25 | #3

    The big thing I saw was the Mariology that gradually moves toward Mariolatry. The people with whom I was disputing were quite dogmatic about it.
    One thing you’ll notice is that they change AC XV; for them all church traditions are to be upheld unless they are actually contrary to Scripture, including doctrine. What AC XV says, though, is that traditions of PRACTICE are to be upheld if they serve good order and are not contrary to Scripture, but that nothing is to be required to be believed that cannot be supported by Scripture. They split hairs attempting to interpret the introductory section of the Formula of Concord in such a way as to make tradition a permissible source of doctrine. The door to this is opened by those who would make all preaching that is not contrary to Scripture the Word of God, and since early Church Fathers preached these things, these traditions are supported by the Word of God and are doctrine.
    It is time to remember we are the synod of Luther, not of Grabau, and that we are the church of the Lutheran Confessions, not of the Cappadocian Fathers.

  4. March 3rd, 2009 at 08:16 | #4

    My main problem with Orthodoxy (and I have a friend who became an Orthodox monk) has always been the veneration of images. I can understand the New Covenant permitting the making of images, formerly forbidden, but I have a hard time accepting the idea that the New Covenant transforms the veneration of images from idolatry into a positive means of grace.

  5. Robert Buechler
    March 3rd, 2009 at 08:30 | #5

    Admittedly I don’t know much about the Eastern Orthodox. What is written here should give pause to any Lutheran pastor who wants to swim the Bosphorous.
    The main point I come away with though is one that I have had for some time. As a former ELCA pastor who has left that denomination, the issue for me wasn’t that I wanted something other than to be Lutheran. No. I wanted to be Lutheran, and the denomination I was serviing was seeking in so many ways to be something “other” than Lutheran.
    This is why I don’t understand when Lutheran pastor who have been in the ELCA go to the RC denomination or the Orthodox brand. There just is too much of a theological/biblical jump that needs to be made (in my opinion) with regards the authority of sin, justification, sanctification, and the place of the saints within the life of the church militant.
    If a man who was a Lutheran pastor decides to go Roman Catholic or Orthodox one wonders if they were really Lutheran to begin with. Please don’t take this as a condemnation, just an observation. The late Richard J. would be an example. I think he was a fine thinker and yes I believed he is saved by the blood of the Lamb. But given how easily he went into Roman Catholicism, it makes me think he was always more RC than Lutheran.
    Peace in the Lord!
    Rob Buechler

  6. Christine
    March 3rd, 2009 at 10:18 | #6

    My former stint as an RC has rendered me totally immune to the Orthodox bug.
    Not to mention my beloved Treasury of Daily Prayer!

  7. Christine
    March 3rd, 2009 at 10:18 | #7

    My former stint as an RC has rendered me totally immune to the Orthodox bug.
    Not to mention my beloved Treasury of Daily Prayer!

  8. Jay
    March 3rd, 2009 at 10:53 | #8

    Can you provide me with a link to the “Patristics for Lutherans” article mentioned in your post? I looked around and couldn’t find it.

  9. March 3rd, 2009 at 15:48 | #9

    I once thought that if I left Wittenberg I could always go EO. The “bug” was only the enthusiasm of someone who had just returned to the faith and frustrated with what he saw around him. I was so bothered with the state of our confession being so very different from our practice that I actually toyed with that silly idea. Thankfully I had the fortune of listening to a guest on Issues, Etc. talk about theosis and recognized the same thinking that drove me to leave the church years earlier. Sometimes the inoculation to the “bug” is actually listening to the bug explain its nature. That’s all it took for me.

  10. March 3rd, 2009 at 16:47 | #10

    I hate to disrupt the “bash Orthodoxy” bandwagon, but most of what has been said here is just plain old strawmen argumentation. “Orthodox teach salvation by works” … That’s strange, because this is what we pray *every morning*:
    “O my plenteously merciful and all merciful God, Lord Jesus Christ, through Thy great love Thou didst come down and become incarnate so that Thou mightest save all. And again, O Saviour. save me by Thy grace, I pray Thee. For if Thou shouldst save me for my works, this would not be grace or a gift, but rather a duty; yea, Thou Who art great in compassion and ineffable in mercy. For he that believeth in Me, Thou hast said, O my Christ, shall live and never see death. If, then, faith in Thee saveth the desperate, behold, I believe, save me, for Thou art my God and Creator. Let faith instead of works be imputed to me, O my God, for Thou wilt find no works which could justify me. But may my faith suffice instead of all works, may it answer for, may it acquit me, may it make me a partaker of Thine eternal glory. And let Satan not seize me and boast, O Word, that he hath torn me from Thy hand and fold. But whether I desire it or not, save me, O Christ my Saviour, forestall me quickly, quickly, for I perish. Thou art my God from my mother’s womb. Vouchsafe me, O Lord, to love Thee now as fervently as I once loved sin itself, and also to work for Thee without idleness, diligently, as I worked before for deceptive Satan. But supremely shall I work for Thee, my Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
    The John 3:16 test? Really? This is the kind of exegesis Lutherans are engaging in these days? I’ve seen freshmen students handle texts with more sensitivity and responsibility than that.
    To those opposing the veneration of icons, what kind of Lutheranism rejects the 7th great council? Not the Luther I’ve read. Lars, rather than just shooting off the hip your own personal theology about images, why not actually go and read the dispute of the council and put it in its context? You’ll discover a whole world of deeper thought on this issue than you were prepared to find.
    To Kevin, there are a few things you should realize about your experience(s) (you only listed one). First, I can’t vouch for any priest/professor, sure we have some bad ones (doesn’t everyone?). However, you “tested” Him with some shibboleth that was totally foreign to him. This is not really fair, nor charitable. It would be like me testing Ignatius on the finer points of Nicene theology. Such terminology wouldn’t even register on his radar. Even further, could it not be fair to say that the professor assumed that you already had faith (at least in some degree) by attending a Christian seminar? The second thing you should realize is that the Romanian church was decimated under communism and is just now re-emerging from the flames. Most professors/pastors don’t have near the training they need. If you want to ask honest questions about Orthodoxy, then ask someone who is actually noted in understanding the particulars of Protestant theology as well as having a formal education in Orthodox theology. You would ask the same of me and Lutheranism, would you not?
    In short, instead of lynching strawmen, why not ask honest questions like “Do Orthodox believe in justification by faith?” We Orthodox (mostly) don’t expect you to convert, but would love to have an honest dialogue with you.

  11. March 3rd, 2009 at 23:52 | #11

    Thanks for your response. I recognize some of the issues that you brought up as valid, such as there being considerable barriers in culture and vocabulary. My experience with the theology professor was not the whole basis of my understanding of Orthodoxy. I have tried to draw my knowledge of Orthodoxy primarily from Orthodox sources, such as the writings of Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, as well as some Romanian Orthodox writers. There are things I respect in Orthodoxy, and I am not an Orthodox-basher (I do, unfortunately, know people in Romania who would definitely be in that category).
    However, I am not drawn to Orthodoxy either, for reasons that I gave earlier. I hope to avoid straw men, so I appreciate you bringing up the issue of justification by faith. My understanding is that this question isn’t even on the Orthodox radar screen, as they look at the legal concept of justification to be an issue that is only discussed in Western churches. I believe that this is one of the essential teachings of the New Testament that somehow got lost along the way in Orthodoxy.
    Even if the Orthodox seminary professor assumed that I had faith, his answer wasn’t a Biblical answer to the question of “how can a person be right with God.” To go to church and do good works is never the basis of my justification, though they ought to be produced as fruits as the Holy Spirit works sanctification in my life.
    I recognize the effects of persecution which the Orthodox in Romania endured under communism (though it was not as intense as in some other countries, nor was it as intense as what faced the Protestants in Romania). I would, however, expect a professor in an Orthodox seminary to be well-trained; I wouldn’t expect this same level of training for a parish priest.
    I’m all for honest dialog as well.
    P.S. I’m not Lutheran; I consider myself a Reformation Christian: an Evangelical more influenced by the conservative elements of the Protestant Reformation than the radical/pietistic elements.

  12. Michael G
    March 4th, 2009 at 07:32 | #12

    The more I read about the EO, the less certain I am about what they believe.
    I am curious if Abbot, Archimandrite George of the Holy Monaster of St Gregory of the Holy Mountain at Stratoni of Halkidiki, is authoritative, when he speaks (http://impantokratoros.gr/2D843221.en.aspx):
    – begin snip
    The purpose of our life, as you know, is our union with God. As the Holy Bible says, man was created “in His image and likeness” of God, namely to unite with Him. The likeness of man with God, our holy Fathers call it “theosis”. Can you see how great is the purpose of man’s life? Not simply become better, more virtuous, more courteous by God, by grace. And what is the difference between Holy God and of the deified man? That our Maker and Creator is God in nature according to His nature, while we become gods by grace, for although by nature we remain men, with His grace we are deified.
    – end snip
    We become gods? Isn’t this the faith of the Mormons? Wasn’t Joseph Smith a member at one time of the EO communion?

  13. March 4th, 2009 at 11:10 | #13

    “For He was made man that we might be made God.” – St. Athanasius the Great (+373), “On the Incarnation of the Word”, 54:3.

  14. Chris Palo
    March 4th, 2009 at 11:43 | #14

    My, my Pr. McCain, more of your same old tired arguments against the Orthodox, their belief and praxis. If you don’t want to believe that, that is your right. If a member of your congregation is having doubts and wants to “swim the Bosphorus” then it is your job to counsel them as you are the shepherd of that flock.

  15. John O
    March 4th, 2009 at 13:25 | #15

    When I was attending Concordia University, I took a summer term Doctrine I course and it was very interesting. I learned a lot about the truly deep things about Lutheranism. About 5 class sessions into the course, the professor, a local pastor in the LCMS, took some time out to discuss Orthodoxy. His point was much like the points of others Ive read here. A wonderfully rich confession, but lacking in some truly key areas. Had I not caught his description of what was missing, I might have “caught the bug” myself. Thank God for solid teachers and pastors who know the Word and the Confessions!

  16. March 7th, 2009 at 01:45 | #16

    Hmmmm, I wouldn’t call my conversion to Orthodoxy “getting a bug”. I see a lot of parallels between the two churches. Neither does a very good job engaging the surrounding culture (without watering down their faith), both have an attitude of guarding the faith rather than sharing it. I read and hear the evangelical criticisms of Orthodoxy and Lutheranism, frequently we are lumped together for our perceived belief in Works righteousness due to our sacramental theology. We are hated as much as the Roman Catholic Church by the Chic people. Orthodoxy needs some work, sadly amongst protestants it is easier to stand on the outside and throw rocks than roll up their sleeves and take ownership in the church. The Orthodox are behind the curve, maybe if we go to war with Greece like we did Germany we can purge Greek from the church and become more Lutheran, I think that would be a bad thing as it lead to pluralism in Lutheranism. I left the LCMS before I could really even get started because I found the church just before 9/11 and then it was down hill from there. Then trying to find a parish where I could stomach the vile mixture of organ and rock band. The LCMS is in pretty bad shape these days, I know pastors who HATE the Ablaze movement and they definatley haven’t caught the EO Bug. The gradual change from Lutheran to a generic reformed/baptist mix bothered me. Of any other group of Christians confessional Lutherans have been most near and dear to my heart. If you do not want to venerate icons don’t but do not project your issues onto me. I do not worship Icons, no more than you worship Luther. I don’t claim that you worship the Lutheran Confession or hold them above scripture because I understand the foundations of your faith. You believe that the Confessions summarize important biblical theology. On the other hand many of you gather with your ignorant evangelical brethren and make statements that are just plain foolish about my brethren and I worshiping the Theotokos. Modern evangelicals don’t even know that it was the Lutherans who were first called evangelicals. My reformed father in law can quote scripture and all sorts of Calvanist and baptist sources to prove that you Lutherans are closet Roman Catholics who say one thing but really believe another. It isn’t fair and it shows his ignorance or grasp of what Lutherans really are.
    It is also sad that Lutherans have so lost touch with history that they can’t recognize that the fathers of Orthodoxy are their fathers too. I guess it is similar to how the LCMS and other lutheran bodies have allowed Rome to hijack the language and define terms in the church.
    I suggest that all of you Lutheran and Orthodox read “One Flew Over the Onion Dome” by Fr. Joseph Honeycut. It will give you a better understanding of the issues that affect the Orthodox church in terms of the people who make it up. I really believe the conservative Lutherans and the Orthodox could learn a lot from each other. First thing the Orthodox have to learn is that they can’t lump Lutherans into the category of Protestants and the Lutherans are going to have to recognize that they view everything with a filter that rejects Roman Catholic looking practices which have a very different internal meaning in Orthodoxy.

  17. keith r deschler
    March 8th, 2009 at 09:09 | #17

    I nearly “caught the EO bug” myself, back in the early 90′s, after reading Pete Gilquist’s “Orthodoxy” book. But I noticed some troubling things that have already been mentioned by others on this blog. I also noticed that preaching wasn’t really that deep in their services. The liturgy was often rattled off rather quickly, and the monotone chanting of Psalms and other texts was not nearly as “contemplative” as many Orthodox apologists made it out to be. The post-communion prayer to the Theotokos cited earlier is actually an adaptation of a similar prayer addressed to Christ, that is in the little “Orthodox Book of Prayer”. I do believe that there is more to Orthodoxy that is closer to the Solas and to Scripture and to “Mere Christianity”. But I just could not stomach some of the very negative condemnations of Lutheranism that came from some Metropolitans and theologians. I have found in high church liturgical, confessional “evangelical catholic” Lutheranism (LCMS) the respect for historic doctrine, practice, and liturgy that I was searching for. It might be a good thing if someone would adapt the Byzantine Rite Lutheran liturgy of the Ukranian Lutheran Church, which is the only Eastern Rite Lutheran Church body. They are in fellowship with the ELS, and Pastor David Jay Webber has links to their liturgy and website on his Lutheran theology site. It is certainly consistent with the Book of Concord, and would give those looking for the best items of the Eastern church what they’re looking for, but without going over the line into idolatry, works righteousness, invocation of saints, and other extra-Biblical/non-Biblical teachings.

  18. Christine
    March 9th, 2009 at 11:35 | #18

    The gradual change from Lutheran to a generic reformed/baptist mix bothered me.
    David, that’s a pretty broad statement. Having just come out of ten years as a Catholic and returned to my LCMS roots I would say yes, there are LCMS congregation such as you describe. However, the LCMS parish I joined a month ago uses the historic liturgy. We pray the Nicene Creed in the traditional way, not according to the revisions of Vatican II. Our pastor and people offer prayer ad orientem and we receive Holy Communion with deep reverence. We solidly adhere to the Lutheran Confessions.
    There are still many fine Confessional congregations out there and we keep the flame burning. That, along with the wonderful Confessional publications coming out of CPH gives me tremendous hope that a new wind is blowing.
    The last Catholic parish I attended, on the other hand, has become enamored of evangelical praise music. Both Rome and Constantinople depart from the teachings of the early church as regards the meaning of the mass, the invocation of saints, etc. etc.
    Nor are Confessional Lutherans “closet Catholics.” We are evangelical catholics. There’s a big difference. And the patristic heritage is ours as much as it is yours.

  19. March 11th, 2009 at 12:43 | #19

    I have no idea how to counteract the Orthodox bug. If you’re not already highly impressed with neo-platonism, then it’s hard to think Orthodoxy is all that awesome. Honestly, I think Chemnitz’s Examination of Trent is a pretty good antidote. While not addressed to Orthodoxy per se, his exposition of the history of the development of the cult of the saints is extremely helpful. The fact is that the early church had no cult of the saints, and invocation of Mary clearly began as an aberrant practice in Egypt rather than as a part of the catholic faith. I find that when I bring this up, the Orthodox basically have to resort to their own version of Newman’s “doctrinal development,” which completely guts their claim to have not changed the faith or agree with the “universal consensus of the Fathers.” It’s just like Catholicism–we haven’t changed anything, except for a whole bunch of stuff doesn’t count.
    But if you desperately want to be Orthodox, no amount of reason will sway you. I think that if someone reaches the point where he has actually convinced himself that Mary has become a goddess (which is how any other religion would describe a being with the powers ascribed to Mary in that Antiochian prayer), nothing you can say matters any more.

  20. March 13th, 2009 at 00:24 | #20

    As a Lutheran, you cannot begin to understand Orthodoxy without a grounding in the 16th century dialogue between the Tubingen theologians and Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople on the Augsburg Confession. (http://www.amazon.com/Augsburg-Constantinople-Correspondence-Theologians-Ecclesiastical/dp/0916586820/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1236921127&sr=1-1) You can’t understand the Marian prayer from the Antiochian Service Book (as cited by Paul McCain) if you have never begun your Marian investigations by reading what Luther said regarding the Virgin Mary. If you’ve never read the Augsustana Greaca (http://www.acta-et-scriptura.dk/) and accounts of the subsequent discussions, and if you’ve never made a thorough investigation of Mariology, you simply cannot know what you are talking about. But as a convert to Lutheranism, as a member of the LC-MS, and as someone who has in the past been closely associated with the LC-MS seminary system, I’m not surprised when people who only read material with the CPH imprimatur don’t know what they are talking about. Lutheran pastors and parishioners really need to get out of the Lutheran ghetto now and again. And by the way, this is no slam on Paul McCain or CPH, but a suggestion that if you want to understand the other point of view, you need to read books written from the other point of view, rather than CPH material that presents the Lutheran position regarding the other point of view. Its all about scholarship and intellectual honesty, not about CPH. After all, Catholics won’t understand Lutheranism by reading only material with the Catholic imprimatur, and in particular without reading the Lutheran Confessions.

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