Friday, June 1, 2012

Ignorance of Basic Church History and the Fathers

The Orthodox Church is rightly called the Church of the Fathers. Why?  Because the Church Fathers are a living reality in the church with their writings, the hymns and melodies they composed, their prayers and their lives as models for how we are to live the life in Christ.  It is thus imperative that we study them and get to know them, both East and West (with certain caveats and a cutoff date).  Other christian schools of thought have otherwise erased the fathers, quoted them only when those church fathers agree with them (more accurately, whenever the words of a church father are mangled or twisted to fit what the person wants--nowhere is this more apparent than with St. Augustine) or bring them up to help create the fiction that their respective church bodies were not born in 1517 or 1534 or in 18th century United States, but are continuations of the apostles (which cannot be supported, at all). 

In such churches, ignorance of the fathers can be excused, but this just takes the cake.  This is an interview on Issues, Etc. a very confessional radio program sponsored (I think) by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  The topic is on the 9th century fathers, Sts. Cyril and Methodius.  I don't know why this person was invited to speak about these great saints.  There is nothing to indicate that he specializes in history of the Eastern Churches.  But, he never brings up the Eastern Church.  Listen to the interview.  This guy doesn't know what he's talking about.  Some examples:

1) Never does he mention the (Eastern) Roman Empire.  He does mention the recently fabricated Holy Roman Empire of the West (which, as Voltaire said, was neither holy nor Roman nor an Empire).  This (the Eastern Empire is the milieu in which Sts. Cyril and Methodius were born, raised, educated and prayed.  He brings up Islam a lot, but Cyril and Methodius NEVER had interactions with the Arab caliphates.

2)  He mentions that Greek Christian thought was preserved almost exclusively by the Arabs.  True, but the incomplete picture.  The Eastern Roman Empire had been doing that for much longer and much better than the Arabs. 

3)  Cyril and Methodius did not invent the Cyrillic alphabet.  They invented the Glagolithic alphabet which later gave way to Cyrillic which is more simple. But the creation of that writing system was NOT so that the Slavic speaking people of these regions could have the Scriptures and Liturgy translated into their language, but was invented as a means to help them learn the Greek prayers and liturgy. 

4)  Never is there any mention of the fact that the Slavs were converted to Orthodox Christianity.

5)  This pastor can only speak about the western church whose liturgy and practice were radically different from the east yet he assumes that there is a monolithic Christianity.

I could go on, but this should suffice.  Ignorance of the church fathers is a problem that stretches across the Christian world.  We Orthodox need to do a better job of studying, reading and knowing the fathers.  Their words are not historical documents.  As I wrote the other day, the fathers' writings are every bit part of the word "Scripture" as the New and Old Testaments along with the prayers, the liturgies, the icons, the decrees of the councils, etc.  Nor am I trying to pick on any one denomination in general (i.e. Lutheran) for their ignorance of the church fathers.  Though, as I wrote above, the Lutheran preoccupation with the fathers is to twist their words so that it meets their current school of thought. 

The Church fathers are above all to be revered.  They are saints standing at Christ's right hand interceding for us and our salvation.  We are correct to ask for their protection and aid.  We cannot be ignorant of the cloud of witnesses and what they do and have given us for our salvation in Christ.

1 comment:

  1. Re #3, I'm sure this is the typical Greek understanding of the matter, but I'm not sure new alphabets (Glagolitic, Cyrillic) with sounds not present in Greek needed to be created if the sole or primary purpose of such work was to help Slavs understand the Greek of the services.