Eastern Orthodoxy (Part VIII)

by Frederica Mathewes-Green, click here for the earlier sections of this article.

No wonder there is such loneliness. When I give speeches, I see the most audience reaction (chiefly, a kind of freezing-up and going silent) when I say the word "loneliness." But on the other hand, overcoming that by plunging into an ancient community will necessarily mean surrendering a lot of freedom, and surrendering your right to chart your own course, accountable to no one. I don't want to trivialize the difficulty of that choice, and again I'm not saying it's necessary to salvation. But it has been a blessing to me. I increasingly think that no one *can* chart their own spiritual course. You will inevitably go in circles, guided solely by the things you *already* think, the myriad unseen prejudices you already hold. I have become convinced that Orthodoxy continues the consensus of the original church, so it feels like a safe place to me.

Oh, another thing -- back to what I said above about miracles, healing, evil spirits -- speaking of postmodernism. Pomos are famously wide-open to spiritual things, but I expect them to draw the line well before *that* point. It will be an element of Orthodoxy that they find hard to take. The so-called "supernatural" (it's not "super", of course, but just God's energeia active in creation) is likely to make a postmodernist feel, more than anything else, embarrassed. Educated, sophisticated people just can't believe that. They may turn out to be more modernist than post-, on that point. There is more peer pressure flowing around nearly every decision we make than we recognize.

7.) In your review of Mel Gibson's the Passion of the Christ, you identify concerns about the portrayal of Mary Magdalene; understandably suggesting that the portrayal was not rooted in a biblical history. I wonder- what do you do with Orthodox understandings that differ with the consensus of biblical scholarship on a certain issue?

Here's an example of something that I've only recently begun to grasp about Orthodoxy. It's that the early church was singularly uninterested in the historical basis of the Old Testament. All they wanted to know was how it spoke of Jesus--"you search the scriptures, and them they are that speak of me," as Jesus said. They essentially went over the OT with a metal detector, looking for foreshadowing of Christ, and they went over it inch by inch, not the way you do when you're reading for story. An example is, Gabriel's word to Mary that the Holy Spirit would "overshadow" her is seen to be foretold in Habbakuk 3:3, the Holy One coming forth from a "dark and shadowed mountain". I think you'd have to read Habbakuk a whole lot of times before that occured to you. Perhaps it helped that they were hearing it read out loud in worship, chanting it; maybe that made similar words pop out.

So the Orthodox understanding is often likely to be different than the consensus of biblical historical-critical scholarship. There is an expectation, as we've noted above, that miracles can happen and that angels and spirits exist, so such passages aren't automatically re-interpreted (though some passages are understood as mystery rather than history, eg, the six days of creation). In general, Scripture holds a very high place of authority--the highest written authority, and as the retired dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary says, Orthodox tradition is defined as the Scriptures rightly interpreted. Scholarly critiques would take a far back seat to that.


FrGregACCA said…
St. Vladimir's Seminary Press publishes a little book called The Message of the Bible: An Orthodox Christian Perspective. A preview is available here. It is a good introduction to the question at hand.

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