This post is a brief reflection on a book I read a couple of years ago. After having heard Bishop Ware speak at North Park Universitynot too long ago, I come to appreciate the Eastern Orthodox sentiment more and more. There is a lot we as evangelicals can learn from our eastern brothers and sisters, and yes, as Kallistos said, there is also quite a bit they can learn from us.
But let us be content with briefly “summarizing” some of the points in Kallistos Ware’s book: The Orthodox Way (http://books.google.com/books?id=WpE8MwHLffEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=the+orthodox+way&hl=en&sa=X&ei=U_xMT7qxNYeoqwHXw7jFDg&ved=0CD8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false)
Bishop Kallistos Ware was born in Bath, Somerset (England) in 1934.He was born with the name Timothy Ware, but after his ordination as priest and monk his name was changed into Kallistos. He was raised Anglican and became Orthodox through a personal experience of an Orthodox worship service, which he visited by ‘accident.’ He entered a church building which seemed empty to him but this impression changed quickly. After he was in the building and saw some elderly people worshipping, another cloud of worshipers surrounded him. In his own words:
My initial impression of an absence was now replaced, with a sudden rush, by an overwhelming sense of presence. I felt that the church, so far from being empty, was full — full of countless unseen worshipers, surrounding me on every side. Intuitively I realized that we, the visible congregation, were part of a much larger whole, and that as we prayed we were being taken up into an action far greater than ourselves, into an undivided, all-embracing celebration that united time and eternity, things below with things above.
He further says that “…as I left the church, I said to myself with a clear sense of conviction: This is where I belong; I have come home.”
In his book “The Orthodox Way,” Bishop Kallistos Ware explains the Christian life of Orthodoxy as a journey and therefore an Orthodox believer as a “traveller upon the spiritual way.” As the reader can easily see, this author comes out of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Though Ware uses Scripture in some places, he emphasizes and quotes the Church fathers and creedal confessions more often than Holy Writ. Relying on tradition and Scripture is not an unusual practice for the Protestant either, yet the ‘overemphasis’ (as we might perceive) is surely strange to the western evangelical believer. But let us examine what he writes in the first and second chapter of his book.
Chapter number one is about “God as Mystery.” Here the theme is in “the Otherness, yet Nearness of the Eternal.” Ware explains his understanding of this dichotomy – God being incomprehensible and yet knowable (as the evangelical would probably put it) – but he makes a distinction between God’s being and his operations in order to solve that seeming dichotomy. He calls it “essence and energies.” “By the essence of God is meant his otherness, by the energies his nearness.” And we as creatures can only know his operations and acts – that is why God is near to us. But we may never perceive his otherness – or in Ware’s category: essence/being.
A missing point of that construct is the possible knowledge of God’s character and person itself. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the total otherness and transcendence are common factors of theology proper. Though there is understanding for the reverence and awe of God’s sovereignty and might, some might wonder: If God chooses to reveal Himself (and not just some of his acts and deeds), if we would be capable to understand to some extent His nature that is His essence (personality)? To take that a step further: Would God be capable of communicating His character and attributes (again only to some extent) to us? The evangelical reader will certainly affirm such presuppositions. Yet I have to agree with Ware that a total understanding of God on our behalf would degrade the divine and infinite to something finite, since the finite mind would be able to fully grasp that being. This is far from Eastern Orthodoxy and orthodoxy of the evangelical theology.
Ware establishes the above thesis with what he calls “three pointers.” The first pointer is the ‘world around us,’ the second is ‘within ourselves,’ and the third pointer is found in relationships of man. His first two arguments are similar to what we would call “general revelation.” Pointer one is general revelation in context of nature and the second in context to a conscience or the moral law in ourselves. Ware does not appeal to Scriptures to present his argument. Scripture is only found in his precedent introduction to the three pointers where he distinguishes between ‘experience and experiences.’ The singular form ‘experience’ would be the claim of confidence of a relationship to God the plural form ‘experiences’ to some visions and voices received by the believer. To establish such claims the evangelical reader would love to see references to Scripture like Psalm 19, Romans 1-2, and Ecclesiastes 3:11 (“…he has put eternity into man’s heart…” cf. Ware a “thirst for what is infinite”).
In chapter two, Ware is presenting the dogma of the Holy Trinity. It is obvious to the reader that Scripture is referred to more often than in chapter one. The author states that this dogma “stands before us as a challenge…and…requires from us a radical act of metanoia…”He already defined ‘metanoia’ as not merely repentance but a change of someone’s mind. It is a dogma we will not fully understand, but yet have to conform to (and affirm) the given revelation.
Ware takes the in chapter one established conclusion/assumption that God is love and God is personal and applies it to the Holy Trinity. Concerning love and personhood he writes, “both these notions imply sharing and reciprocity.”And he goes on explaining that personhood is not the same as individuality. Only in some kind of relation to another being can an individual be a person, otherwise he would stay an individual and therefore would not be a person in its full sense. The same argument is made for love. Love in isolation is not love and “self-love is the negation of love.”Therefore there must be multiple persons within the Godhead. Why it has to be three is again beyond our comprehensions and again a matter of metanoia. We have to accept and appreciate the given revelation even if we do not understand it in its full sense.
On page 29 Ware goes on explaining/interpreting John 10:30 in light of the first two Ecumenical Councils (Nicaea A.D. 325 and Constantinople A.D. 381). Here he gives the orthodox view of the Trinity: that there is one God in three persons, one in substance and three in persons. The three persons, according to Ware, show us the diversity in the unity and the one essence of the Godhead shows us the unity in diversity. Though we as evangelicals believe the same dogma, our approach is normally a different one. We would more likely approach such a crucial dogma with support of Scripture itself, so it seems strange to an evangelical mindset to take an Eastern Orthodox way. Yet we would totally agree on the outcome and approvingly say with Ware that “the dogma of Holy Trinity is vital to our own salvation.”
A concept I do not yet fully grasp is the difference between the Latin West “filioque” clause and its missing part in the Eastern Orthodox creed. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (hence filioque) in the West, but for the Eastern Orthodox the Spirit ‘only’ proceeds from the Father. Why that difference in the Latin West is “spiritually harmful”is not explained by the one who penned these words.
In the last section Ware shows how the Eastern Orthodox prayers and their living reflect the importance of the Trinity. Shamefully we as evangelicals have to confess that we oftentimes do focus on the second person of the Godhead and do not do enough justice to the Trinity in unity. Here we can learn a lot from the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity. A further enrichment to the evangelical movement would be, if it pays closer attention to creeds, traditions and the church fathers, yet without putting them on the same level of authority with Holy Scripture.
– What is your view on Eastern Orthodoxy?
– What can we learn from our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters?
– How would you define and defend the mystery of God’s transcendence?
– How would you define and defend the mystery of the Holy Trinity?
Ware, Kallistos T. The Orthodox Way. New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995.