Friday, August 28, 2009

The News from Greater Abkhazia

Every day, my friend Milton dutifully forwards me the Der Spiegel Online Newsletter. The scope and depth of their reporting is now rarely found on this side of the Atlantic. Yesterday's lead article, Abkhazia Attempts to Invent Itself, is a good case in point. The newspaper chronicles the invention of a nation, if not entirely out of whole cloth, then nearly so. As an adherent of localism, it might seem I would favor their struggle. But let there be no doubt, my sympathies lie not with what the Abkhazians are attempting, nor with their Russian enablers, but with the Republic of Georgia, from which they have separated themselves. This story contains no clear heroes, for even the Georgians have acted rashly. But the real culpability, it seems to me, lies with Russia, who has fomented the dissatisfaction and faciliated the rebellion all along. The fact that all three peoples are Orthodox is lamentable and yet another troubling and disconcerting layer to the tragedy.

I watched with dismay last year as America's man in Tbilisi, Michael Saaskashvili blundered into an unwinnable confrontation with Russia, ending in much destruction and loss of life, occupation of even more Georgian territory and Russian recognition of South Ossetian and Abkhazian "independence." To date the Republic of Abkhazia is recognized by Russia, Nicarauga and, I'm told, the Gaza Strip. The only one that matters, of course, is the first. While the "nation" of Abkhazia is certainly less of a fiction than that of South Ossetia, it is not without its own comic- opera elements, in the Grand Fenwickian tradition.

  • Abkhazia is obviously not a member of the UN, but is a member of UNPO, the "Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, along with Balochistan, Buryatia, the Buffalo River Dene Nation, the Crimean Tatars and of course, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic.

  • The Prime Minister maintains that within 10 years the country could become "a sort of Monaco."

  • The country diplomatic abbreviation is ABC, which is marginally better than South Ossetia's, which is SOS.

  • The entire country contains less than 200,000 population, down 350,000 or so from the figure 16 years ago. That population drop is accounted for by the ethnic cleansing of the majority Georgians.

  • The Abkhazians have removed all "i's" from the end of words, that being considered too Georgian. The capital, formerly Sukhumi is now simply, Sukhum.

  • Abkhazia even has a national Olympic Committee, though there is no possibility of them being allowed to compete. The minister of athletics (while lighting a Parliament cigarette) explained that they did particpate succesfully, however, in the World Championship Domino Tournament, and their ongoing negotiatons with the International Sambo Federation (explained as a "sort of Soviet-Russian judo") were progressing nicely.

  • The country's parliament, presidential office, and office of the prime minister are clumped together in downtown Sukhum. The assembly meets in a room that "resembles the lobby of a small-town bank." There are already 12 political parties.

  • There is, of course, a Miss Abkhazia Pagent, though currently unrecognized by the international beauty pageant community.

  • In an effort to highlight differences between Abkhazian culture and that of Georgia, and even Russia, much is made of the fact that they have 7 distinct sounds for the letter "k."

    • While some of these facts are not without humor, the reality is that Abkhazian nation-building is being played-out in the one of the most volatie regions of the world, where large powers, whether they be Russian, Turk, Persian, British or American have historically used pawns in the area to advance their own agendas. This is clearly evident in the case of Abkhazia, where the successful secession from Georgia was accomplished almost totally with Russian troops. And anyone who thinks that the current boundaries of those countries bordering the Black Sea are set in stone, has not been paying attention.

      I was slow to learn of Abkhazia. In Ottoman histories, and in some 19th-century Russian literature (such as Lemontov's, A Hero of our Time), one reads of the Circassians, who are loosely associated with this region. In reading-up on Georgia prior to my first visit there, I became aware of the hundreds of thousands of Georgian refugees who had fled Abkhazia during the war and were camped in Tbilisi and Zugdidi.

      To reach the province of Svaneti, the road (not the main road, but the road) snakes along a narrow ridge above the rushing Inguri River. The impressive hydroelectric dam along the river supplies power to both Georgia and Abkhazia and is something of a landmark in the region. But along the way--well within Georgia proper--we had to pass through a Russian checkpoint, manned by a couple of sleepy soldiers and of course, a tank. Clearly Russian control included not only Abkhazia, but extended well into undisputed Georgian territory as well.

      On a later visit, I attended Vespers at the ancient Anchiskhati Church in Tbilisi. Before long, the nave was packed with people, and being susceptible to claustrophobia, I stepped outside for some air. A sudden thunderstorm unleashed a torrent of rain and I sought cover under the covered portico leading into the churchyard. I shared this small space with a middle-aged beggar lady. We smiled at each other, and she made no attempt to ask me for money (though I gladly gave her some as the storm cleared and I was ready to move on.) At one point, she shrugged her shoulders and simply said "Abkhazia," as if to explain her plight. And I understood.

      In 1931, Stalin did away with the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia and made it an autonomous territory of his native Georgia. This marked the beginning of Abkhazia's complaint. During the Soviet period, the Abkhazians, or the Apsua, were never very numerous. More Georgians moved into the territory, as did Armenians and Russians. Population breakdowns over the years tell the story:


      44% Georgian

      17% Abkhazian

      17% Russian

      15% Armenians


      46% Georgian

      18% Abkhazian

      15% Armenian

      14% Russian


      37% Abkhazian

      30% Georgian

      12% Armenian

      12% Russian

      Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, Abkhazia thought it would receive independence, rather than remaining an autonomous region of Georgia. By this time, ethnic Georgians comprised almost half of the total population and so they remained as they were. But the Russians used the nationalistic impulses of the Apsua minority to maintain their considerable influence in the area, and to stage the 1992-1993 Abkhazian War. Even so, Russian was content with the unsettled status-quo, making no move to recognize an "independent" Abkhazia. That is, of course, until the Bush Administration pushed forward with the dismemberment of Serbia in their recognition of an "independent" Kosovo. Russia repeated warned of the consequences of this action, but to no avail. To the Russians, what was good for the Kosovar goose was good for the Abkhazian gander. And in the summer of 2008, the U.S. was left with no grounds to oppose the move that did not smack of hypocrisy. Obviously, the State Department does not see it this way. And while cool sophistication has replaced bluster and ineptitude in the White House, there is no indication of any substantive change in the assumptions which underly the disastrous course of our post-Cold War foreign policy.

      Daniel Larison, as usual, sums it up well, here. He writes:

      Self-determination along ethnolinguistic lines has been one of the great curses of the modern era, and it is responsible for a large part of the bloodshed of the last two centuries in Europe and around the world. Separating the concept of a nation from a polity representing or somehow embodying that nation is quite difficult. There has long been a flawed idea that every nation that lacks its own political independence is necessarily unfree or oppressed or denied its “natural” rights. This falsehood was used to good effect as a justification for dismantling the Austro-Hungarian empire, which arguably had the most elaborate system then in existence for respecting traditional legal rights and languages of its various subject peoples, and the bloodshed among these various peoples in the decades that followed was the result of destroying the so-called “prison of nations.”

      Great powers have promoted or opposed specific cases of self-determination based largely on whether it would aid or harm their rivals or otherwise advance or threaten their goals in the region....As I said repeatedly before last February and many times after that, one of the reasons why recognition of Kosovo was so dangerous and foolish is that it would provide a precedent and a provocation for Russia to promote separatists inside allied countries, and it would also generally contribute to international instability. Until then, Russia was still mostly willing to respect status quo borders and was formally opposed to interference in the internal affairs of other states....Russia had no interest in endorsing ethnic self-determination and independence movements. The partition of Serbia changed this in a significant way. The blatant and willful disregard for Serbia’s sovereignty that recognizing Kosovo entailed made clear that the West as a whole had contempt for international law whenever it suited us....Now that Moscow has turned the rhetoric and posturing of self-determination against a “pro-Western” government, Westerners are rediscovering their wariness of political fragmentation and their distaste for non-viable, criminal statelets. Suddenly there is great concern over “Russia’s fictional sovereignties,” as if the sovereignties that the West propped up in the Balkans were any more real.

      UPDATE: Metin Sonmez has graciously provided a link that provides more information from the Abkhazian/Circassian side of the argument, here.

      Wednesday, August 26, 2009

      End of Summer Doldrums

      I have been suffering through a bit of the summer doldrums of late, without much to say of any great interest. That is certainly reflected on this blog, where my last 2 posts have dealt with our own radical cleric/presidential huckster (Mike Huckabee) and a football player, of all things. Luckily, others have written of more substantial fare. A sampling of recent items of interest by bloggers I consistently enjoy are linked following.

      Wendell Berry

      Owen continues to post the poetry of Wendell Berry, which I find to be simply amazing. I particularly enjoyed the one from from 21 August, ending with these lines:

      Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away

      Father Stephen on "The Agents of Change"

      from Glory to God, here.

      We see ourselves as the agents of change – or responsible for the disasters that litter our lives. Those who “succeed” imagine that they are the masters of their fate, or, perhaps the ones who responsibly “chose” God.

      For the weak, the addict, the genetically impaired, the myth of choice and the power of freedom are often experienced as a merciless taunt. We not only fail – it is judged that we fail because we have not willed to succeed. Our weakness becomes a curse, while the blessed enjoy their prosperity and their health. Choice is a myth believed best by the young. Old age almost invariably makes a mockery of its boasts.

      Father Stephen on "What's the Point?"

      from Glory to God, here.

      This, I believe, is the great witness of Christianity in the modern world. The challenge will not likely be between Christianity and atheism – but between Christianity-as-true-belief-in-God and Christianity-as-a-religious-option-for-secularists. The latter makes no difference for it is little more than a lifestyle option. It has no point.

      Europe vs. America

      Rod Dreher raises some interesting questions in his comparison of western Europe with the U.S., here. He links to several recent articles addressing misconceptions Americans and Europeans have of the other, mainly in terms of quality of life issues. Rod highlights one reader who takes him to task a bit:

      But an American who thinks continental Western Europeans live better than Americans...I have to say that beautiful architecture and well-kept center cities have little or nothing to do with it. What impresses me about social democratic Europe are 1) universal and effective virtually cost-free health care, 2) the belief that business has social duties (and not, as here in the US, the option of philanthropy) and that the maximization of shareholder value is not something that can be pursued at any price, 3) the right to a month's paid vacation, the absence of which, I would argue, has been profoundly destructive in the US and created the frenetic consumerism that 'stands in' for leisure for people who do not enjoy what they do --- as most people do not and for good reason!, 4) much superior and much cheaper child care, and, lastly, 5) efficient, clean public rail and light rail transport within and in between cities.

      Rod responds, and raises a crucial consideration:

      Even so, I think the Europeans...have a better quality of life than we do, though we have a better "quantity" of life....In most respects, I think I'd feel more at home in Europe...but nothing matters more to me as a father than to raise children to be faithful to our religion, and I worry that living in Europe would make that substantially more difficult than here in my part of the US. What does it profit a man if his children gain baguettes, but lose their souls? (I'm exaggerating, but you see my point).

      Patrick Deneen, in "What I Saw in Europe," here, writes favorable of his recent stay in Bavaria. He finds much resilience in western European to counter their cultural doomsayers:

      It is a way of life, an art of living, that I think will be here recognizable still many hundreds of years yet, long after our reckless American "lifestyle" has passed from existence.

      The comments are particularly insightful, as well. A Finnish commentor makes this observation of we Americans, finding us long on flag-waving, but with little real depth to our "National Feeling":

      Comparing to what I perceive in the U.S. there's however much more of feeling of active responsibility for one's neighborhood, one's town, one's village or region - and for its inhabitants. My conclusion about America is that the National Feeling seems to start with the flag and the constitution and the outer borders of the United States, but doesn't have enough power to reach to the neighborhood one lives in.

      And concerning European doomsaying, one of the better recent works of that genre is reviewed here. With a nod to Burke, Christopher Caldwell entitles his recent book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. Obviously, the author references the burgeoning demographic time bomb of Western Europe's Muslim immigrant community. He sees significant differences between this development, and say, immigration issues in this country.

      Though he's at pains to point out that most Americans oppose continued large-scale immigration into this country, Caldwell also argues that the issues raised by the mass movement of Muslims into Europe are nothing like those connected to mostly Latino migration into the United States. Latinos, he writes, simply speak another European language and bring with them a culture "that is like the American working-class white culture of 40 years ago. It is perfectly intelligible to any American who has ever had a conversation about the past with their parents. . . . [I]t requires no fundamental reform of American cultural practices or institutions. On balance, it may strengthen them."

      And like most who immerse themselves in these demographic statistics that point to an increasingly child-free Western Europe, Caldwell finds that the battle is already lost.

      As a good Burkean, Caldwell believes in what the great man called "prejudices," which is to say the unspoken authority of tradition, habit, family and shared cultural predilections. In that sense, he believes the clash of civilizations already has been lost in Europe. He also believes that its native peoples must now choose between what Powell called "the tragedy" of American-style cultural pluralism or a kind of quasi-Ottoman order in which religious communities essentially are self-governing within national borders.

      The reviewer closes, however, with a caveat in which I'm inclined to agree:

      History, though, has a way of confounding both Western historical determinism and its not-so-distant intellectual cousin, the resignation of Islamic fatalism.

      Father Jonathan on real liberalism

      from Second Terrace, here.

      Yes, I am biased toward the Byzantine society. It has had no equal, not even the "high Middle Ages," about which Belloc and GK rhapsodize. And what we hold as the great achievements of that society – let alone its military and artistic skill – is its humane-ness … even what we sloppily and inaccurately call its "liberalism."

      Father Jonathan on LaHayean silliness

      from Second Terrace, here.

      Just to be clear, I will say outright that there is no such thing as the Rapture. The sudden disappearance of Christians from the world is an escapist fantasy that itself is a product of pride, fear, and a loutish rejection of Tradition. The Rapture mare's nest has more to do with the gnostic romanticism of the mid-1800's than with Scriptural exegesis: a 14-year-old pubescent female invented the "doctrine of the secret rapture" in an 1830 enthusiasm-spectacle in England presided over by Rev. Edward Irving (read about it here if you want).

      Orthodox Christianity never shies away from entering into Tribulation – and there have been many of those throughout time. At the beginning of today's Gospel (Matthew 24.13-28), our Lord says "But he who endures to the end shall be saved." No one who puts his faith in escape-hatch Rapture theory has a faith that will enable him to endure to the end. A Christianity that does not produce Saints and Saints who can become Martyrs at any moment in history is not Christianity.

      Daniel Larison

      Why is our Russia Policy so Foolish?, here.

      For some time, I have assumed that our Russia policy is so insane because we remain mired in Cold War-era suspicions and hostilities, but I am seeing now that this was not right. To a great degree, our Russia policy is so maddeningly foolish and misguided because our policymakers remain stuck in the immediate post-Cold War period. This is very similar to the way many Iraq war advocates were so certain (or so naive) in their conviction that democratization in the Near East would succeed just as it had in central and eastern Europe in the late ’80s and early ’90s. These represent two colossal errors that a large part of our political and policy establishment have made in the last decade, and both stem from incorrectly applying the lessons of the collapse of communism to entirely new and different situations.

      Friday, August 14, 2009

      Not a Football Post

      I am not a football fan. I suppose if I had to, I could sit through a game. That is something I couldn't say for the game of baseball. Or golf. Every year, the day after Thanksgiving, I exhibit a marginal interest when my alma mater, the University of Texas, has their annual grudge match with the little school down in College Station. If I think to do so, I will turn on the television during that game, and if I walk through that room, I may pause momentarily and glance at the score. Some years I know who is playing in the Superbowl. Most years I don't. My animosity is less directed at the game itself as it is at our football and sports-obsessed culture.

      Last Superbowl, our priest and his family hosted a get-together over at their house. All are Pittsburgh natives, and while they are technically American citizens, I suppose you could say that their first allegiance lies with the Steeler Nation. So for once, I sat down and watched a Superbowl game. Really, in the company of good friends and food and wasn't so bad. Anyway, that is where I became acquainted with this guy--Troy Polamalu. He is, perhaps, the best-known Orthodox Christian among the American general public. I do not know if you could exactly say he is the public face of Orthodoxy in America, but I do know we could do far worse. Somehow Polamalu kind of fits--no saccharine-sweet-bible-study-group poster boy he.

      The last thing I would wish on any Orthodox Christian (or anyone else for that matter) is fame or renown. That said, Polamalu seems to be taking it all in stride. I am linking an interview, here, that is certainly worth a read. The article touches only tangentially on football. Rather, Polamalu much prefers to talk about the Faith, his family (wife Theodora and son, Paisios) and monks and monasteries.

      As a parent, I don't want to talk out of both sides of my mouth; I don't want to act a certain way and be another way. Not everybody has a material struggle, but everyone has a spiritual struggle. So with my son, it's important for him to first understand the spiritual struggle and, as a result of that, know how to [deal with] the physical struggles that he has in his life - whether it's dealing with not enough or too much of something.

      I think talking is overrated. Anybody in the world can talk about doing anything. The hardest thing is to do it. It's important for my son to understand, for example, why we pray, why we go to church. It's important for him to grow up in an atmosphere of watching us do it, to understand that nothing is given to you in life. Everything must be worked at in order to be obtained - whether it's something material or it's salvation.

      Without a question, my greatest wish would be for him to understand the spiritual struggle and to be a pious Orthodox Christian. That's what I want for myself, as well. Sometimes parents want their children to be what they never were. And that's one thing that I am gracious for Paisios to have: that he's able to grow up in the Orthodox church around monastics and priests that I was never able to experience as a kid - to grasp that, not take it for granted and really culture that. cannot have an experience of God without humility.

      Wednesday, August 05, 2009

      Orthodoxy up against the "New Testament Church"

      If I am not blogging about travel or foreign policy, chances are I am writing something to do with the Orthodox faith. By and large, I confine my comments to particular events, observations on Orthodoxy in the U.S., or some story about the plight of Orthodoxy overseas. I generally avoid doctrinal discursions or anything that is of a polemic nature. The reason for this has been-- and remains--that I am supremely unqualified to engage in such discussions. So far, this approach has served me well, and I am sticking with it.

      That said, I venture to at least link to an ongoing Orthodox-Protestant dialogue that touches on the questions of sola scriptura, authority in religion and Tradition, as well as the strange notion of "restoring the New Testament church." This particular discussion is of great interest to me, as it involves the writings of Fr. Stephen Freeman, perhaps the most articulate and insightful Orthodox writer among us today (certainly within Orthodox blogdom), and on the other side, a defender of the Church of Christ, the evangelical fellowship in which I spent 25 years.

      Clearly my sympathies lie with the case made by Fr. Stephen Freeman. It has been noted that converts sometimes attempt to discredit their former affiliation, perhaps out of some need for self-vindication. I am sensitive to that temptation, and would hope that that is not where I am going with this. Actually, I appreciate my Church of Christ background, as I think it has primed me and others for Orthodoxy. I think we make for an interesting and growing sub-category of converts to Orthodoxy. But that said, becoming Orthodox from any Protestant persuasion (and yes, despite their denials, the Church of Christ is Protestant) is unlike moving between different denominations. In our highly mobile society, one could easily be raised Methodist, attend Presbyterian services while raising a family, and then settle in to big-box, nondenominationalism in later years. These changes could be based on personal choice or preference, convenience, spouse's influence or any number of reasons, though none would particularly be discrediting to the former association. A move to Orthodoxy from Protestantism, however, is something altogether different and by so doing implicitly conveys a rejection of the entire underpinnings of Protestantism.

      Two posts earlier, I linked to the essay of a young man in the Church of Christ, now disillusioned with Restorationist theology and considering Orthodoxy. The discussion generated considerable response, primarily from among those former Church of Christ, now Orthodox, or at least moving in that direction. One respondent defended the Church of Christ position and encouraged us to "return to the church." As it turns out, this was just the continuation of a discussion he and others had been having on Fr. Stephen's blog from the previous week, and it is that dialogue that I wish to note.

      You will find the discussion to be polite and gentlemanly, if a bit one-sided. Fr. Stephen Freeman is undoubtedly one of our most gifted writers. These explanations would have been extremely helpful to me 5 years ago. My hope is that they may help those coming out of the Church of Christ and similar groups. I encourage the reading of the entire posts and comments which I have linked. Some choice excerpts follow the links, below:

      At the Edge of Tradition--More Notes from the Edge

      The content of the Tradition is not a set of ideas – but a reality - God with us.

      And this is the problem that always accompanies attempts to reach that reality through reform. It is not our reformation that is the problem in the first place. We cannot reform ourselves into union with Christ. We can submit ourselves to union with Christ and not much else. We can cooperate with union with Christ.

      Invariably, the great stumbling block faced by various attempts to “recreate” or “rediscover” the “early Church,” is that the “early Church,” is not an historical reality. It is a present reality – not simply as the “early Church” (this is not a Biblical phrase anyway). The present reality is the same as the “early Church”: it is the Body of Christ, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, the true and living Way. It never ceased nor was overcome by the gates of Hell. It has lived and thrived in enough places to have picked up many languages, many customs, but always the same faith.

      This always comes as a stumbling block, I believe, because the existence of the Orthodox Church stands as a stark witness to the True and Living God - not the idea of a God – but God.

      Selected Comments, below:

      from John (not me):

      How does the Orthodox teaching on church tradition differ from the Jews tradition/oral law, which was condemned by Jesus? You are aware of the Matthew 15 text: He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? (Matthew 15:3 NKJV)

      from Fr. Stephen:

      The content of Tradition in Orthodox Christianity is nothing other than the living presence of the Spirit. Protestants always quote Matt. 15, but do not know the Scripture. Try reading 2 Thess. 2:15 “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”

      Do a word study on the Greek paradosis or paradidomi which is the word correctly translated “tradition” to “hand over or hand down”. The New Testament itself is Tradition. I did not write it – it was handed down to me by the Apostles of the Church.

      St. Paul uses the word for tradition when he says, “That which I received I also delivered (traditioned) unto you, how that our Lord Jesus Christ, in the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks and broken it, said, “Take, eat, This is my body…” etc.

      This, it seems to me differs greatly from the “traditions” that Jesus condemned.
      However, the Protestant hermeneutic, forged in the 16th century battles with the Roman Catholic Church, placed blinders on itself and does not see many parts of Scripture. The New Testament teaching on Tradition is just such a blind spot.

      from John (not me):

      How could the tradition in 2 Thessalonians 2 refer to material that had not at that time been taught? The text refers to tradition that had been taught. Would not this be the teaching of the apostles and other inspired writers of the New Testament? Should not the 1 Corinthians 11 passage be understood in the same manner? How could these two passages have anything whatsoever to do with writings that were yet in the future? How are they relevant to a discussion of church tradition after the close of the New Testament?

      from Fr. Stephen:

      In the writings beyond the NT such as the Apostolic Fathers, they continued to view Tradition as the NT viewed Tradition. You are assuming that the Apostles had a Protestant view of the Bible, which they did not. It’s a mistake to read the 16th century back into the first. Read their context instead of imposing assumptions about the “Bible” on the New Testament and early Church. The Orthodox, who are the same people whom God used to give us the canon of Scripture in the first place, still remember how they have always read Scripture. They are not a modern movement but simply the same continuous Church that uses Scripture in the same continuous way.

      There are a number of examples in the NT that represent fragments of early “Creeds” generally that would have been used at Baptism and for the teaching of the faith. The opening verses of 1 Corinthians 15 are just such an example. It too uses the formula, “What I received I delivered (traditioned)” and St. Paul recounts the most primitive recitation of the resurrection. But it begins with a creedal form.

      Of course, since many Protestants do not have a creed, they wouldn’t recognize one even when it occurs in Scripture. It is like many things. Having separated themselves from Holy Tradition, they do not see things that are obvious and they think they see other things that are not there.

      Everyone reads through some sort of Tradition. Evangelicals have a tradition, they just don’t call it that. There is some “teacher” whom various people follow, and they see his matrix of thought in the pages of Scripture. But such matrixes are without authority and do not represent the apostolic deposit of faith – only various systems invented by men. Fortunately, the text of Scripture itself can help prevent some errors – though not all. The Arians quoted Scripture, as did all the early heretics. The Apostolic Tradition, including proper historic succession in ordination, teaching and communion, was one of those marks looked for in the early Church.

      The Christian Church is not something to be reinvented. It is the gift of God. It is not the following of a book, though we believe the Scriptures to be the Word of God. But it is of the Church that Scripture says it is the “pillar and ground of truth.” There are other such statements. The exaltation of Scripture as something apart from and over the Church is itself, not Scriptural. They are not separate. The Epistles are letters to the Church, while St. Paul says that the Corinthians are “my epistle, written on the fleshy tables of the heart.”

      Those who actually knew the Apostles treated Tradition in the same manner in which the Orthodox Church does. That seems sufficient explanation.

      from John (not me:)

      Thank you for your response. Respectfully, I am not assuming anything. I am simply attempting to read the text with an open mind, seeking truth.

      To quote the patristics from the 300’s, or even the 100’s, is irrelevant. It would seem to be begging the question. Is there a passage in the NT that authorizes using teaching beyond the NT as authoritative? Can it be shown, from the NT, that the tradition to which it refers is something beyond NT texts?

      What is your understanding of “perfect/complete” in 2 Timothy 3.17? What is your understanding of “once for all” in Jude 3?

      Thank you.

      from Fr. Stephen:

      First, I’m not sure there is anything in the NT that “authorizes” the NT. It’s authorization, if you will, is itself an Apostolic Tradition. When the NT says Scripture, it clearly means the OT. But the Church understands the NT as Scripture and authoritative. But you cannot posit the NT as prior to the Church. The verse from 2 Thessalonians, clearly sees a function for Tradition, and there is no reason to read that (from the text) that assumes that these “traditions” are somehow superseded by a text that is yet to come. They are traditions (of word or epistle).

      2 Timothy is clearly a reference to the OT – the NT does not come to be described as “Scripture” until well into the 2nd century (not that its authority is weakened by that). I think perfect and complete refer to spiritual maturity and not to any sense that “now you have all the information you need there will be no use for tradition.”

      The notion of the “complete” NT is a very modern idea – an interpretation put forward within fundamentalist protestantism that is simply novel in the Christian interpretation of Scripture. Thus in 1 Corinthians 13 “when that which is perfect shall come” clearly refers to the fulfillment of the eschaton, not the completion of the NT.

      In Jude, once and for all, is the Apostolic deposit of faith, which certainly includes Scripture, but is also the whole life of the Church, including its Tradition (which is not an addition of later information). The doctrine of the Trinity, for instance, is not a development, but a vocalization of what the Church always believed and of the Apostolic foundation, even if the Apostles would not have put it in terms of ousia and hypostasis (just to use an example).

      Vestments and many things about the services are not necessarily thought of as “Tradition” in Orthodoxy. Tradition is the indwelling of the Church by the same Spirit that “raised Christ from the dead,” the “Spirit that leads us into all Truth.” There could be no reading of the Scripture and discernment of its meaning without that Spirit. Tradition is a way we describe the fact that we have the same faith that the Apostles have – and not simply a love a antiquity.

      We would say that Jude 3 refers to the “faith” once and for all delivered. The “faith” generally is not used in the NT as a synonym for Scripture but is indeed the deposit of the faith (which Jude indeed mentions in 17 and 18 of that “spoken” by the Apostles (which is certainly echoed particularly in St. Paul’s pastoral epistles). But there is no evidence that the readers of Jude would as yet have any knowledge of the letters to Timothy and Titus. But they, as did all the Churches, knew the words of the Apostles, which, of course, agree with the writings of the Apostles. That faith was once and for all delivered to the saints (the Church). It was not laying around to be reinvented in the 16th century or in later centuries, but is the one faith, the same faith, which has been preserved in the Orthodox Church (from whom came the martyrs, the fathers, and the single living witness of the Apostles). In the modern world they contributed more martyrs for the faith than in all centuries prior (added together). It’s saints do indeed earnestly contend for the faith and continue to hold fast to that which was once and for all delivered to them. That faith has not been changed nor altered. This cannot be said for Protestant Churches, unfortunately. Many engage in practices unknown as little as 40 years ago or even still more recent. Its theology is a constant moving target reflecting cultural winds and various theological “movements.”

      The letters of the NT, interestingly, with the sole exception of the letter to Rome (which, interestingly was in Greek like the other letters) were written to Churches’ whose address is still an Orthodox Church. Of course they are written to the whole Church – but who can claim to be in communion with those Churches and to share in the same Apostolic life which was and is theirs?

      But no where do any of the Apostles sit down to write a complete treatise on the Christian faith. They write letters very often for very specific purposes. It is the Apostolic Deposit, their “word” to the Churches, that gives us the matrix for reading their writings and interpreting them correctly.

      Forgive me if my tone is too argumentative. I am at a Church assembly this week and only have a limited time to read and respond for the blog. Brevity sometimes is the enemy of kindness – your questions are important, even classical in their form. And they are certainly worthy of conversation.

      from John (not me):

      Thank you for your detailed response.

      I am not positing the NT as prior to the church. The church was established in Acts 2.

      2 Timothy 3 – v 15 is surely the OT. V 16 surely could include the developing NT. Note ‘the Holy Scriptures’ vs ‘all/every Scripture.’ Is all/every of 16 limited to the reference in 15? I’m not so sure that it is. Also, if Scripture of v 16 excludes the NT, then it would appear that one could be ‘complete’ and practice ‘every good work’ (v 17) apart from the NT and apart from Christ, who is revealed in the NT. Why could v 16 not be a reference inclusive of the NT before the second century?

      It seems that the way you are interpreting indwelling of the Spirit comes pretty close to claiming inspiration for the patristics, a claim which I believe you are unwilling to make.

      Jude 3 – While in the vast majority of cases in the NT ‘faith’ means belief producing obedience (I imagine we would agree on that), I have always understood the Jude 3 reference to mean the gospel system of salvation by an obedient faith. You and I have somewhat different backgrounds, in that you’re Catholic and I’m not, so I’m not sure I’m hearing accurately what you are saying relative to your understanding of ‘the faith’ here. For instance, I am uncertain of exactly what you mean by ‘Apostolic Deposit.’ It seems that you are assuming that ‘the faith’ would include later tradition. I have yet to see any evidence from the NT text that later tradition should be accepted as authoritative. The fact that some of the patristics may have taught that is not sufficient proof. There must be a NT passage that demonstrates that what the NT meant by tradition was more than the teaching of the Apostles and the developing NT text.

      from Fr. Stephen:

      On our backgrounds – I am a former Protestant so that I am familiar with a good bit of what you are saying (though I think our Protestant experiences are different). I am not a Roman Catholic, but Eastern Orthodox which has not been in communion with Rome for over a thousand years and has a very different history and understanding of many things. I would like to continue the conversation, though I’ll probably have to take it up next week.

      from Jesse:

      I believe what originally led me to Orthodoxy (and I’m not there yet, not quite) and Tradition was realizing that the New Testament, to which I had attributed ALL authority, was itself a product of tradition. When I realized that the NT was finalized by the same people I had been raised to believe were in “apostasy” by about the time of Constantine, I was forced to make the choice of saying that the NT was a relatively worthless document (like much of contemporary biblical criticism) or of accepting a greater role for tradition. One could, of course, say that the NT document was the culmination and end of the Holy Spirit’s work, but that struck me as being blasphemous (what a relief after learning some more about Orthodoxy to realize that the Holy Spirit could still be alive and powerfully active in the Church!). After accepting that tradition should still be a part of the Christian’s life, it didn’t take long to realize that Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans, and even Roman Catholics didn’t have any more claim to it than the church of Christ did (yes, I’m from the church of Christ as well, John). Thank God that the Orthodox church was slowly entering into the picture, in a variety of ways (that I just now realized might be the work of grace). That is my journey, in a very very small nutshell.

      from John (not me:)

      Jesse: I am not having this discussion because I am considering converting. You need to remain in the church of Christ. Our goal is to restore Christianity as practiced in the NT. I think we have the framework correct. One always needs to work on improving their individual Christian life.

      I have yet to see anything offered which would justify human tradition beyond the NT. If this line of tradition were correct, the danger would be that once a divergence from the NT occurred – there would be no end to it. Should we trust our spiritual lives to a succession of men, or directly to God’s word? If this line of tradition is required, what about those who became Christians in Acts? Did they not know what they were doing?

      I hope to continue this discussion, and I will be the picture of courtesy. But, my intention is to lead a pursuit of truth for us all, and this intention should not be misread. May we all humbly bow before God, and Him only, as we seek to hear, believe, and obey His word.

      from Alex:


      God’s Word is not a book. It is a person – a man. He dwells in Christians, and they in Him. He, the Truth, the Way, and the Life, is a man, not a book. So yes, if you wish to follow Him, you must follow those in whom He dwells.

      The Christians in Acts had an idea of what they were doing – but did they not also hold council to resolve certain disputes not fully understood? What makes you think that nothing could possibly ever come up after the 1st council which would not need to be resolved?

      And what do you think that the Apostles at the Council of Jerusalem referenced? Do you think that they all sat around saying, man, too bad the NT hasn’t been written yet? Preposterous! They were guided by the Spirit of God. Do you think that this Spirit suddenly departed after the NT was completed? If so, then I have some bad news for you – you, and all the rest of us are doomed. After all, the NT does not present itself as its own canon – only the Church can do that, and it has.

      However, the Lord keeps His promise, and He has sent us the Comforter. Regarding your question about inspired ‘patristics’, do you think that the Fathers of the Church are given a different Holy Spirit than the writers of the NT?

      I would encourage you to investigate where the NT that you have so much respect for came from. The only reason that you can even speak of something called the New Testament, as a book, is that the Orthodox Church said so in council, many years after the Apostles fell asleep.

      Therefore, your statement about ‘restoring Christianity as practiced in the NT’ cuts off the branch on which it is sitting – since you assert that the Church which wrote and compiled the NT was in and of itself in spiritual darkness. What evidence outside of the NT do you have that New Testament Christianity is any different that what we claim it is?

      from J.D.:

      I have spent over 60 years in the Church of Christ and was blessed in many ways and in other ways saw behavior that was embarrassing. But no one group has a monopoly on that. I converted about two months ago after four years of absorbing the ancient faith in many ways.

      One of the subtle things I realized regarding the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 was the obvious decision made regarding the Gentiles. The OT is chocked full of the notion that the Gentiles would one day be drawn in. It took the leadership of the church devoid of scripture to decide, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what would be the best way to achieve this to the glory of God and to grace the church and bless the “nations”. When you get over to Acts 16 it says in essence they went town to town delivering this decision (dogma) with obvious authority. The description is not additional scripture it is simply the end game of the church extolling through its authority how this should happen.

      The Church of Christ has a lot of great people who love the Lord, but they got eaten up and eaten by western rationalization.

      God bless them all and God bless those of you who are on the journey from Churches of Christ. When you go from trying to “figure it all out” mentally, to wanting to be in holy communion with God and experiencing what truly is Holy Communion, you will never regret entering the journey to full maturation (theosis).

      from Patrick:


      You are quite clever at avoiding questions put to you while continuing with a line of questioning that stem from false presuppositions. Since you clearly come from a mindset that says “everything must be in the scriptures and if it isn’t in the scripture either implicitly or explicitly then it isn’t true” i.e. Sola Scriptura, then answer:

      1) Where does the NT claim this authority for itself? If you’re so convinced that NT has to qualify everything, why doesn’t it come out and make it clear that the NT writings are the final and only authority for the individual christian? Everything for you about the life of the Christian has to be in the scriptures alone yet the scriptures themselves do not say this. However, the scriptures do give the Church this authority.

      2) How do you trust the NT in the first place since it was canonized by the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church (which you consider false and apostate) in council almost 400 years after the start of the Church?

      3) How did people learn the faith and become christians without a formal NT to guide them during the 400 years when there was no formal NT? Even once the NT was finalized, how did average Christians get their hands on one since there was no printing press but had to be hand copied making them expensive.

      4) How is it that you follow the “tradition” of the “Church of Christ” yet reject tradition? Doesn’t the “Church of Christ” have a specific way of conducting church service every Sunday, a specific way you have of doing things, a specific order to follow every Sunday morning? Isn’t there a specific place where the pulpit sits and a specific time the sermon begins? Where does the NT give you specific directions of how to conduct your Sunday morning worship? It doesn’t. Therfore, doesn’t the “Church of Christ” have it’s own “tradition?” Did the Apostles pass on this unwritten tradition to you? Tell me, which “Church of Christ” father was around in the first century that has passed on the tradition to which you now hold? Or does the “Church of Christ” start over brand new every Sunday morning so as not to be seen as holding to tradition?

      Please, I would like to know.

      from David:

      There are no churches of Christ or Church of Christ or any other such thing. It doesn’t exist. Though you can find many buildings around the country with such labels on the front lawn.

      Rationalistic non-denominationalism is a philosophical idea. For a time, and within a certain group of naturally like-minded persons predisposed to the experiment it inspired a movement. This movement almost immediately fell off the tracks and has remained so ever sense.

      There is no “there” there. When someone says, you should come back to the church, I must admit that I have no idea what they are talking about.

      True Knowledge of God--Living the Tradition

      from Fr. Stephen, in the comments:

      1. There is no such thing as the “New Testament” Church. This is a fiction – an imaginary description of the Church that grows out of certain forms of Protestant thought. It has a particular history in 19th century America, where a number of individuals and groups set out to recreate, restore or otherwise establish the “New Testament Church.” The Mormons are an example. Joseph Smith claimed to have refounded the New Testament Church with visitations to him of John the Baptist, the Apostles, Jesus, and no less than God the Father and the Holy Spirit (complete with feathers). Other groups attempted the same thing. In Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Tennessee the so-called Restoration Movement had its beginnings as well. With them an extreme form of the Protestant Sola Scriptura (Scripture Only) was used to establish a new, restored “New Testament Church.”

      But there is no such thing. The Church existed before the New Testament was written – thus to name it by something that was created through it would be absurd. The Scripture calls the Church many things: the Body of Christ, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, the Fullness of Him that Filleth All and All.

      The adjectives this Church came to use in subsequent centuries are noted in the Nicene Creed: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. During the centuries in which this same Church, founded by Christ, suffered to preserve the faith that had once and for all been delivered to it, it came to use yet another adjective to differentiate it from those who held false beliefs. Believers came to refer to the Church as the Orthodox Church, an adjective still in general use.

      It was this very Church that was first called “Christian” in the city of Antioch, whose Patriarch continues to this day, holding the same faith as Peter and Paul and others who have graced that God-protected Church. His line of succession can be recited without fear of contradiction to this day.

      2. The Scriptures are a great gift to the Church (though in the pages of the NT the word “Scriptures” generally only refers to the OT, the only “Scriptures” known to the Church of the first century. St. Justin Martyr, writing in the 2nd century, refers to the gospels as the “memoirs of the Apostles.” But it was the Church, established by Christ, that came to accept the books that now comprise the “New Testament” as authoritative and declared them as the authoritative canon in the 4th century. They were certainly used and quoted authoritatively before that on account of their Apostolic origin. However, Christ did not command the Apostles to write books. They did write, and as with their other actions (teachings, etc.) they were treated as authoritative.

      But they were Apostles (those who are sent). They obeyed Christ’s command to “go forth into the world and make disciples, teaching them to observe whatsoever things I have commanded you, Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Thus they traveled and established communities of believers, appointing leaders within those communities (Bishops, presbyters, deacons, etc.). The bishops were charged with shepherding the young communities and held the authority of the Apostles in those communities. Only those communities whose bishops were in communion (holding the same faith and practice) with other communities of apostolic origin were considered faithful Christian communities. These communities did not disappear nor did they alter the faith (or if the faith was altered, they were expelled from the communion of the one Church). They continue to this day, without disruption. What was delivered to them they kept.

      It is incorrect to refer to the “New Testament Church.” It would be more accurate to say, “The Church’s New Testament.”

      3. Some within the Protestant family have made of the bible a “Christian Koran,” reducing Christianity to a “people of the book.” They define Christianity and the Church by its obedience to Scripture and set themselves as the only authoritative interpreters. They have no warrant for such a claim – no appointment by the Apostles to such an office. They are an American fiction – born of the 19th century hubris of this land which considered itself the birthplace of all good things. Not content with unjust claims to an entire continent – its people sought to claim for themselves the title of “New Testament Church”.

      4. The Apostles were obedient to Christ. They preached, taught and baptized. They appointed leaders (including an additional Apostle for the Twelve) according to the authority given them. They met in Council (recorded in the book of Acts) and made authoritative decisions for the Church. Their successors, the bishops, would also meet in council when necessary, and make authoritative decisions for the life of the Church and for its continued faithfulness. Those who would ask “where is the warrant in Scripture for such authority” need look no further than Titus 2:15 “Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.” Titus was a Bishop, appointed by St. Paul. Those who taught and exercised authority neither added to nor subtracted from the faith that had been delivered to them.

      5. The content of that faith is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The teachings concerning that salvation are important and authoritative – but the teachings serve a greater purpose: to communicate Christ Himself, not information about Christ. We are not saved by information but by the indwelling of Christ with whom we have been made one in Holy Baptism, by whom we have been anointed with the Holy Spirit in Chrismation, through whom the continued authority He established is confirmed in ordination, etc. But all things are for the excellency of knowing Christ, who alone is our salvation.

      There were Christians who lived during the first century (part of what others falsely call the “New Testament Church”) who fell away and were lost. St. Paul himself mentions two of these: Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20). The creation of a “New Testament” Church offers no guarantees of salvation. Christ alone is our salvation – and He was not rediscovered in 19th century America.

      6. There is a Church that has kept the faith. It authoritatively declared the content of the canon of Scripture for it alone knew the word of the Apostles. Its faithful labored endlessly, and copied manuscripts of the Scripture by hand (as they did everything else we currently have from the ancient Western world). Those who today arrogantly or ignorantly claim to have restored the New Testament Church do so with a book for which they did not die, did not labor, did not produce, with whose keeping they were not entrusted. They have not given the world the millions of martyrs of the Orthodox Church and yet they would steal for themselves the title of “Church.”

      The simple reading of history in these matters should lead to conclusions that show such claims to be false. I believe that many hunger for a “New Testament Church” for salutary reasons, but are greatly mistaken about the nature of Christian history and the work of God for our salvation. They have a distorted understanding of what the Bible itself is, having created a “holy book” for themselves that is best compared to the Muslim view of the Koran. They may be called “Bible Christians” but they are not “Church Christians” for they cannot create for themselves something that is the creation of God alone.

      These seem to me to be some points worth noting.

      The Orthodox Reading of Scripture

      The answer goes to the heart of the matter. What is the matrix by which you seek to interpret Scripture and by what authority do you use it? Anyone who says he just reads the Scripture and that there is no matrix by which he interprets is deceiving himself and his listeners and not admitting that he has already accepted a matrix and on its basis he selects Scripture to fit his point. There really is no other way to read.

      Orthodoxy has never denied this. Instead, like Irenaeus, it points to that which it has received. Irenaeus called it the “Apostolic Hypothesis.” It has also been called the “rule of faith,” and various other names. But if you have not accepted this “matrix” you cannot interpret Scripture in the form of the Apostles or their successors or the Church that Christ founded.

      Others accept as their matrix a statement of faith written 1500 years later, constructed on a matrix invented by medieval scholastics who sought to reform the Church. They had no command from God, no conversation with the Apostles, nothing but their own ideas and rationality from which to construct new matrixes. From Germany Luther gave us his “salvation by grace through faith,” and read the Scriptures accordingly. Calvin gave us his matrix of the sovereignty of God. Neither could speak with authority or true assurance and neither would have succeeded in their reform had the state not conveniently enforced it with the sword (read the history). The Reformation never succeeded without the state’s cooperation and frequently suceeded by drastically destroying property and torturing its opposition. Not that this was not followed by a war from Catholic authorities. All of these things happened apart from Holy Orthodoxy. But the myth of a popular uprising cleansing the Church of false doctrine, fostered for years by Protestant historians is simply a fabrication.

      More to the point of this post – the matrix of Protestant interpretation, though frequently seeking for something like the Apostolic Hyposthesis, in many places failed to adhere to that primitive standard.

      Christian doctrine is not a battle over the Scriptures. Sola Scriptura has not worked and never did. Such an approach simply leads to endless argument and confusion. Others may claim to use the “plain sense” of Scripture or some other 18th century rationalist construct. Such constructs are no more effective than other failed efforts of Sola Scriptura. Either we embrace the faith of the Apostles, once and for all delivered to the saints, or else we exile ourselves to confusion or, worse yet, to the false guidance of those who never sat in the seat of the Apostles.

      Speaking With Authority

      The authority of Scripture is Christ Himself – and the authority of Scripture comes only through union with Christ – crucified and risen. The authority of St. Paul (at least the authority to which he pointed) is not found in his apostleship – but rather in his weakness – his union with the crucified Jesus:

      If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness (2 Corinthians 11:30).


      I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).

      This, it seems to me, is a particular problem for those who would exalt a method of interpretation and the “authority” of the Scriptures over the lived reality of the Apostles and those appointed to succeed them – most of whom died a martyr’s death. The authority of the Cross, of a life lived in conformity with the crucified Christ, bears an authenticity in interpreting the word of God that is simply missing in various modern systems of rational interpretation. Where are the marks of the Lord Jesus in man-made rational systems?

      Selected comments, below:

      from John (not me):

      Do you not need a NT text that authorizes going beyond the NT for authority? It seems to me to be essential if you are going to jump from the NT to church history. I am not aware of any such text.

      On the appeal to martyrdom, what about the other religions who can introduce a long list of their own martyrs? I have had that point offered to me as an objection to Christianity. I do not believe you can prove the truthfulness of a doctrine by the martyrdom of its proponents.

      We all appeal to reason every day. We would be dysfunctional without it. Why do you have such a problem with using the mind God gave us when it comes to the Bible? Did God reveal Himself so that only a few could understand His message? How do we know which “few”? We have to use reason whether we read the Bible for ourselves or allow someone else to do that for us. You can play the “Locke card” all day and all night, but you can’t escape the use of human intellect to understand God’s message, or any other communication. I ask again, Is God not capable of giving a communication that can be understood?

      It is getting awkward talking with you without using your name. You know I can’t call you “Father,” and hopefully you know by now that I am not attempting to be rude. I just can’t do that. I will call you “Stephen” and please call me “John.” Also, as you know by now, I am not a prospect for conversion to Orthodoxy. However it is hoped that we both can grow by discussing Biblical teaching with the desire to trust and obey Biblical truth.

      from Fr. Stephen:


      I understand about the use of the title “Father.” You shouldn’t violate your conscience in the matter – I wouldn’t want you to.

      The absolute distinction between Scripture and the Church in which it was written is, to me, an example of a reductionist principle. The Scripture cannot be lifted out of the context of the life of the Church – it would be as though one was “disincarnating” the word of God. The life of that Church has a real history with real people whose names we know and whose testimony we know. That the Orthodox Church is that same Church is simply historically accurate. That the Scriptures are taken away from that Church to be used to serve another group, is, of course, possible. But not reasonable except according to certain a priori assumptions.

      Where you and I probably differ the most is that we have very different a priori assumptions. You would say that your assumptions are “Scriptural.” I would say that the assumptions come first and have then been applied as a hermeneutic to Scripture.

      As an Orthodox Christian, I would say that the hermeneutic of Scripture begins in the Church – the community founded by Christ – to whom the Scriptures were written and through whom they were and are interpreted.

      There is something of a “hermeutical circle” that has to start somewhere which always gets us into a priori assumptions. Even reason has to have a tradition by which it reasons.

      One of my complaints with Locke (to use the card) is that the Enlightenment understanding of reason (whether it is Locke or some other Enlightenment figure) is a cultural tradition that is mostly an illustration of its century (ies), not an absolute objective example of some God-given faculty.

      Another objection to the “rational” approach to Biblical interpretation is that the Scriptures are not given in a “rational” form. The Scriptures are not a collection of syllogisms. They are letters, gospels (which is a very unique form of writing) prophetic books, poetry, Law, etc. The Church bears witness that these are the Word of God but how that functions in the life of the Church is not to treat them like syllogistic texts. A story and a syllogism are very different things.

      from Brantley:


      If the authors of the text of the New Testament were God inspired, weren’t the ones who decided which texts to include in the canon also inspired?

      And with respect to the New Testament “authorizing” some tradition outside of itself, it seems that 2nd Thessalonians 2:15 would seem to be a direct answer to your question. Any other way of reading it would seem to be a twisting of meaning to make it mean what you want it to mean. (I’m aware that you’ve already commented on this passage in another thread, but if it’s not possible for you to read those verses without honestly realizing that there were traditions that were not documented at that time, I don’t know that there’s anything anyone here can tell you that would be edifying for you.)

      Not to be ironic, it seems to me that it may simply NOT be possible to encapsulate the Logos of God with words.

      For example, when Luke and Cleopas were on the road to Emmaus, they talked extensively (hours!) with Jesus. Where is the record of that conversation? Did Luke and Cleopas take it to their graves? What do you suppose they talked about? Why was it not written down?

      Monday, August 03, 2009

      Mark Hackard on Foreign Policy

      The foreign policy essays of Mark Hackard have recently come to my attention. I like what this young man has to say, particularly in regard to 2 areas of keen interest to me: Russia and Turkey, and our complicated relations with each. I always enjoy foreign policy discussions that are based on realism rather than ideology. Here is a sampling from recent months:

      Re: Biden’s comment about Russia

      Biden may have been “blunt”, in the words of the media, but he was also obtuse. He doesn’t merit excessive reproach, since he was simply reflecting US foreign policy consensus, which is informed by the view that economics is the determining factor in national power and even life itself…. for such men there is no higher sacrament than the financial transaction.…[they] see culture, religion, and centuries of tradition as the superstructure- merely contingent effects- of market forces.

      Such an impoverished view of existence is indeed the ruling ethic in contemporary society throughout much of the world…. Biden leaves no room for cultural considerations or Moscow’s vital interests in his analysis of Russia…

      Liberal ideology has long been triumphant in the West, but if Russian culture can successfully repulse these phenomena and reassert the centrality of religious truth and tradition, it could give the Occident hope for the future.

      Full article, here.

      Role Reversal in the new Cold War:

      The United States and Russia appear to be gearing up for a second round of the Cold War….Like the previous conflict, Cold War II will be defined by ideology. But this time around, wild-eyed revolutionaries aren’t hatching plots behind the walls of the Kremlin; their offices are right inside the Beltway….The situation differs markedly from the Cold War, when Western strategic planners banked on Soviet armor crashing through the Fulda Gap as the first step in the conquest of Europe. Moscow has no such capacity today—it seeks to secure a regional sphere of influence and the energy corridors therein simply to survive. With Russia’s population projected to fall from 141 million this year to around 135 million in 2020, the Kremlin is looking to hold the line in time for the nation to regenerate. The Russians have neither the desire nor the means for extravagant foreign adventures. In the face of U.S. encirclement, Putin and his subordinates are assuming an ultimately defensive posture.

      Beyond geopolitics, the antagonism between Washington and Moscow has experienced a reversal of roles in the arena of ideology….How times have changed! When Russia today opposes Kosovo independence or articulates its regional role in terms of history, culture, and ethnic solidarity, it looks downright counterrevolutionary.

      Today Russia’s counterintelligence service, the FSB, maintains an Orthodox Church on the grounds of its headquarters at Lubyanka Square. It is nonetheless remarkable to see one of the Soviet Union’s top cold warriors profess Orthodox Christianity and call for the rebirth of tradition in Russian society. Nikolai Leonov wasn’t just any KGB officer; he was Moscow’s original point man for contacts with Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the Castro brothers before the Cuban Revolution….The wreckage of Communism left Russians in an ideological void, and the chaotic 1990s gave them little hope in market democracy or the oligarchs who looted the country at will. Demographic freefall, crumbling infrastructure and other socio-economic ills have their roots in the Soviets’ murderous imposition of modern ideology. What Lenin and his successors wrought, however, was only aggravated by initiatives at westernization. Wars in Chechnya, NATO expansion, and U.S. lectures on human rights and “backsliding” on democracy played a large part in Russia’s disillusionment with the values espoused by the contemporary West.

      Many Russians, including influential men such as Leonov, returned to their faith and the centuries of tradition reflective of the truth it reveals. They also rediscovered the Church as the principal source of order in society. As the old spy asserts,

      "Orthodoxy is Russia’s one common bond. The historic role of the Church in the fate of the country, its spiritual authority, moral legitimacy, and the deepest national roots make Orthodoxy a most important component in our ideology."

      Per Russian tradition, Leonov and like-minded colleagues support a powerful state, but in light of the Soviet experience are conscious that unity cannot be imposed upon a people through administration or coercion. The harmony of a nation derives from shared culture, the source of which is the cult, man’s relation to the transcendent. (emphasis mine)

      The revival of Orthodoxy and a Christian worldview in the land of the Tsars still faces formidable challenges. Corruption, hypocrisy and the abuse of authority are ever-present in Russian society, though such phenomena are hardly limited to Russia alone. Pernicious remnants of the Soviet legacy, such as abortion and the callous regard for human life it implies, create profound psychic and spiritual trauma, as well as a tortured national conscience. Modern Russians are also well acquainted with Western-style consumerism and hedonism. Yet in spite of these numerous dysfunctions, the hazy realization that men and nations form part of a divine order is becoming clearer.

      As Russia returns to the status of a conservative power, the United States has enthusiastically taken up the revolutionary mantle.

      In the U.S.-Soviet competition, the Bolshevik ideology was more radical than liberalism, but only in a relative sense. Both systems affirm only material realities and lead man to spiritual desolation. With the defeat of Communism, Washington could attend to the enforcement of its own transnational vision. U.S. foreign policy has functioned as an instrument of revolution, from the “humanitarian” bombing of Serbia to attempts to reform Muslim societies and Islam itself.

      Living up to its revolutionary nature, liberal internationalism shares a series of practices with its vanquished Soviet rival. Most noteworthy is a heavy reliance on covert action….U.S. foreign policy is carried out under the banner of progress, not only for rhetorical purposes, but because American leadership in “expanding the frontiers of freedom” is taken as a matter of faith. A radiant future for humanity is the promise of all modern ideology, though it varies in its forms. What is constant is a materialist reductionism that divorces man from the realm of the spirit. In this way individuals and entire peoples are deprived of uniqueness, traditions, and their place in the Cosmos. Global democratic capitalism, administered by our enlightened elites, corrodes faith, family and culture just as surely as Soviet state socialism. (emphasis mine)Marx’s appeal to the proletariat has given way to the equally soulless and inane “Consumers of the world unite!”

      A discussion of man’s place in the Universe might seem far afield from talk of a second Cold War, but it is intimately connected. Beneath the dynamics of US-Russian strategic rivalry is an underlying battle of ideas. However inadvertently, the conversions of former KGB men can remind us of our own religious tradition, obscured by modernity but not yet lost. The secular parody of universal brotherhood, dedicated to accumulation and enjoyment, only leaves us isolated from each other and the source of life itself.

      Full article, here.

      Turkey Rising

      In 1914, on the very eve of the Great War, G.K. Chesterton published his humorous novel The Flying Inn. The story concerned a Turkish plot to invade England, all with the connivance of Britain’s progressive elite….Chesterton sought to convey the central truth that seemingly fantastic turns of events can come about through spiritual collapse. This assertion was proved correct outside the pages of his book. As Europeans, supremely confident of their material civilization, plunged into industrial-scale suicide, hindsight shows us that physical disaster was preceded by disaster in higher realms. Philosophers, statesmen and scientists rejected their ancient Christian faith to exalt the seemingly limitless potential of man. It is therefore ironic that the very circumstances of The Flying Inn hint at correspondence with today’s geopolitics. A century later, Turkey is ascendant, and Islamic inroads into Europe are aided and abetted by the ruling classes of the West.

      The symbolic culmination of American support of Turkish power has been U.S. backing for Turkey’s accession into the European Union. In his Ankara speech, Obama explained this policy in the following terms:

      “Turkey is bound to Europe by more than the bridges over the Bosporus. Centuries of shared history, culture, and commerce bring you together. Europe gains by the diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith- it is not diminished by it. And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe’s foundation once more.”

      Turkey is bound to Europe by invasion. This is the source of Obama’s pleasant-sounding “centuries of shared history.” The Byzantine Empire, longtime guardian of Christianity in the East, was conquered in a series of campaigns by the Seljuks and Ottomans, Turkic tribes that swept in from the steppes of Central Asia. History acts as a witness. Ankara could receive EU membership tomorrow, but Turkey has never been European in any meaningful sense. As the armies of Suleiman the Magnificent battered against the walls of Vienna in 1683, the city’s defenders understood this implicitly.

      Identity is often less a matter of race than of religion and cultural heritage. (emphasis mine) The Bulgarians, for example, were a Turkic people that adopted Slavic ways and accepted Christianity. Magyars, horsemen from Siberia and the terror of 10th-century Christendom, under St. Stephen founded the Kingdom of Hungary. Europe, whatever the drafters of the multivolume EU Constitution might suppose, can ultimately only be defined through the origins of a common Christian culture. The Ottomans long commanded suzerainty across the Balkans and Mediterranean as conquerors, but they were never of Europe. Turkey maintains an undeniably rich and unique culture, but its core and overall character are Islamic and Asiatic.

      U.S. advocacy of Turkey’s integration into Europe is just one facet of a long-held revolutionary dream that has shaped the leaders of Western societies. This vision seeks to overturn natural order in favor of an atomizing egalitarianism that can conceive of nothing above economic expediency and the whims of the sovereign will. Every measure of its progress leads individuals and entire nations further into dissolution. Sufficient tragedy has already resulted from European governing classes’ abandonment of religious tradition and its cultural vessels, from mass politics and mechanized slaughter to crime-infested third world ghettoes that abut red light districts. There is little reason to allow Turkey into Europe if a spiritually bankrupt modern West is to someday have a chance at renewal.

      Turkey is an Islamic power with its own interests, its own civilization and its own cultural mission. NATO allies or not, Ankara’s Christian neighbors in Greece, the Balkans and the Caucasus know this fact well. Their peaceful acceptance of Turkish regional primacy will be unlikely….As the Turks make their return to the arena of great states, the ages-old enmity between Islam and the West will assume dimensions previously unimagined.

      The U.S. embrace of Turkey is symptomatic of our secular elites’ disdain for the roots of Western culture, and their desire to replace it with something wholly alien. Such are the wages of an empty and world-flattening humanism. Rather than explore our natural bonds with the Orthodox Christian nations to better confront the challenges of Islam and China, Washington antagonizes and attempts to encircle a Russia still scarred from the ravages of Communist rule. (emphasis mine) Who will protect the tattered remnants of Christendom and aid in its recovery? Elected officials, bureaucrats, corporate executives and judges on both sides of the Atlantic are engaged in an unceasing campaign to destroy any traces of its vitality.

      Full article, here.

      Confronting Jihad

      The effort to impose some modern notion of “stability” onto tribally based societies is indeed a counterproductive exercise in social engineering writ large…. Containment of jihadism would not entail a Cold War-style grand ideological contest between the U.S. and elements within the Islamic world. The past eight years are enough to show us that such an enterprise is worse than pointless. The U.S. may build as many new schools, medical clinics and water treatment plants in Afghanistan as it desires, but it cannot build a new culture, and culture is what counts. Attempting by material means, even with the world’s most capable military, to transform a people’s tribal and religious customs to our liking is a fool’s errand. Refraining from interference in the domestic affairs of Muslim states would diminish one of the main justifications terror groups such as Al Qaeda use to replenish their ranks.

      From Los Angeles to London, signs of decadence and breakdown are only symptoms of the wider disorder wrought by the embrace of Enlightenment ideologies that have torn the West from the transcendent.

      A call for the restoration of Christianity in the West seems radical only because secular thought is so entrenched after a century of total war and rejection of the moral order in every sphere of life. Although it might look unassailable, the success of modernity is leading to its unraveling as economic collapse and societal disintegration beckon. The ideals of unlimited growth and the individual sovereign will, unquestioned dogmata of the American civic religion, are beginning to bear their bitter fruits. Jihadists pose a danger to us precisely because of our civilization’s advanced state of rot.

      To turn away from the path to self-destruction will demand not only smarter strategy in politics foreign and domestic, but at root a shift in faith and worldview. Wars to spread “liberty” and “human rights” are profoundly at odds with the teachings of the Prince of Peace. The cults of devotion to the phantoms of progress, material advancement, or perpetual adolescence bring ultimate ruin in their wake. No matter how disheartening the present circumstances may seem, hope can burn bright for the future through our own actions. The Truth that has been forgotten can be remembered; what spiritual treasures lost, rediscovered.

      Full story, here.