Two Orthodoxies

I have thought to write this for a while but I have struggled to define what I understand as two diverging ways of thinking within the Orthodox Church today. These two streams are perhaps best illustrated with the Old Calendar schisms at perhaps one end, rather better to illustrate using the Monasteries on Mt Athos, and the in comparison the modern tendencies seen in some US and UK parishes.

Both groups claim a commitment to the Orthodox Faith and in some regard to Tradition. This latter point is where one can see the divergence most clearly; in how one regards the practice of Tradition and what they mean when they say “living Tradition”.

The best way of thinking about the motivation and mindset between the differences is rather more to do with the submission of the mind. Does one submit the mind to that of the Fathers and see and describe the world through their lenses, however, “out of touch” it may be with modern thinking or does one submit to modern thinking however “out of touch” it is with Patristic thinking (although this is rather a reinterpretation of the Fathers to fit with modern thinking by a process of accepting what is compatible and rejecting those parts not so by attributing them to cultural norms and influences of the Fathers’ time)? One in effect understands Tradition above time, place and culture and the other understands it as within culture and shaped by it. Both would argue that this is the mind of the Fathers and correctly corresponds with the Churches presence in the world: one tending to emphasise the eternal aspect and the other the historical.

Modern thinking has had a huge impact on Tradition and the work of many scholars has cut right to the root of Tradition and seemingly ripped the core out with their research and reinterpretation of history. The question is how are we to take this modern thinking. Do we accept it as being the most accurate because it is most up to date or do we ignore it as being of no importance or do we engage it and critique it? Many it would seem, especially among the intellectuals of Orthodoxy have accepted modern thinking and reworked Orthodoxy around this. Others have ignored it and continued with the Traditions such as some monks on Mt Athos. A few have tried to critique it in defence of traditional views.

While, I think that modern scholarship needs to be taken into account and addressed carefully, I would say that one needs great care before accepting it. That is because it is not based on submission to Tradition but one the research of those who are critical of Tradition, who do not approach Tradition with faith, whether inside or outside the Church. It is based on many modern humanistic assumptions that are not those of the Fathers nor of Christ. In fact most of those brought up with some from of Western based education are influenced by this, which makes accepting the thoughts of the Fathers very difficult. Such as how many of us would readily accept St Basil the Great’s instruction that it is best for a wife to stay with a husband who beats her? If one submits to the Father then one learns some important aspects of the mind of the Fathers and of the Church and would find themselves in reflection agreeing with St Basil because his teaching is in line with Orthodox Christian spirituality. I personally think that if one cannot accept his teaching then one has not yet understand nor obtained the Orthodox/Fathers/Christ’s mind, distinguishing between the principle and the application of this teaching to modern times.

I believe that the Orthodox path is first to submit to the Tradition and accept it as one’s own, as it is. Until such thinking is done, one cannot grasp the mind of the Fathers. Only then can we tailor Tradition to meet the modern world, so that it is preserved and not changed. Those who have submitted to modern thinking and try to fit Orthodoxy to this will go astray and change the Tradition without understanding it. There are many good questions raised by modern thinking that should not be ignored but these need to addressed from within Tradition in the terms of Tradition and not in the terms of modern thought.

Tradition is the Life of Christ expressed in the Church. It is Truth; a personal and living Truth that is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow because it is Christ Himself. Thus, where modern thinking is contrary to this it must be a lie and needs to be shown as such. Submitting to modern thinking first is do deny the continuing presence of Christ in the Church, His Body, and to submit to those of men. This way of thinking will lead Christianity to becoming another world religion and another social organisation that seeks the betterment of the world as an end in itself rather than seeking first the Kingdom of Heaven and then seeing the world confirmed to and transformed by this by being encompassed in it, that is the Church, which is in this world but not of it, while waiting for the final day when all things will be renewed. Modern thinking is becoming increasingly debased from the Gospel and hence increasingly “out of touch” with the Church. It is not Tradition that is “out of touch” because it is in touch with the True Life, Who is Christ, the world rather is moving further from Him and “out of touch” by rejecting His Life and substituting one of its own, which is bound to die because it is bound to this world of time and space.


6 Responses to Two Orthodoxies

  1. Isaac says:

    Which thinkers are diverging from that Tradition, in your opinion?

  2. monkpatrick says:


    I haven’t anyone in mind particularly but rather opinions of friends that seem to have these ideas and source them in Orthodox circles especially regarding practices and fidelity to the Fathers in Tradition. In other areas, such as the development of Christian thought, I have seen in some works from Orthodox scholars, such as Fr Andrew Louth, a tendency to regard Christian mystical thinkers as, or taking many ideas from, Platonists, or rather neo-Platonists, rather than stressing foremost the Scriptural background and Tradition. I find this link troubling, although there may be much merit in their position. However, there seems, nevertheless, to be many assumptions at work that need engaging and it is not easy to sort them out. This may not mean the Fr Andrew is diverging from the Tradition in this matter but that his manner in discussing things, perhaps playing to his wider audience, seems to be making Christianity, and its experience, a development of human thought rather than a real relationship with God in Christ. This was accessible from the time of Christ and even experienced in the OT and it has no need for Platonist theories, although the conceptual language of the Platonists can be useful to help express Christian experience and theology.

  3. Fr. Maximus says:

    Fr. Patrick,

    Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

    I am not sure if you meant to be ironic by the title of this post, but it seems that way to one who is inclined toward the former of your two orthodoxies. For someone who reads the Fathers as the Fathers read the Fathers, and truly partakes of holy tradition, there is only one faith. Anything else is not orthodoxy but heresy. That is why the members of the former group consider the members of the latter group to be heretics.

    I think also that there are plenty of people in the former group who are willing to explain the errors of modern thought and not simply reject it without consideration (not that such an out-of-hand rejection is necessarily bad, since a person with a good conscience can whiff out evil from a distance without an in-depth analysis of it.)

  4. photios says:

    I just don’t understand this anxiousness that some have of having to give immediate responses to secular questions.

  5. Lazarus says:

    Romans 12:2 — take your pick…

    New International Version (©1984)
    Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

    New Living Translation (©2007)
    Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

    English Standard Version (©2001)
    Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

    So, it seems, we are to be conformed to Christ, Who came to reveal to us the perfect will of the Father. Christ is the head of the Church, and we are the members of the His Body. He is the Vine, we are the branches.

    What, then, do we have to do with the world and its cultures? He said the world would hate us because we are not its own…

  6. Thank you for the great quality of your blog. I took the liberty of translating one of your articles ( Two Orthodoxies) into French. It will appear in two parts on Dec.28, and Dec. 29, 2010 on my blog
    Yours in Christ,

    Subdeacon Claude (Lopez-Ginisty)

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