A Gift For a Protestant Friend
by Fr. George Maximov
Publisheder Orthodox Mission Society named after St. Serapion Kozheozersky Moscow, 2017 Recommended for publication by the Publishing Council of the Russian Orthodox Church IS R17-6220860
Fr George Maximov A Gift for a Protestant Friend. Orthodox Mission Society named after Saint Serapion Kozheozersky, “Saint Peter and Saint Paul Mission Movement” Charity Fund: M., 2017. 64 pages.
This brochure offers calm and friendly answers to the questions which are most frequently addressed to Orthodox people by Protestants and suggests that we discuss our main differences within Bible.
From the author
This brochure is written by an Orthodox priest primarily for Protestants (in the widest meaning of this word), though it can be interesting for an Orthodox reader too.
Our God Jesus Christ said about His disciples: «that all of them may be one» (John 17:21). However it is clear that there is no unanimity between Orthodox and Protestants. Why so? There are Orthodox books written for Orthodox people explaining the reasons of the split, and there are Protestant books written for Protestant readers with the same purpose. But it seems like we lack books which would not be restricted to a particular audience but would pursue to start a dialogue. This brochure is exactly one of the kind.
It is called “A Gift for a Protestant Friend”, because it is written not to blame Protestants, but to help them in a friendly and brother-like manner understand what prevents us from being united, explain the differences between us. Over recent years I had to talk to Protestants several times and answer their questions which would often repeat. In this small brochure a Protestant reader will find Orthodox answers to the most frequently asked questions and also perhaps will look under a new angle at some topics habitual for him.
What is the main difference between us - Orthodox and Protestant people? Many of us would say: the way we treat icons, saints, infant baptism and so on, and we are unlikely to hear: “the understanding of the Church”. However, this is the most important thing. And one should start with it.
Sometimes I got to see the unwillingness of Protestant friends to discuss this topic -the main thing is that we all believe in Jesus Christ, they would say, while everything else is not so important. But just think about it: do you know at least one verse from the Bible which would talk about Church or belonging to it as of something not serious and unimportant?
The Church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1Timothy 3:15), therefore to find oneself out of Church means to be out of truth. Church is the only community which is called the Body of the Christ (see Ephesians 1:22-23), therefore to find oneself out of Church means to be out of the Body of Christ, that is out of Christ. Is it a small thing? Is it not the matter which deserves the most serious consideration? But we will not be able to respond to the question whether we are in or out of Church unless we understand what the Church of Christ is.
Any Protestant is likely to say that the denomination he belongs to at the moment is exactly the Church of Christ. But he is well aware that his denomination appeared not so long ago, by historical standards - from several years ago to, in the best case, the beginning of the Reformation. So where was the Church of Christ until then? The very one which was founded by Christ and described in the Acts of the Apostles?
I heard two answers from Protestants, let us call these options a radical one and a mild one. Let us start with the first one, because it is more classical for Protestantism.
This radical answer can be expressed in the following way: initially there was the Church of Apostles and then, starting from the 2nd century there developed some distortions in its doctrines and the Church lost the Apostles' teaching of faith because it brought to it various false practices and ideas from paganism. Some people even say that “true Church was destroyed by paganism"1. And so, starting from the 16th century, from the time of Reformation it was supposedly them - Protestants - who brought the pure Apostles' teaching back in. Well, if from the the 16th century - that would mean “old” Protestants: Lutherans, Calvinists. “New” Protestants such as Baptists, Adventists, Pentecostalists appeared even later. And often the creation of new Protestant denominations was accompanied by an accentuated split from the preceding tradition. For example, the founder of Baptism John Smith baptized himself in 1609 because he was sure that there is no more true Church and it should be created from scratch.
Let us see whether this idea about Church which disappeared corresponds to the Bible.
Our Lord Jesus Christ said: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16: 18). That is God promises that evil powers will not win over Church, it will always remain the very same “glorious church… holy and without blemish " (Eph. 5: 27), “God’s household… the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3: 15), as Apostles describe it in the Scripture.
1 Baptists, their tasks and goals Rostov-on-Don, 1909. P. 8. The same ideas are expressed by contemporary Protestant authors.
Of course, if we believe those who say that Church created by Christ was defiled by pagan practices, lost the truth and swayed into delusion, in this case we proclaim that the Hades won over Church. Because in this case it becomes the pillar and foundation of lies and stops being the pillar and foundation of the truth. But if we think so, we this way call our God Jesus Christ a liar who has not kept His promise.
There is another promise which God gave. He said: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age”(Matthew 28: 20). That is, Christ promises that He will be with Church till the end of time. As we see, there is nothing said about God’s intention to make a pause between 2nd and 16th or 19th centuries. Is it possible to imagine that Christ has been coping with false teaching and paganism in His Church for more than fifteen hundred years and did not do anything to change it?
And Paul the Apostle writes that they will give to God “glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end” (Ephesians 3:21). That is, Church created by Christ and spread by the apostles will exist over all further generations and glorify God. The idea that Church may have disappeared for fifteen hundred years contradicts directly these biblical words.
It is also worth reminding that Christ promised to give the Holy Spirit to his disciples and said: " But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth " (John 16: 3), “will teach you all things” (John 14: 26). We know when the Holy Spirit came to the apostles - at Pentecost, which is considered to be the birthday of Church. That is, God gives the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit keeps Church from perversion, and swaying from the truth. And Christ Himself Who is the Truth (John 14: 6) remains in it invisible. A person or even a group of people can be deluded, and the apostles warned about it (see 2 Peter 2: 1; Galatians 1: 6–9). But it is impossible to throw the whole Church into confusion - because this would mean that it stopped existing.
The above mentioned “radical answer” does not only contradict the Bible, but also is not proved by historical facts.
When I myself was coming to faith I checked it personally. I’ve read the Old Testament first. After that I started reading other Christian documents dating back to the end of the 1st century. For example, the letter of St. Clement of Rome, the apostles' disciple. Then moved on to the documents written in the 2nd century, including the ones created by the apostles' disciples such as St. Polycarp of Smyrna and St. Ignatius the God-bearer. They knew the apostles personally and took the teaching from them.
After that I moved on to the 3rd century and have read all Christian texts of that time. Then to the 4th century and so on. And I made sure that throughout these centuries Church remained the same in its teaching. The wording could change, but the teaching itself remained the same. For three centuries Church have lived in martyrdom when thousands of Christians preferred to die rather than participate in the rites of pagans. Is it possible that those very people could adopt these rites and teaching? They preferred to die for smaller things.
I don’t ask anyone to believe my words. Take the texts and see for yourself. They are all openly available. Unfortunately, very often Protestants don’t know the history of Church. All that was after the events described in the Acts of the Apostles and before their denomination appeared is terra incognita for them.
But those protestants who are bold enough to review this question without prejudice, admit that the Church described in the documents of the 1st-2nd century is not at all like the one we see at the Protestant gatherings and in modern Protestantism. Let me take as an example one case which took place in 1960s in Ben Lomond and Santa Barbara in the USA.
A group of young Protestants came to the conclusion that all the Protestant Churches they are aware of can not be the true Church. So they decided to follow the history of Church from the apostolic times to find out what happened to the Church which was described in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. They studied all historical documents. And history had many divisions, various heresys appeared on the way. And at each such a fork these Protestants watched and studied unbiased, who kept the apostles' faith and who brought novelty.
I will quote here one of the leaders of these movement, Peter Gillquist: “On our journey through the history we closely followed the millenium of continuous succession in Church. We discovered the same Church in the 2nd and the 3rd centuries suffering from severe persecutions, chanting the liturgies in catacombs being led by bishops who would often end their life as martyrs. We found it in the 4th century protecting the faith in Nikaia and in the 5th century - in Halkidon.
We followed it up to the 8th century, studied its great Councils, loved its apologists, saints, teachers and how they preached gospel, fought the heresy and proved the worship of holy icons. We were struck by how bold the Church met ethical and dogmatic heresys and how it constantly managed to escape destruction. God was with Church in the 9th and the 10th centuries…
Then 1054 came and we faced the choice. The split occured. I still remember the physical feeling which I had when I said to my companions: “The East is true in its resistance to Pope and in denial of the filioque addition”. Then I sighed deeply. “I think this makes us… Orthodox”.
As a result of this serious study which took place without any Orthodox involvement at all, this whole community - more than 2000 people - asked to be baptised in the Orthodox Church in 1974 and was accepted. If you wish you can read about it in more details in the book by Peter Gillquist, “Coming home”.
Of course, not all are ready to start such a serious historical research. But in this case, they should have enough of what Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles say about Church to understand that the true Church could not disappear. And therefore, all churches which exist now, and which directly position their split with the previous Christian tradition and count their history from the date when their denomination was founded by mortal people, a priori can not be the Church which exists non-stop from the apostolic times and till the Second Coming.
Many Protestants understand this problem. And they worked out what I conventionally called above a “mild response” to the problem of historical succession. In contrast to 2 the supporters of the “radical response”, they say: yes, of course, Church has been there at all times. But this true Church was invisible. It consisted of separate righteous people who formally could belong to various Christian denominations and be among Orthodox, Nestorians, Monophysites, Catholic and so on, but had the right faith inside (like modern Protestants), and this invisible Church consisted exactly of them. And after a certain year it became visible in the face of our denomination.
Many Protestants may say that Church is still invisible even now and includes all “true” people from other denominations - according to the point of view of this particular teaching. They say that Christ talked about this invisible Church and said that the hell gate will not win over it and that He will be with it.
Does the concept of “invisible Church” go along with the Bible? Let’s remember the words of Jesus Christ by which He teaches how to deal with a person who commited a sin. He says that the matter may be established by the testimony of the witnesses. And “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). Here is the piece of advice which God gives to all Christians, all people who want to be His disciples. This piece of advice implies that the Church will always be found. Church is not something amorphous, theoretical and invisible.
No. It represents something specific, visible and clearly distinguishable from other communities. This community has its own order which allows to apply for solution of puzzling questions. And it has always been this way in the Church. Just like the first Apostles Council gathered in ancient times, all controversial questions were later resolved in the Church by Councils. And the church court existed too, which had the Church power to deliver the verdict, «bind and loose» (see Matthew 18:18). Only to such a visible Church one can apply for resolution of a litigation. How can one apply to an “invisible Church”? It is like sending someone who suffered from robbers' attack to appeal to the “inivisible court” which no one knows about, where it is and who it consists of.
It is said that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). This was a very specific, visible Church. People knew that if you want to become a Christian, you need to come to this community and be baptised, you need to be together with everyone else. And how it is nicely described there, all Christians “devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
By the way, exactly because the Apostles Church was visible it could be percecuted - “on that day a great persecution broke out against the Church” (Acts 8:1) and Saul who was not baptised yet “persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). But how can anyone persecute an invisible Church?
It is also worth recalling the words of the Scripture about communion in Christ’s Body and Blood: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). That is, the Eucharist in Church will take place from the apostolic times and up to the second coming of Lord, “until He comes”. And breaking bread, as the Eucharist is called in the Scripture, is what is done visibly. The cup, the wine and the bread which are offered for the sacramental change, and the Eucharist itself are visible and tactile. All of this is impossible in “invisible Church”.
I should say that there is one more theory in the Protestant world which tries to eliminate the problem which we discuss. That is “the theory of branches”. In contrast to the “theory of an invisible church” which tries to imagine a certain mystical unity of individuals despite the split between churches they belong to, “the theory of branches” proclaims any splits and differences between Christian confessions unimportant and states that all who call themselves Christians - Protestants of various interpretations, Catholics, Orthodox and Monophysites - all together create this Church of Christ like branches of a single tree.
I can’t agree with this concept either, because Our Lord Himself said that “there shall be one fold” (John 10:16). Even if we really wish it one can’t name all the above mentioned communities a single fold. Because - and it’s not a secret to anybody - they don’t have any unity about them. There is unity in neither faith, nor sacraments, nor the questions of Church administration and canons, nor ethical aspects. Even between Protestants themselves they often state things totally opposite to each other.
For example, there are Protestants who say that homosexuality is a sin, and there are others who argue with it: not at all, it’s not sinful. There are discrepancies in the teaching of faith too. Some say that hell exists, and others say that it does not and will not do, it’s just an allegory. Some believe that the soul is immortal, and others deny it. So where is unity here?
But the supporters of the idea in question stubbornly say: “It all does not matter! Of course, there are differences, but are they so important after all? The main thing is, we have something that unites us”.
But is it truly the attitude that the Bible teaches us? In the Scripture we find the thoughts that are directly opposite.
For example, Paul the Apostle writes: " As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preaches any other gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).
As we see, the differences in the teaching of faith prove to be so serious that Paul the Apostle directly orders such people to be accursed, separated from the body of Church. And in the other part of the Scripture the apostle says that anyone devoting themselves to heresy shall not inherit the kingdom of God (see Galatians 5:21-22).
So how can we think after this that it does not matter what we believe in, as soon as we call ourselves Christians, and it will all be one Church. This is not so. We are not united in faith, ethics or Eucharist. The Scripture says that Christians should have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). In existing religions and denominations there is definitely not one faith, they are different, and it is exactly the reason of the split. And baptism is also not single, because most of Protestants as far as I know re-baptise Orthodox people who come to them, therefore not accepting their Orthodox baptism.
Some people used to tell me: well, how about seven churches which are mentioned in the Apocalypse - it tells about several churches at the same time. Such a thought may come only to an inattentive reader, because the Book of Revelation mentions local parts of One Apostolic Church, just the way Russian, Serbian and Georgian Churches are all parts of the Orthodox Church. Just the way Boston and New York Baptist churches are the parts of one Baptist Church etc. But Russian Orthodox Church and New York Baptist one do not belong to one Church.
Both in the Book of Revelation and in the Acts Church is described as a single body, one reality, one structure which can afford having the Apostles Council in Jerusalem and takes into consideration the decisions of this Council (see Acts 15: 6–31). It has single dogmatic and ethical teaching, communication in Eucharist and single administration. Is there such a thing in a contemporary Protestant world, speaking nothing of all who call themselves Christians? Let’s be honest!
I guess our Protestant friends will not argue with us about the fact that the so called “branches” do not have one faith, since it is a fact. Though the unity of the Eucharist should be discussed in more details. The importance of this moment is often not clear to Protestants, because they do not believe that the sacrament which they carry out and call communion truly gives them the Body and Blood of Christ. They say that these are just symbols. And they are right that with them it is not the Body and Blood of Christ, with them it is exactly just bread and wine. But I can’t agree with the idea that it is not possible to reunite with the true Body and Blood of Christ during sacrament.
Our Saviour spoke of it not only as of something possible, but also as of a necessary act: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…” (John 6:53–54). The Lord said that without the sacrament of His Body and Blood it’s impossible to have internal life in oneself, that is impossible to be saved. And later He showed how to fulfil these His words. It happened at the Last Supper, when “Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”(Matthew 26: 26–28). Christ did not say: “Take and eat, this is a symbol of My Body and My Blood”. He clearly said: “this is My Body” and “this is My Blood”. And though the apostles still saw the same bread and wine, with God’s power it became what the Almighty Lord called it, the Lord about whom the Holy Scripture says: “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” (Psalm 32:9).
And the Lord, as we know, commanded: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). And in fulfillment of these words the Christians started performing the Eucharist since the earliest days of the Church. In the same chapter where it is described that the apostles started preaching on Pentecost day and three thousand people were converted, it is written further that they “devoted themselves to… the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42), that is performing the Eucharist. Protestants will tell me: yes, we also do it all. Of course, we break bread and drink wine, but for us it is just a remembrance of the passions of the Christ, nothing more. But let’s see whether the Eucharist
was just a remembrance of the Christ for the apostles themselves. Paul the Apostle says, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). As we can see, the apostle does not say: “Is it not the symbol of the blood of Christ?” or “Is it not the remembrance of Christ?” For the apostle it is the communion in the true Body and Blood of Christ. In this case the communion acquires a special deep meaning about which the apostle says: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:17). And “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). And the Church itself is also the body of Christ (see Ephesians 1:22-23). For the apostle it was all real - that the Church is the body of Christ, and that the communion is in the body of Christ. And we become part of this body through communion, through the Eucharist. This way we become a part of the single Christian Church.
And in the Orthodox religion this continuous bond has been kept for 2000 years through the Eucharist. For example, three years ago at the service during celebration in Hong Kong I shared a communion cup with Father Michael Lee (1922-2016). It is a Chinese Orthodox priest, who was 90 years old at that time. And Father Michael when he was young, shared a communion cup with St. John of Shanghai. And St. John of Shanghai, in his turn, in his childhood shared a communion cup with St. John Kronstadt (1829-1908). This way this living bond from generation to generation from long ago dates back to the apostolic times who shared a cup with Jesus Christ Himself. Through the Eucharist the Church is that single theandric mechanism which has been living for 2000 years non-stop.
And this is why it is not surprising that our saints say: the borders of Church are the borders of the Eucharist. Those who do not have communion in the Church founded by Christ are not in it.
And going back the the “theory of branches”, we see its fault from this side too - because it can not be so that totally separate communities calling themselves churches equally could have true sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. As the apostle writes, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Corintians 1:13). There is one Christ, and His Body is single. That is why the Eucharist is one too, and it has being done continuously for 2000 years in the one true Christian Church. Our task is to find this Church which was founded by Our God Jesus Christ and which has kept continuously the Apostles' faith and sacraments, including the Eucharist, since the apostolic times.
This Church is the true one. Other communities which call themselves churches, if they are separate from it, are not genuine. We can not tell that all churches are founded by Christ, because God said: “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18), and not “I will build my churches”. There is one church which has been single for centuries. And the Bible tells us that continuous existence and the unchanged teaching are essential attributes of Church.
Whenever I talked to Protestants about these questions, I could not get rid of the feeling that my interlocutors do not understand the reality of the Church and what that means at all. They often think of it as of mere gathering of people: “Well, I came into a town, found a few soulmates, we started gathering together, read the Bible and pray - here is the church”. But in fact, it’s just a hobby group you have created. So where is the Church which was created by Christ?
Normally when talking about Church our Protestant friends all quote the same phrase: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).
It seems to them that these words are there as the principle of defining the church (any two or three gathering in Christ’s name), but if we read this Evangelical cut carefully, we’ll see that such an interpretation is erroneous. Because just a few verses above, in the same speech Christ says: “But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses; if they still refuse to listen, tell it to the Church; and if they refuse to listen even to the Church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:16-17). This means that two or three soulmates are not the Church yet. Church is something different, a lot more authoritative. “Two or three gather in my name” is in fact said about prayers, because the Lord gives these words to explain the ones said before it, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). Common prayers of those who already belong to the Church indeed attract a special attention of God… But the prayer itself and a mere meeting “in Christ’s name” does not make a person a member of the Church.
When Peter the Apostle came to the family of Cornelius, a centurion (Acts 10:17-48), when Philip the Apostle met a Ethiopian (Acts 8:29-39) and Paul the Apostle met the disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-5), they did not say: “Well, we have now gathered together in Christ’s name, so you are already in Church”. No, they always considered it necessary to get such people joining the true Church by truly baptising them. This means that we also need to be united with this true Church which has been keeping the continuous succession since the apostolic times.
One Pentecostal priest who wished to argue on this topic told me, “In order to become a part of the Church I need to first meet with Christ… at the moment when someone is turned to God, they immediately become a part of Church”.
But this is not so, since even Paul the Apostle after a miraculous meeting with Christ on the way to Damascus remained alien to the Church until Ananias made him a member of Church by baptising. Paul the Apostle himself considered it necessary. It was the first thing he did after he saw the light. He did not say, “I have already met Christ, I was turned, so I became Christian and a member of Church after this meeting, I don’t need anything else”.
As we know from the New Testament, Christ met many people, including Pharisees and Sadducees, but not everyone followed him. Instead of talking about a “meeting with Christ” I think it is more appropriate to talk about “joining the Lord” (Acts 5:14, 1 Corinthians 6:17). It is worth stressing that of course it is possible to find out about Christ outside of Church too. To believe in Christ as in God is possible outside of Church. To have high feelings about Christ is possible outside of Church. To read the Bible, to try and follow the testaments, to talk about Christ with others - all of that is possible to be done outside of Church. But it is only in Church it is possible to join Christ. Only in the true Church where there is the sacrament of baptism, in which “we were baptized into Jesus Christ, we have been planted together in the likeness of his death” (Romans 6:5) and the sacrament of the Eucharist, about which Christ Himself said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them” (John 6:55).
Christ did not say: “He who reads the Bible dwells in me and I in him”. He said that about the Eucharist. You can not satisfy hunger by reading about food.
By the way, there are different opinions about Eucharist among Russian Protestants. Sometimes it happens that ordinary community members believe that they have sacrament of the true Body and Blood of Christ, while their priest says that these are only symbols.
Those who think that these are just symbols think that the Orhodox teaching of Eucharist as of a real union with Christ is some kind of “unhealthy mysticism”, while in fact it is something that comes directly of the Saviour’s words. Let’s remember how after these words about sacrament of his Body and Blood “on hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:60, 66). Isn’t it that very rationalism that moves today those Protestants who do not want to trust what is directly said in the Bible about Eucharist?
But let’s go back to our dialog with the priest. The only argument which he had in defence of himself and his followers as of Church members is that they have “good fruits”: “if we see today how spiritually blind people see the light and turn to Christ, how lives and families heal, how drugs and alcohol abusers get free, how the gospel is preached - is not it the sign of His actions among his people? Why to deny the presence of Christ (and presence of the true Church too) somewhere where His actions are real?”
But why should we take all the above mentioned as Christ’s actions? For example, there are Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons. Almost all Protestants do not count them as a part of Church, even though they also may say that they preach the gospel and turn spiritually blind people to Christ and change their lives and so on and so forth. But Protestants themselves consider these arguments insufficient to accept them as part of Church. If these arguments do not work when claimed by Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons, why should they be sufficient when voiced by Pentecostalists or Baptists?
Many Protestants believe that the very sincerity of their faith is the proof that they are in the true Church. But one can err sincerely too, can’t they? Don’t pagans sincerely believe in their idols? Then sincerity alone is not enough.
I understand that perhaps these my questions are uncomfortable. Especially when you are in the community where you are loved and appreciated and where you seem to have found your place. It is frightening to ask oneself some questions which may lead to doubts. I can totally understand that you don’t want to risk something good that you have. But a sincere Christian in this case, in my opinion, should ask themselves: what does Jesus want from me? Has He created his Church not for me to search for it and join it? Is it possible to love Christ and neglect his Body?
The Worship of the Virgin Mary and Saints
Now let’s move on to those questions which most frequently embarrass our Protestant friends in the Orthodox religion.
We’ll begin with the worship of saints, and the virgin Mary too. Some Protestants directly say that it is sinful, others ask why to appeal to the saints instead of voicing your pleas to God directly.
Let’s see. There is so much in this topic that Protestants normally do not know.
First of all, prayers to the saints in the Orthodox Church can be not only done to ask something, but also to praise. For example, canons and akathists, which are so much loved by people, are devoted to it. In akathists the praying person remembers the life and acts of the saints, praises and calls them blessed for their faith and life in accordance with God’s will. This is a direct execution of the Scripture: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith”(Hebrews 13:7); “we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about” (James 5:11). And the virgin Mary said: “From now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). In both cases they used the verb “μακαρίζω” meaning “praise, call somebody blessed”. Sometimes I asked my Protestant friends, how exactly they execute these words of Scripture. If they consider that we Orthodox do it wrong, let them teach us by their own example how to praise the virgin Mary and the saints right. From their answers I understood that they do not praise them and therefore break the God’s word by this. Even if you did not want to appeal with your requests to the saints, nothing prevents you from reading canons and akathists during service to remember the example of saints and praise them.
Secondly, let’s speak about pleading prayers. I used to hear from Protestant friends that such prayers seem to contradict the statement that “there is one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). But these words are said about atoning sacrifice (their continuation is: “who gave himself as a ransom for all people”) - of course, no saint is a mediator here. But Our Lord constantly orders Christians to pray for others (Matthew 5:44, 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). Our Protestant friends may also remember that they also have a tradition to pray for each other, and they do not think that they become “some solicitors”. This is exactly the way we ask the saints to pray to God for us and do not think that they act in their own power autonomously from the Lord.
The usual Protestant argument is that it is all said about living people, and it is no written anywhere that dead saints could pray too. I remember a talk with one Presbyterian priest when I quoted to him the words from Apocalypse: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:9-10). John the Apostle here directly witnesses that dead saints keep consciousness and the ability to pray. The priest tried to assure me that there are no such words in the Scripture, after which I had to ask for his copy of the Bible and show to him these words. He was greatly surprised. Just like this priest many Protestants do not really think of the meaning of these words while reading them, because the meaning does not come along what they have been taught.
Protestants normally claim that after death the saints lose the ability to pray for other people, however none of my interlocutors could show me where it is explicitly said in the Scripture. Meanwhile, Jesus said that “to God all are alive” (Luke 20:38). The prayer for those who needs help is a manifestation of Christian love, and “love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). Also Protestants ask how dead saints can hear prayers from people. It is not difficult to understand if we remember that “whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17), and the Lord as we know can hear prayers, so the saints who have united with him can hear them too. Let’s remember how miraculously the Lord let Paul the Apostle to know the request of Macedonian Christians (see Acts 16:9). From the Bible it directly follows that even after death which is called “departure” (2 Timothy 4:6) in the Scripture, righteous people who have united with the Lord, keep their consciousness and continue praying to God.
Paul the Apostle writes to Christians: “you have come… to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Hebrews 12:22-23). And we, Orthodox people come to these saints through the prayers and praises and communicate with them this way, while Protestants have not done it and do not want to come “to the spirits of the righteous made perfect”. I apologize if that sounds harsh but there is a certain pride in their words: why should I ask some saint to pray for me to God if I can pray directly?
The Lord says in the Bible repeatedly that a prayer from a saint he listens more carefully and even at the times when he will not accept a prayer from an ordinary sinful person. Let’s remember what God said to Job’s friends: “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly” (Job 42:8). And this is exactly how Lord tells Abimelek that only with Abraham’s prayer he can escape death (Genesis 20:7-17). Even though friends of Job and Abimelek could pray themselves, for some reason the Lord has not told them: “Pray to me directly, you do not need any solicitors”.
The Scripture calls the saints “God’s friends” (John 15:15, James 2:23). So what is so strange about the fact that God willingly listens and quickly fulfills the requests of his friends? It is known that when they asked something when they were still alive,
He inevitably responded. For example, when asked by his mother he helped a poor just married couple and created a miracle at their banquet to save them from disgrace (see John 2:1-11).
It is worth to finally talk about worshiping the relics of saints. Our Protestant friends often ask about it, thinking that it definitely contradicts the Bible. In fact, it is written there that the Lord blesses even the relics of saints and can make miracles through them. That’s what we read: “Elisha died and was buried. Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. Once, while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet”(2 Kings 13. 20-21). The manifestations of the miraculous power of the Lord can be seen on the relics of the following saints too. For example, just resently in Saint Petersburg, Russia a blind woman has seen the light by the relics of the Great Martyr George the Trophy-Bearer.
And here we come to one more important aspect to which I want to direct the attention of my Protestant reader. We don’t have just a mere theoretical question in front of us on whether saints can hear us or not, or whether God can act through the relics of saints. The thing is, they do hear us. And there are not only some historic examples from long ago - many Orthodox people today, including me witness on their own experience that they prayed to saints asking for their soliciting in front of God, and God responded and even created miracles. If, as you say, the Lord does not favour the prayers to saints, why would he give to us what we ask in them? If it was so that when you prayed directly to God you would get it and if you prayed to a saint and would get nothing, prayers to saints would stop naturally. But the Lord supports the practice of these prayers by fulfilling requests asked in them, and supports the practice of worshiping the relics by performing miracles through their veneration. Why?
I know that many Protestants think that these miracles are performed by devil. But isn’t it too easy to claim all Orthodox miracles, most of which you do not know, to be the devil’s deeds just because they do not come along with your concept? Does not this question need a more serious and thorough analysis? Personally, I do not consider all the miracles of the Protestant world to be diabolical. I believe that God can respond to the prayer of a Protestant. Don’t you allow the same for Orthodox?
The biggest Protestant misunderstanding here lies in their idea that Orthodox worship the Lady and saints more than Christ, and that saints are more important for us than Christ. It’s all on the contrary, actually! We love them for Christ. Our love to saints and to the mother of God is a natural expression of our love to Christ. Doesn’t a good-natured person tell to the one they love: “Your friends are my friends”? Would it be better to say: “I love you only, and I don’t want to hear about your friends, I don’t need them”?
Wouldn’t then those who treat his saints in such a way fall under the words which Christ said to the holy apostles: “whoever rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16)? And if he tells those who rejects the poor, the sick and the prisoners, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), what will he say to those who rejected his friends, if the world was not worthy of them (Hebrews 11:38) and they were standing before the throne (Revelation 7:9-10)?
Icons are probably the most puzzling thing for Protestants out of all we have in the Orthodox church. Different Protestants may have different degree of hostility. In India I heard that when a Catholic Indian joins a certain Protestant denomination he is asked to trample on the icon of the Lady with the baby Jesus, to prove the sincerety of his act. Of course, not all Protestants would approve such radical methods, but they all strongly don’t accept icons and their religious worship. They believe it’s idolatry, break of a commandment: “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Exodus 20:2-5).
Protestants often quote these words to the Orthodox people being absolutely sure that they prove the forbiddance of any religious images, including icons. And any prepared Orthodox person knows how to plant a seed of doubt in this surety, if they offer to their Protestant friend to read the very same Exodus book five chapters more. The point where the Lord says to Moses: “Make two cherubs out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover, at the two ends” of the tabernacle of the congregation (Exodus 25:17-21).
And what is notable, these cherub icons were not only over the ark of the covenant law, but also on the curtain of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:31), and in the innermost room of Solomon’s temple and on its walls (1 Kings 6:27-29), and even in the vision of the heavenly temple which Ezekiel the Prophet had (Ezekiel 41:20, 25). That is, in all true Godly temples which are described in the Bible there were icons. Cherub icons. And I am speaking not only about the Old Testament.
When Protestants read about how Jesus Christ our Saviour entered the Jerusalem temple, they imagine bare walls just like in their temples. They do not understand that the Lord came into a temple with cherubs icons on the walls, and it was exactly the temple which He called “my Father’s house” (John 2:16). Exactly in this temple a New Testament Church gathering happened daily after the Pentecost (Acts 2:46). So in fact it is not Protestants who should ask Orthodox why they have icons, it is Orthodox who should ask why Protestants do not have them, as written in the Bible. At least the cherub icons. I do not know a single Orthodox church without cherub icons, as well as a single Protestant cult building with them. So, who acts more along with the Bible here? I remember one Adventist telling me that even if there were any icons in the Old Testament, people did not worship them. And I replied that in the high sense of this word we worship one God only, and we honour cherubs, angels and saints, just like their icons. And it is commanded to honour not only God, but also parents (Exodus 20:12), the elderly (Leviticus 19:32), devout Christians (1 Corinthians 16:17-18). Our Protestant friends would not have a reason to feel confused if they understood the difference between worshiping which belongs to God only and honour which we have for our saints and can express by kissing the icons, for example. God commanded to honour parents, but that does not mean that we should worship them, right? It is the same with the saints. Veneration is not worshiping, it is expression of love and respect.
Often our interlocutors would say: but the quoted words relate to the cherubs only, and you describe not only them in the icons. That is true, during the Old Testament no one could be painted in the icons except for the cherubs. Mother of God has not been born yet. Jesus Christ has not come yet to be seen as a Person (and the godly nature can not be portrayed). And the righteous people of the Old Testament before Christ were not perfect. So, they would go deep down with their soul in dark places, where the God went and from where he took them before His resurrection. And after the resurrection of Jesus the righteous people of the New Testament Church got an opportunity to be saints like cherubs, therefore can be portrayed.
In the Lord’s commandment there is a ban for not any images at all, but for those which are connected with the words: “You shall have no other gods before me”. Exodus 20:2 forbids any idols. Idols are images of false gods. Icons are no idols, because they do not portray any “other gods”.
As the fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council pointed out, the honour expressed to the image ascends to the prototype. That is, when we pray in front of an icon we pray not to it but to the one portrayed in it. Just like a man far away from his family kisses a photograph of his mother or wife when he misses them, and therefore expresses his love not to the photo paper, but to the person portrayed in the photo.
Protestants get embarrassed that we bow to icons and kiss them - but there is no worshiping in it. We Orthodox people bow to each other too, and ask someone “Say we bow to them for us”, and the apostle asks all the Christians: “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Corinthians 16:20). So, this expression of love passed through the icon is not something bad. Icons help us pray and also fulfil the commandment “Remember them which have the rule over you” (Hebrews 13:7).
Often Protestants deny icons and quote the phrase that we must worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). But these words were said to a Samaritan woman against an idea of worshiping connected with a particular geographic place rather than to say that we need to avoid any external forms when we worship the Lord. Protestants themselves can not avoid such forms when they, for example, hang the cross in their prayer houses, place a lectern etc. We all live among some forms. So why is a prayer said when looking at a bare wall or with the eyes closed more spiritual than a prayer said when looking at a cross or an image of Jesus?
About Infant Baptism
One more very important question of Protestants to Orthodox is infant baptism. Very often Protestants stress that the Scripture says about baptizing those who heard the preaching, while infants, as they say, can not hear.
In fact, infants can listen. Many researches show that even in the mother’s womb a baby reacts differently to the music which is played.
And while the infants' intellect is not as developed as the one of the adults, they are able to hear in spiritual matters too. A good example is described in the 1st chapter of the Gospel of Luke - St John the Forerunner was able to hear and react joyfully to the Mother of God’s greeting when he was in his mother’s womb.
More than that, there are examples in the Church’s history when little children consciously became Christian martyrs. For example, a 3-year-old Ciricus, a son of Saint Julitta, killed during the times of pagan persecution. One more 3-year-old boy is known as one of 72 holy martyrs in Yuriev in Livonia suffered in 1472. Holy martyr John who was 8 years old consciously suffered the Yìhetuan torture for Christ in 1900. So there are many examples. If 3-year-old children can practise Christianity and become Christian martyrs, why can not they be baptised? Don’t Protestants break the words of Christ by baptizing their kids neither at the age of 8 nor at the age of 3: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them” (Matthew 19:14)? They do not let children to Christ as if childhood is the age at which a person should be a stranger to Christ. Is it truly so? The apostle writes that all who were baptized “have clothed themselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27), so why should children be deprived of the opportunity to be clothed with Christ? If Christ has performed a miracle over a sick man by faith of those who brought him, why can not He perform a miracle of baptism over a child by faith of those who brought the child?
Since ancient times the Christians have been baptising their children. According to Paul the Apostle, baptism replaced circumcision (see Colossians 2:11-14), and circumcision was performed on infants. An ancient author of the early 3rd century witnesses that “for this also it was that the Church had from the Apostles a tradition to give baptism even to infants 3.3 Origen. Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Book 6.
Scripture and Teaching
In the previous paragraph we have already mentioned the term “teaching”(tradition), and it is also a very important difference. It is known that one of the key principles of Protestantism is “Scripture only” (Sola Scriptura). It means that only the Bible has authority, and the Holy Tradition of the Church is rejected by them.
Though this principle is very vulnerable if criticized. First of all, it is not proved by the Scripture. Let’s agree that it is strange to say that we can only accept something stated right in the Bible referring to the principle which can be seen nowhere in the Bible.
Second, this principle not only is not found in the Bible - it contradicts it. Because the Bible states the necessity to keep along with the Apostles' teachings: “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15), as Paul the Apostle writes. Now please explain to me how is this commandment executed by Protestants? How do they keep on to the teaching which the Apostles passed by word of mouth? Because this is how the Apostles mostly taught. Only some of them left epistles, which are not numerous. But all Apostles professed by word of mouth for years. Did all this have to vanish into thin air and does not mean anything? Paul the Apostle did not think so when he wrote: “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2).
Three hundred years after these words St. Basil the Great said: “out of all the dogmas and preachings in Church we have some epistles and some Apostles' teaching which we took secretly by succession… And no one at least slightly knowledgeable will argue with this”. Then he gives examples of the traditions passed by Apostles to the Christians by word of mouth: make the sign of cross, stand and face the east during the prayer, say particular words during Eucharist service, sanctify water and chrism, dip three times during baptizing, ask the baptized person to deny the Satan before baptizing and other things, including dogmatic teaching.
The Orthodox kept it all to the present times. And Protestants initially fought against distorted Catholic teaching and since they could not see any ways to clear the Apostles' teaching from Catholic distortions, they decided to reject the Holy Tradition altogether, and that the Scripture will be enough.
But the Protestant idea that the Bible explains itself contradicts the words of Paul the Apostle who writes: “Our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3: 15–16). That is, the Bible is not enough to explain itself, one could distort it to their own destruction.
In another place of the book the same Peter the Apostle says that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women who were moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21). Therefore, only holy fathers moved by the same Holy Spirit can reveal the true meaning of the word of God to people.
But before we talk about interpretation of the Bible let’s speak about the Bible itself. And our Protestant friends will find something new here. I have an impression that many of them are sure that the Apostles already had the whole bible as a book under a black cover and distributed it among the believers.
In fact, at the times of the Apostles' Church there was no Bible as a unity of the Old and New Testament. The Apostles' writings as we know them today were being created gradually and were even slower distributed among people. There were many other writings along with them, which were also called gospels, letters and so on.
So, who decided that the Gospel of Mark is true and the Gospel of Thomas is not? And that the Apocalypse of John is a part of the Scripture and the Apocalypse of Peter is not? Who decided that exactly these 27 books comprise the New Testament? To put it short, who and when made the Bible which the Protestant use today?
At the Council of Laodicea in 364 a canon without Apocalypse was accepted. And the canon of the New Testament as we know it today was first accepted at the Council of Carthage in 397. This is a historical fact and there is no proof that the canon of the New Testament as Protestants accept it today was adopted in the 1st or 2nd century.
So, it appears that the Bible was created by the Church which called itself Orthodox even back then (the term ὀρθοδοξία was used by the authors of the 4th century and has been stated in the official church documents since the 5th century). And at the time when the bishops of this church were defining the canon of the Bible at the councils, it already had the honouring of the icons, prayers to the Mother of God and the saints, infant baptism, prayers for the deceased etc. This is a fact.
I can give some proofs here not to sound unfounded. On infant baptism: “No one ought to be hindered from baptism and from the grace of God. It is to be observed and maintained in respect of all, we think is to be even more observed in respect of infants and newly-born persons, who on this very account deserve more from our help and from the divine mercy” (St. Cyprian of Carthage. Letter to Fidus, middle of the 3rd century). On veneration of holy relics and the saints rememberance days: in the middle of the 2nd century the Christians of Smyrna city wrote in their letter about the martyrdom of their bishop Polycarp: " the centurion… placed him (Polycarp) in the midst… and burned him. And so we afterwards gathered up his bones, which were more valuable than precious stones and more to be esteemed than gold, and laid them in a suitable place. There the Lord will permit us to come together as we are able, in gladness and joy to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom” (Eusebius, Church history, Book IV.15).
On the prayers to the saints: Rylands papyrus 470 contains a prayer which is still said during an Orthodox service: “We flee under your compassion for refuge, Birthgiver of God; do not despise our prayers when troubles surround us, but deliver us from danger, only pure one, only blessed one”. The papyrus is dated 250.
On the prayers for the deceased: at the tomb stone of the St. Averkius, bishop of Hierapolis, it says: “May every brother in spirit pray for Averkius”. The writing dates back to the second half of the 2nd century.
As for the icons, the icon images were found in the earliest Christian church in the ancient Syrian town of Dura-Europos. In particular, the images of Christ, Peter the Apostle, Adam and Eve and a serious of the Old and New Testament scenes. These images date back to 232 AD. Roman Christians had icons (religious images) too - in the catacombs of Rome they have found the images of Christ, as well as New and Old Testament saints, dating back to the 3rd century; the image of the Mother of God with Jesus in the “Adoration of the Magi” scene preserved on one of the Christian sarcophagus dates back to the same time.
That is, all of that was in the Church long before the epoch of Constantine the Great, and it was definitely by the end of the 4th century when the bishops of the same Church confirmed the biblical canon.
So, we have a dilemma: if we believe the Bible that this book is God-inspired, we should accept as the true one the Church which created this Bible. And if we think that the Church of that time got “infected” with paganism and went wrong in so many questions of the faith teaching, how can we be sure that it did not go wrong when confirming the canon of the Scripture?
Each Protestant who has the Bible at home therefore accepts the decision of the Church as the right one and trusts it. Isn’t it logical in this case to search for the correct interpetation of the Bible in the same Church which was trusted by God to create the Bible? If that Church did not have the correct understanding of the Bible, would it be able to create it correctly?
Let me quote Joseph Gleason: “I had been studying the canon of scripture, and even as an Anglican, I started becoming very suspicious…
The doctrine of the canon of scripture: where is that in the Bible? Where do the scriptures tell you that the book of Baruch is not God-inspired, but that the book of Esther is inspired? There are nine books in the Old Testament that are never quoted anywhere in the New Testament. And… those are all in the Protestant Bible… I finally realized that even Protestants do not believe in sola scriptura. Now, they say they do, and yet when you ask them, “Okay, how do you know for sure that these are the 66 books in scripture? How do you know for sure what is scripture and what is not?”, they never can give you a proof from scripture. They always have to fall back onto their Protestant tradition. And so at the end of the day, I realized I was not pitting tradition against scripture. I was pitting Protestant tradition against a much more ancient, Orthodox tradition”.
Another former Protestant John Whiteford has most serious claims to the sola scriptura principle itself. According to him, honest “Protestants must ask themselves: if Protestantism and its foundational teaching of Sola Scriptura are of God, has it resulted in over twenty-thousand differing groups that can’t agree on basic aspects of what the Bible says, or what it even means to be a Christian?” As the Lord said, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit”(Matthew 7:17). If we judge on the correctness of the principle which considers the Holy Scripture the only source of Christian teaching of faith, by its fruit, we will have to conclude that this “tree” must be cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 7:19).
…Normally these words are quoted to support this principle: “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise… All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
Though what does Paul the Apostle mean when he talks about scriptures which Timothy knew since childhood? It is definitely not the New Testament, since when Timothy was little, it has not been written yet. It is obvious that Paul the Apostle means the Old Testament here. Therefore, if we take this cut to identify the borders of the God-inspired authority, we must exclude not only the Teaching, but also the New Testament… 44 More than that, the apostles themselves would often use the teachings outside the Bible, like in 2 Timothy 3:8 and Jude 1:9.
Protestants often say that they simply “believe in the Bible”. Though if we study their treatment of the Bible more carefully, we will have a few questions arising. For example, why do Protestants write so many books devoted to their teaching of faith and Christian life in general, if all they need is just the Bible? And if it is self-sufficient, why does not the reading of the Bible have the univocal result, that is why do not all Protestants believe in the same thing? Why do they distribute their treatises and other materials? Why do they preach something at all? Why don’t they simply read the Bible to people?
The answer is that the Bible taken separately can not be totally understandable. And in fact, each Protestant denomination has its own tradition (teaching), even though it is not called so with them. Therefore, the question lies not in the fact whether we believe in the Bible only or use the teaching too, but in the fact of what teaching we use to interpret the Bible. An old Apostles' teaching of the Orthodox church or the teaching of this Protestant church without deep roots"5. 5
Saturday or Sunday?
Now that we have discussed the major differences between us it is time to look at some peripheral issues.
The question of keeping the Sabbath occupies not all Protestants, but is a key for Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists-Sabbatarians and some other denominations with the same views.
I remember a talk with one Adventist priest during which I heard many fantasy stories. For example, that during the first three centuries of its history the ancient Church celebrated the Sabbath until the IV century when Constantine the Great transferred the day of rest and prayers to Sunday and therefore the commandment on Sabbath was broken. After this, he says, the Eastern Church still kept the Sabbath, while the Roman did not, and according to him, this was one of the reasons of the split in 1054. Later the Orthodox Church stopped keeping the Sabbath too.
The priest spoke seriously and confidently, while anyone who knows the church history is sure that it is not true from beginning to end, these are all myths.
I told the priest that he was misinformed, because the Christians started gathering on Sunday for prayers, breaking the bread (i.e. for the Eucharist) and preaching back in the apostolic times (Acts 20:7). and made donations too (1 Corinthians 16:2). The fact that the Christians gathered exactly on Sunday is proved by the sources of the late 1st - early 2nd century, such as “Didache”, letters of St. Ignatius the God-bearer and the letter of Varnava.
I also reminded him that the Apostles council did not tell the pagans to keep the Sabbath (Acts 15:20), and that Paul the Apostle warned the believers against holding on to the Old Testament rules, including the Sabbath: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (Colossians 2:16). An assistant of the Adventist priest who also participated in our talk said that the tenth day of the seventh month was called Sabbath (Leviticus 16:29-31) and that the Apostle meant that we should not celebrate these annual Sabbaths and not every Saturday. But this interpretation abuses the text - the Apostle did not write “annual Sabbath”, just “Sabbath day” My interlocutor could not ground his interpretation by any quote from the Scripture.
On the whole, the Adventists' logic of reasoning is very simple: here it says to keep the Sabbath, and it is one of ten commandments written in the Deuteronomy. If you say that this commandment is cancelled by God or its following transferred to the following day (Sunday), please show where exactly God says this. And if you can’t show it, it means that you have made it up and you break the commandment. The Adventists miss just one point - this logic appeared within their polemics with Catholics. But we are not Catholic. In the Orthodox Church there is no official teaching that the Sabbath is cancelled and its celebration is transferred to Sunday. The Sabbath is still celebrated in the Orthodox religion - there is no strict fasting on it, there is liturgy, it closes the cycle of the holy week, and in all the Orthodox countries this day is a non-working day just like Sunday. But Christ freed us from the Old Testament interpretation of the Sabbath which Jews had and used to say: “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16). Christ explained that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27) and that it is possible to “do good on the Sabbath” (Mark 3:4). And not only do good, but also necessary household deeds like the apostles who picked the heads of grain and ate them, and Christ defended them from the reproaches in failing to keep the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-5).
It is surprising to hear from people calling themselves Christians such reproaches in breaking the Sabbath almost similar to the ones which Pharisees had for Christ and the apostles.
As for Sunday, it became the day of the prayers gatherings of the Christians because the greatest event in history - the resurrection of Christ happened on this day. The Apostle said: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Sunday does not cancel the Sabbath but prevails over it just as much as what Christ gave to us prevails over Moses' giving. We the Orthodox people do not deny the Sabbath but we say that Christ gave us more through His death and resurrection, and his rememberance day is more glorious than the Old Testament Sabbath. Can’t the Lord give anything new and hasn’t he given it in the New Testament? When the sun rises, it does not cancel the stars, but they stop being visible in its light.
Where is the True Gift of Tongues?
In the previous chapter we discussed the matter which is very important for the Adventists, now it is worth sayng a few words on the issue which is of importance for the Pentecostalists and Charismatics. Just like the Adventists are convinced that they are the only ones who keep the Sabbath, the Pentecostalists and the Charismatics are sure that only they have “the gift of tongues” described in the New Testament.
But do they truly have it and the Orthodox people do not?
We all know well how the gift of tongues is stated in the New Testament. “They [apostles] saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues… Now there were staying in Jerusalem Jews… from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes, residents of Mesopotamia, Egypt and the parts of Libya… and visitors from Rome, Cretans and Arabs - we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"(Acts 2:3-11).
At the same time it is know that what the Pentecostalists and Charismatic call “the gift of tongues” is actually the pronouncing of a mixture of various syllables and sounds which are understandable neither to the people present nor to the speaker himself. This wave was started by William Seymour in the early 20th century. During the glossolalia a person often has an enlightened feeling and for most Pentecostalists this was the sign of the Spirit being present in them.
This became so popular that the Pentecostalists and the Charismatics movement spreaded quite far. Though this practice brings a series of questions. In particular:
Even though during the New Testament times not every person could speak in different kinds of tongues, as it follows from Paul the Apostle (1 Corinthians 12:10), the Pentecostalists are seeking to each member of their community practice what they call “the gift of tongues”. Therefore, while apostles says that the Holy Spirit gives this gift only to particular people, the Pentecostalists teach that in their communities He gives it to everyone.
Their glossolalia differs in principle to what it described in the second chapter of the Acts. Because the apostles spoke the languages which truly existed and people from other nations understood them. For some reason when foreign Pentecostal priests come to Russia they employ interpreters. If they had that gift which apostles had, they would speak the Russian language without learning it, thanks to “the gift of tongues”. But it does not happen.
Pentecostalists sometimes claim to speak “the angels tongues”, and they say this is why nobody understands them. But any language is a means of communication and is needed to pass the information and because of that it should have a particular structure. The presence of this structure is easy to define even without the knowledge of the language. The Pentecostal glossolalias were recorded, deciphered and studied by linguists many times. The verdict was strict: things they pronounce do not have any structure of the language.
Many Pentecostalists with grievous sins such as drugs abuse, fornication and so on still continue to have “the gift of tongues” as before. So where is the Holy Spirit here? And is it truly His gift in this case?
The phenomenon which is an analogue to the Pentecostal glossolalia can be seen in the non-Christian religions and in the shamanic practices. “Felicitas D. Goodman has engaged in extensive research in glossolalia. She reports that glossolalia is found among “the Inuit (Eskimos), the Saami (Lapps), the Chukchi, the Khanty (Ostiaks), the Yakuts, the Evenki, (who) use in their religious rituals secret languages that consist of a mixture of nonsense syllables and the vernacular.” There are many examples of unintelligible sounds or glossolalia from all contents and the native religions practiced on them. L Carlyle May shows that glossolalia in non-religions is present in “Malaysia, Indonesia, Siberia, Artic regions, China, Japan, Korea, Arabia, and Burma, among other places.” It is also present extensively in African tribal religions"6.
Therefore, Pentecostal glossolalia is not the gift of tongues which the apostles had, it is not the gift of the Holy Spirit, it is not the gift at all and it is not languages at all.
While in the Orthodoxy a true gift of tongues is kept as the apostles had it, even though it is rarely expressed. For example, the Venerable Paisios of the Holy Mountain had this gift in the 20th century. He is known to once speak French with the French. And two more cases are known when he spoke English with the piligrims from English-speaking countries. In all the cases 6 there was no interpreter present, but the visitors needed to talk to him and the Holy Spirit gave the gift to the old man to speak their language perfectly, even though he spoke only Greek and never studied any other languages. In the 19th century the same gift of tongues was noted with another man of faith from Mount Athos - schemamonk Martinian. “Being a Greek man, he did not know Russian, but would often reproach us, Russians, and give worthwhile admonitions. Sometimes he spoke Russian so well as even a native speaker would not speak, and then he would stop understanding Russian again, and we used to get very surprised with it"7.
Tell me, is it not more like what is described in the Acts 2:3-11 than the glossolalia of the Pentecostalists?
Of course, one thin booklet like ours will not give all the answers, but I think even in it our Protestant friends will find the food for thought. If some of them are ready to learn more, they can refer to the books “Orthodoxy - Protestantism” by Father Vyacheslav Rubsky and “Why I can’t remain Baptist” by Father Sergey Kobzar. Both can be found on the Internet.
And I sincerely wish that all genuine Protestants have God’s help on the way to the truth. 7