"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Orthodox Church -- Fighting for Top Honors, Pentarchy, Icons

More from chapter 2 ...

St John Chrysostom is "perhaps the best loved in the Orthodox Church, and the one whose works are most widely read."  He's also the Bishop of Constantinople that Theodosius managed to get exiled when the churches were fighting for their rank of importance.  

*sigh*  Even the churches? 

Was this quest for supremacy not already played out and addressed in Scripture with Jesus teaching his disciples that the greatest among you is the one who serves?  Why then do we always fall into this temptation to assert ourselves as the top dog?  Why this Alexandrian challenge to Constantinople's new place as number two (knocking Alexandria down to third) even in Church history except for the fact it is further proof of man's - even so-called 'righteous' man's - attempts to raise himself above others?  The Bible teaches that GOD exalts the humble and resists the proud, however, it appears even these Church leaders gave little importance to Jesus' message!

That said, these are the top 5 - the Pentarchy - of Orthodox in order of honor

Rome -- I wrongly thought the talk against the Pope in the intro meant the Orthodox gave little importance to Rome and by extension the Pope.  They just don't give the Pope the supremacy title the Roman Catholics do nor to them does the doctrine of Papal authority apply. To the Orthodox the Pope has a primacy of honor - the first among equals - because Orthodox realize Peter and Paul were both martyred in Rome and they believe Peter was the head of the church established there.  Also when the "other Patriarchates wavered during the great doctrinal disputes, ...Rome for the most part stood firm."  (pg. 28)

Constantinople -- The New Rome (Rome minus the stain of paganism)

Alexandria -- which hated it was bumped from second place when Constantinople was created as the new capital

Antioch -- like the previous three, this city was important to the Roman Empire

Jerusalem -- "added because it was the place Christ had suffered on the Cross and risen from the dead"  (pg. 26)

The next section deals with icons and its chief champion, John of Damascus. The author notes that there have been debates even within Christianity concerning their importance.  Is it idolatry?  Are icons graven images such as are forbidden by God in the Old Testament?  The author states the Orthodox position that they are not committing idolatry simply because they are not worshiping a piece of wood or a metal or art.  They are using those items as symbols.  It is "veneration towards the person depicted."

The second point in favor of icons is probably my favorite: someone who cannot read the Bible, could theoretically see the story of Jesus with the help of icons.   I saw this firsthand when we were in Syria at the chapel of St. Paul (this post). In fact we went around the chapel telling Samer the story of Paul by using these pictures hung around the chapel.

A picture I took in St. Paul's Chapel, Damascus

The third point is that while "God cannot be represented in His eternal nature" (the Bible says "no one has seen God at any time"), the "Incarnation has made a representational religious art possible: God can be depicted because He became human and took flesh."  (pg. 33)  As I read in another book explaining this topic some months back, Jesus was an icon!

(I found these from Amber's blog concerning icons.  Part 1 and  Part 2 -- They are really good!)

Due to the importance of the first seven councils, the Orthodox often refer to themselves as "the Church of the Seven Councils."  The author notes, "next to the Bible, it is the seven councils which the Orthodox Church takes as its standard and guide in seeking solutions to the new problems which arise in every generation." (pg. 35)



Anonymous God-blogger said...

And you are an icon too!

Amber said...

Of course even the church. The church is made up of humans. :)

Even the Apostles, who knew Jesus personally. They sat with Him, ate with Him, spoke with Him on a level that we don't have the opportunity for had egos and had quarrels within themselves.

Niki said...

"The author states the Orthodox position that they are not committing idolatry simply because they are not worshiping a piece of wood or a metal or art. They are using those items as symbols. It is 'veneration towards the person depicted.' "

I don't think pagans are worshipping wood or metal or art when they bow down to their idols. They are worshipping the god that that idol represents or symbolizes. That's what idolatry is. The worship of anyone or anything other than God or putting anyone or anything ahead of God or first in your life other than God.

As for Jesus being an icon, He's much more than that. He doesn't just represent God. He IS God. (God became flesh and dwelt among us. I Timothy 3:16. John 1:1,3,11,14. Isaiah 9:6.) I personally don't see Him as an icon. I see Him as my God. The God of all creation. The Creator of everything. The fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him.


I didn't read what Amber had to say about icons, so I can't comment on that.

Amber said...

Speaking as a former pagan m'self, it's not just that the idol represents the god, but that the god is within the idol itself. The idol is divine because it *is* the god.

No one thinks that an icon is God, or even the Saint that it depicts.

Anonymous said...

That's what idolatry is. The worship of anyone or anything other than God or putting anyone or anything ahead of God or first in your life other than God.

Correct, and that is why it does not apply to the Orthodox veneration of icons.

I've never understood how people can carry pictures of their families and friends and look at them with affection and still not be able to understand the veneration of icons. Or how they can appreciate art, especially symbolic art that tells a story, and not understand icons. Or even how they can ask other friends or family to pray for them, and not understand why we ask the Saints depicted in the icons to pray for us.

After all, our God is not the God of the dead, but of the living! The Church Militant and the Church Triumphant are not separate, but one! We live in Christ together, even now, and they are as much a part of our lives as are our own natural families.

Anonymous said...

While I'm on a roll tonight.. :)

Regarding your post about Rome, that is all true with some caveats. However, since Rome decided to part ways with the other Patriarchates there have been a number of developments in their theology (in addition to the claims of papal authority and infallibility) that make reunion at this time more than about who is in charge. There are a number of books and writings out there about the subject so I will say no more, which may be a surprise to you given the lengths of my other comments!

I will however recommend a link, which contains at the end of the article what would more than likely need to happen before such reunion were possible: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/HopkoPope.php

Let us all pray for the unity of all of God's children sooner rather than later!

Lat said...

Another interesting post and comments above regarding icons.

Supremacy of church is something I've read before but not in detail.Symbols are deemed very important for religious beliefs such that even minor things are portrayed.So to me it's not a wonder that symbols get caught up somewhere along the line.To remain distinct can be difficult when you are one of many and that leaves little room for choice.

observant observer said...

Lat, can you elaborate what you mean by this:

"So to me it's not a wonder that symbols get caught up somewhere along the line.To remain distinct can be difficult when you are one of many and that leaves little room for choice."

Are you trying to say that people (represented here by the Orthodox or the Catholic )in the way somehow forget that a symbol eventually become the object of worship itself?

Lat said...

I meant in a general sense.I grew up watching a lot of symbol worship among Hindus,and thoughts of how other religious groups think very strongly of their symbolic flags to a point of worship.And so my comment.No particular reference to Catholics.
Sorry if I've offended anyone.

Susanne said...

Anon GB, ah, I read that on Amber's posts about icons! :-)

Amber, way to throw out the old "we are all fallen" card! ;-P

Niki, thanks for sharing what Jesus is to you! :)

Amber,interesting! So the wood is indwelled by the god? Wow! Thanks for sharing the pagan perspective.

Susanne said...

Herman, thanks for what you shared about icons and praying to the saints. You make it sound better than it comes across in my mind initially. Thanks for reminding me that God is the God of the living. You always give me much to ponder.

Oh, I appreciate the discussion of Rome and the article. Ah, I'm getting so many good things to read...little wonder I'm making small progress on the actual book. ;) I do greatly enjoy your comments. Thank you so much for dropping by to add your thoughts!

Lat, thanks for the follow-up comment as I wasn't sure to what you were referring. I think you make a good point and maybe this is why God cautions strongly (!!!!) about idolatry! Thanks for your feedback!

OO, thanks for your question for Lat so she could clarify. :)

Everyone - I appreciate the feedback!

observant observer said...

what do you think of the Kaaba with the black stone? don't you think that somehow Islam has also a symbol that seems to be the center of worship and very much looks like the object of worship as well (at least to the non Muslim observer)? Muslims pilgrim would kiss the stone and circulate it?

Jesus Himself said that He had no particular interest in praying in Jerusalem or that direction or any particular place or direction since He said that men should worship in spirit with true intention.

I don't mean to counter offend you, but it seems no one is immune with that sort of practice