August 10, 2012

The Scriptures and the Power of God

“You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22: 29)

Jesus repeatedly rebukes those we could call “authorized” teachers for their narrow approach to scripture and their refusal to acknowledge the sovereign power of God to act in unexpected ways beyond their limited interpretation of the tradition they had received. “For the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you when he said, ‘…in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men’” (Mt 15:6-7, 9).  In fact, throughout the Old Testament, prophets warned Israel time again about being complacent and self-satisfied. Also, the Old Testament combined multiple strands of teaching, not easily homogenized—hence the perpetual debates among the rabbis—that should have left teachers more wary of being too absolute.

We Orthodox should be a bit sympathetic to the Jewish teachers. They were trying to hold on to the teachings they believed God had inspired through His presence over the centuries in the life of the community, its teaching and its worship. We too place great emphasis on holy tradition. How many people have joined the Orthodox Church in recent decades precisely because they were looking for a doctrinal and moral foundation that wasn’t shifting with every new cultural wind or popular teacher? As Orthodox, we too would be suspicious of a new, charismatic and popular teacher questioning the tradition and unsettling our parishes. This is precisely why official Judaism ultimately rejected Jesus.

This is yet another central paradox of Orthodox Christianity. Firmly committed to holy tradition—understood as the Spirit of God speaking through the history of revelation (the scriptures, liturgy, councils, teachers and saints of the Church)—but always ready to be confronted with the unexpected power of God taking us in directions we never imagined.  Tradition and Pentecost are always intertwined.

Holy Synod to Meet at St Andrew’s House in Detroit

St. Andrew House

Yesterday Bishop Michael of New York, the temporary administrator of the Orthodox Church in America, was at the Chancery for most of the day (he is assisting Archbishop Nathaniel, the senior OCA bishop overseeing the life of the church in this interim period). We went over the agenda for the special Holy Synod meeting to take place next Monday (August 13) in Detroit.

The agenda will focus on reviewing recent developments in the OCA, especially Metropolitan Jonah’s resignation and planning for the All-American Council to elect his successor. Father Leonid Kishkovsky and Bishop Alexander will report on their recent trip to Kiev, at which they also had the opportunity to speak at length with Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow. Father Eric G. Tosi and I will report on progress toward making staff appointments for the Office for Review of Sexual Misconduct Allegations, naming a Rector to Saint Catherine’s Church in Moscow and hiring of an Executive Assistant. There are also a number of clergy matters to be addressed (cases of clergy discipline and appeals to the Holy Synod).

The Synod meeting is being hosted by Archbishop Nathaniel at Saint Andrew’s House in Detroit. Saint Andrew’s is a joint project of the Orthodox churches in Detroit and is dedicated to promoting the Orthodox faith and Orthodox unity in North America.