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About this Site

As the site’s creator and Webmaster I would first like to point out that the nature of the Internet as an information medium makes this site—from the Orthodox perspective of “acquiring knowledge”—quite limited. For true acquisition of knowledge is an experiential concept involving the transformation of the whole man. This comes through worship, prayer, and ascetic struggle—i.e., an active participation in the Church’s mysteriological life. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that—as Bishop Kallistos has often stated—“Orthodoxy is not a system of ideas, but a way of life.” When asked about recommended reading on the Orthodox Faith, Bishop Kallistos says that people should focus on the Lives of the Saints*. The Saints are the glory of the Church and exemplify the fullness of Orthodoxy, something which is not a “religion,” but a therapeutic method—a way of cure—undertaken within the Church and involving purification, illumination, and glorification (theosis). In short, Orthodoxy cannot be grasped simply by reading articles and books—one has to experience and live it. The Internet is fine as a conduit of information, but realize its limitations when it comes to deepening your understanding of the Orthodox faith.

Second, this site began as a missionary endeavor. I am a convert from Protestantism, and I wanted to share my discovery of this Pearl of Great Price that is Orthodoxy with anyone who was searching for it on the Internet. Inquirers are welcome, and I trust you will find many resources to help you get started on a journey to the Orthodox Church.

Third, this site contains articles about modernism and ecumenism, which are unfortunately troubling the Orthodox Church in these modern times. Church problems are lamentable, but not uncommon throughout Her history. See, for example, how St. Basil the Great describes the situation he faced in the fourth century in Chapter XXX of his important treatise On the Holy Spirit. As Vladimir Lossky points out in his classic The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, because

the Church is catholic in all her parts, each one of her members—not only the clergy but also each layman—is called to confess and to defend the truth of tradition; opposing even the bishops should they fall into heresy. A Christian who has received the gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of the Holy Chrism must have a full awareness of his faith: he is always responsible for the Church. Hence the restless and sometimes agitated character of the ecclesiastical life of Byzantium, of Russia and of other countries in the Orthodox world. This, however, is the price paid for a religious vitality, an intensity of spiritual life which penetrates the whole mass of believers, united in the awareness that they form a single body with the hierarchy of the Church. (emphasis mine)

Articles about these issues are provided so that Orthodox Christians can educate themselves with a view towards holding fast to the traditions of the Church, and preventing innovation and heresy from creeping in unawares. As St. John of Damascus once wrote:

“Let us be firm, my brothers, on the rock of faith, in the tradition of the Church, and not remove or change the boundaries established by our Holy Fathers. Let us close the road to innovators and not permit them to demolish the structure of the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of God. If we allow, however, the introduction of any innovation, we unconsciously support the collapse of the Church. No, my brothers, you who love Christ, no, you children of the Church, you will never want to surround your Mother Church with confusion.” (Concerning Images, III.41)

In this vein, it is also important to say a few words about some of the criticism you will find on this site. Departures from true Orthodoxy, especially when they touch on matters of a dogmatic nature, should generally not go unchallenged. Some people are uncomfortable with open criticism of Church matters. In order to briefly address this, I reproduce here an excerpt from the “Points of Correspondence” section of The Shepherd, an outstanding Orthodox publication from England. One of their readers asked, “Within Orthodoxy an un-Christian attitude is shown towards other Orthodox by all the differences and divisions... the Saviour intended one united Church and Orthodox should be striving always and actively for that.” The editor replied:

Of course the Saviour intended, indeed intends, for the Church to be united; and Orthodox should be actively striving for that. But unity is something to be contested for—it is because true unity is precious to us that divisions occur. We are continually undergoing a test. We must continually contest for the purity of the Faith, which is the ground of any true unity. A minor deviation might occur—for the Orthodox this is dangerous. A hairline crack might widen and become a chasm. So conscientious Orthodox speak up. This can seem like bickering, but it is not essentially so. It is an expression of our love of unity. Admittedly many times we might be mistaken in our appraisal of the situation; many times we might be right, but react wrongly, too precipitously; criticism of wrong ideas might too easily spill over into criticism of the holders of those ideas; this is a sensitive area, because the two are not unrelated.... [C]riticism is [thus] a sign of life within the Church. The alternative would be to follow the line generally taken by the Anglican Church until the recent “priestesses” issue, that of holding to an external and administrative unity, but interiorally being divided on almost every matter of faith. Such a system works and did work for the Anglicans for about 400 years, because it is essentially a worldly organisation; but it does not work within the Orthodox context, because our only ground of unity is the Faith. One last thought on this looks back into Church history, even to the Acts of the Apostles. If you read this you would see that how the Orthodox Church lives, with all its stresses and temptations, is how the Church has always lived. It is only when organisational unity in the shape of the Papacy or of an established national church in the Anglican sense takes over, that a seeming peace can be achieved. But it is not the peace of victory over enemies, which we shall only experience fully as a community in the Age to come, but it is a peace of carelessness or perhaps even of defeat. (Vol. XIV, No. 11 [August 1994], pp. 18-19.)

As Father Alexander Lebedeff points out in his “A Conversation About Modernism“—an excellent introduction to these issues—many of the things that seem petty are actually quite significant. This is because Holy Tradition is like a tapestry. If one begins to unravel the “little threads,” eventually the whole thing could come undone. This unraveling affects church unity, which is ultimately the result of fidelity to Holy Tradition. In other words, where fidelity wanes, internal divisions arise.

A final motivation for the creation and maintenance of this site is that I hope to awaken in Orthodox men and women the desire to love the truth and to pursue it at all costs. This is something greatly needed in our times, as Fr. George Florovsky once wrote so passionately:

The late Metropolitan Eulogius was discussing the recent religious revival among Russians, both at home and in exile, during the early years of Russian emigration. The fact was obvious: there was an awakening. The reasons were obvious, also: the shock of tragic events, insecurity and uncertainty, suffering and fear. But exactly what was it that attracted Russians to the Church? The dogmas, the Orthodox doctrine? Yes, said the Metropolitan, so it was in the past, and especially in Byzantium among the Greeks, but not in Russia. There was a time when even lay people were deeply interested in questions of faith. But Russians, the Metropolitan contended, with the exception of the few educated theologians, have not yet reached the point at which they would be concerned with the problems of abstract theological thought, and in fact they are not interested in them at all. It may be, the Metropolitan conceded, that the Church has failed to develop an interest in theology among believers. But, in his opinion, the true reason for this lack of interest among the Russians was that they neither cherish, nor understand the theoretical aspect of the realization or embodiment of the Church’s ideals in the lives of men. Above all, they cherish the ritual aspect of religion, the beauty of services, ikons, melodies, and the like. The Metropolitan proceeded to explain the emotional and educational value of the rites. He added, however, that all this ritual may be little understood, and that people do not really know what truth is witnessed or symbolized in the rites. Yet, he contended, rites themselves are so touching and moving, exalting and inspiring, regardless of their meaning....

It is really embarrassing that there is so little concern for “dogmatic systems,” as well as for the Doctrine of the Church, in various circles and quarters of the Orthodox society of our day, and that “devotion” is so often forcefully divorced from “faith.” There is too much concern with “the vessels” and too little concern with the Treasure, which alone makes the vessel precious. Symbols and rites are vehicles of the truth, and if they fail to convey the truth, they simply cease to function. Unfortunately, it is often suggested that “interest in doctrines” is something rather archaic and is a Greek attitude rather than a Russian one (again, not—but). There is but one Orthodox Tradition of faith, and it transcends all national barriers. The feast of Orthodoxy, which we still faithfully celebrate on the first Sunday in Lent, is precisely a theological feast. The Legacy of Fathers is the core of our Orthodox tradition, and it is a theological legacy. The Doctrine of Fathers is the spring of Orthodoxy in life. One is fully justified in contending that our modern confusion in life comes directly from the contemporary neglect of “sound teaching,” from the lack of “sound learning” in matters of faith. (From “A Criticism of the Lack of Concern of Doctrine Among Russian Orthodox Believers”)

What he says concerning Russian Orthodox Christians could be widely applied. An indication of the great esteem that an Orthodox Christian should hold the pursuit and love of truth is found in this Life of St. Photios the Great, by the eminent Serbian scholar Saint Justin (Popovich) of Chelije:

Our God-bearing Fathers, who governed all things in the Church of God in a proper and God-pleasing manner, have left to us as a sacred heritage the God-given teaching, just as they themselves had received from the Holy Apostles, that the confession and defense of the True Orthodox Faith is the greatest of virtues. No other virtue, they tell us, is so great before God and so profitable for the Church. For the Truth is God, and love and confession of God’s Truth—that is to say, the True Faith of the Church—frees, enlightens and saves us men. This holy teaching is proclaimed especially by those holy Fathers who spent their entire lives struggling to preserve Christ’s true and saving Faith, by which alone men are saved and enter eternal life. This holy tradition of the Fathers, confirmed, as it is, and testified to by their entire lives, offers the greatest lesson for our own generation, a generation which, lacking zeal “for the love of the Truth,” has grown cold and hardened in its indifference toward the correct Faith.

Among the ancient and great Fathers of the Church, perhaps the greatest zealots for the correct Faith and the Truth of God were SS. Athanasios the Great and Basil the Great. Yet our holy and God-bearing Father Photios, the Confessor and defender of the Orthodox Faith of Christ, is in no way inferior to them. Like them, he labored in all the virtues that please God and bring deification. But above all he strove for Divine Truth, the true dogma of the Orthodox Faith bequeathed to the Church as a holy inheritance by the God-inspired Apostles and Fathers. So it is that the holy Photios wrote in his famous letter to Nicholas, the Pope of Rome: “Nothing is dearer than the Truth.” And in the same letter, he noted: “It is truly necessary that we observe all things, but above all, that which pertains to matters of the Faith, in which but a small deviation represents a deadly sin.” (On the Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit, [Studion Publishers, Inc., 1983])

It is my sincere hope and prayer that God will raise up Orthodox men and women who have a deep thirst for the understanding and maintenance of the truth—a truth found only in Holy Orthodoxy.

I hope this introduction has helped orient you to the contents of this site. Your comments are welcome. May God guide us all into the fullness of Truth—Christ Himself!

—Patrick Barnes

* This view can be taken too far as Fr. George Florovsky points out.