Orthodoxy and Western Christianity: For Reformed Protestants

The interpretive authority for Orthodox Christians is not our own reason applied to the Bible alone (the Protestant doctrine of "sola Scriptura") but what can be discerned as the consensual teaching of the Holy Fathers, the collective voice of the Church, which is the "pillar and ground of Truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). Thus, if one wishes to know what the Orthodox Church teaches about any given Reformed doctrine he should consult the Patristic commentaries for the various "proof-texts" employed by Reformed Protestants in support of their views. For example, predestination and free will: Romans 8:28-30, 9:11ff, 11:7; Eph. 1:5ff, 2:1-9; 2 Tim. 1:9-10; Titus 3:4-5; and 1 Thess. 5:9. 

In doing so you will readily discover that the consensus clearly supports the Orthodox position, which affirms man's free will and that "predestination" is basically another way of saying "God's acts according to foreknowledge" (see a short treatment of this).   The key issue will then become something more foundational: Who do I trust? The consensus of innumerable holy men spanning from the time of the Apostles to the present day? or The interpretations of a few men who were unfamiliar with this consensus (e.g., Luther and Calvin) and who were shackled by the late medieval scholastic nominalism of their day?


Orthodox-Reformed Bridge , a solid blog with the tagline "A Meeting Place for Evangelicals, Reformed & Orthodox Christians". A good resource for Reformed Protestants who are inquiring into Orthodoxy.

On Predestination, from the writings of Bishop Elias Milatios. A comprehensive treatment of this doctrine.

Miles from the Truth: A Response to the Protestant magazine Credenda/Agenda, by Deacon [now Father] John Whiteford and Patrick Barnes.

St. John of Damascus on Predestination and Free Will: see Book II, Chapters XXV-XXX, and Book III, Chapters XIV and XVIII.

The UnReformed Truth: Orthodoxy Exonerated in the Light of the Apostolic Faith. A Response to the Calvinist journal Credenda/Agenda. Numerous articles critiquing Calvinism from an Orthodox perspective.

The Myth of the "Calvinist Patriarch", by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna.

The Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem, a Synod held in 1672 concerning a work entitled The Eastern Confession of the Christian Faith, which attempted to express Orthodox beliefs in Protestant terms, specifically Calvinism. It was allegedly written by the former Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril (Loukaris). The "Confession of Dositheos" starts at the bottom of p. 110, and remains an excellent expression of Orthodox theology vis-à-vis Calvinism. Protopresbyter James Thornton offers further historical insights in this excerpt from his book The Oecumenical Synods of the Orthodox Church.

St. John Cassian on Grace and Free Will: his famous Conference XIII. St. John was a contemporary of St. Augustine in Gaul. Though living in the West he was in heart and mind a Father of the East. He was the first to respectfully object to certain of his contemporary's theological imprecisions concerning grace and free will. Conference XIII is a superb statement of the Orthodox doctrine of synergy (wrongly dubbed "semi-Pelagianism" by modern Western writers): God working with man to effect his salvation. One should also read two "books" in St. John's treatise Against the Nestorians which deal with the heresy of Pelagianism: Book I and Book V.

St. Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers, by Fr. George Florovsky. This article demonstrates that the Holy Fathers have always taught that God's Will does not proceed from His Uncreated Essence but from His Uncreated Energies. They also condemn the Western notion of "created grace." This teaching has important ramifications for Reformed doctrines on free will.

Documents of the Sixth Œcumenical Synod (680-81 A.D.): This Synod is inseparable from the two prior Synods, especially the Fourth, as it clarifies them and interprets them. This Synod "condemned the heresy of the Monothelites, who argued that although Christ has two natures, yet since He is a single person, He has only one will. The Council replied that if He has two natures, then He must also have two wills. The Monothelites, it was felt, impaired the fullness of Christ's humanity, since human nature without a human will would be incomplete, a mere abstraction. Since Christ is true man as well as true God, He must have a human as well as a divine will." (Ware, ibid., p. 29) As Fr. George Florovsky demonstrates in his article "The Ascetic Ideal in the New Testament" (above), Reformed soteriology is Monoenergistic. Although Reformed Protestants affirm Chalcedonian Christology, they reason inconsistently, failing to formulate orthodox soteriology which is derived properly only from the dogma of the Person of Christ.

Free Will and Death, an excerpt from The Mystery of Death, by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis.

The Teaching on Predestination and the Veneration of the Saints, from the ROCOR Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Washington, DC.

Dialogue on Free Will and Determinism, by Father John Whiteford

A Reply to Jonathan Edwards' Treatise on the Will, by Father John Whiteford

Recommended Books

Cabasilas, St. Nicholas, Life in Christ. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. A former Reformed Protestant commented on a forum: "In my 10 year struggle with all of this, I found Nicholas Cabasilas to be the best bridge between Reformed thought and Orthodoxy. He wrote in the 14th century so I don't know how he did that..."

Pelikan, Jaroslav, The Christian Tradition, Volumes 1 and 2. Arguably the best history of dogma series ever produced. Dr. Pelikan converted to Orthodoxy from Lutheranism in 1998.

Robertson, J. N. W. B. trans., The Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem, Sometimes Called the Council of Bethlehem. London: Thomas Baker, 1899. Contains the translation from the Greek of the Synod's decrees against Calvinism (specifically against the "Confession of Cyril Lucar") and includes the Confession of Dositheus. This was reprinted in 1969 by AMS Press in New York. It details clearly the differences between Calvinism and Orthodoxy.

Rose, Fr. Seraphim, The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church. Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1996 [1983]. This is one of the most important books listed here. It is a must read. Read some excerpts. Also, I have included here some other excerpts that I posted to an Internet forum in response to a question about what the Orthodox Church teaches concerning previent grace:

This youthful error of Augustine (i.e., the denial of prevenient grace) is indeed Pelagian, and is the result of an over-logicalness in the defense of free will, making it something autonomous rather than something that cooperates with God's grace; but he incorrectly ascribes it to St. Cassian (who was also wrongly accused in the West of teaching that God's grace is given in accordance with human merit), and Augustine himself then fell into the opposite exaggeration of ascribing everything in the awakening of faith to Divine grace. The true teaching of St. Cassian [see Conferences, XIII], on the other hand, which is the teaching of the Orthodox Church, was something of a mystification to the Latin mind. (p. 38) .... [Speaking of St. Faustus of Lérins, Fr. Seraphim writes:] "Like St. Cassian, he saw grace and freedom as parallel, grace always cooperating with the human will for man's salvation." (p. 56; cf. Phil. 2:12-13).... About St. Faustus, Gennadius writes (ch. 86): "He published an excellent work, 'On the Grace of God through Which We Are Saved,' in which he teaches that the grace of God always invites, precedes and helps our will, and whatever gain freedom of will may attain for its pious effect is not its own desert, but the gift of grace." And later, after comments on his other books: "This excellent teacher is enthusiastically believed in and admired." Clearly, Gennadius defends St. Faustus as an Orthodox Father, and in particular defends him against the charge (often made against St. Cassian as well) that he denies "prevenient grace." The followers of Augustine could not understand that the Orthodox doctrine of synergy does not at all deny "prevenient grace," but only teaches its cooperation with free will. Gennadius (and St. Faustus himself) made a special point of stating this belief in "prevenient grace." (p. 58)