Cover of The Non-Orthodox

Book Reviews of The Non-Orthodox

Reviewed by Father James Thornton

The Non-Orthodox: The Orthodox Teaching on Christians Outside of the Church. By Patrick Barnes. Salisbury, MA: Regina Orthodox Press, 1999. 173 pp.. Paperback. $19.95.

In past centuries, and especially before the nineteenth century, the question posed by Patrick Barnes' superb study was not perhaps so urgent as it has subsequently become, since prior to that time Orthodox Christians did not live in large numbers outside of the regions traditionally associated with the Orthodox Faith. Great numbers of Orthodox Christians immigrating to the West, intermarriage between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, and substantial numbers of conversions to Orthodoxy have changed that picture considerably. Thus, it is common today for Orthodox pastors and other clergy to be asked questions about the teaching of the Orthodox Church with regard to non-Orthodox Christians. Such questions are a matter of pressing concern to many of the Faithful, who often have non-Orthodox relatives and friends. No one would deny that this is a perfectly understandable concern, since it concerns the love of family, friends, and neighbors—a Christian concern par excellence. Indeed, as the author himself puts it, the spiritual status of non-Orthodox Christians has become "a burning question."

Unfortunately, insofar as answers are concerned, the Orthodox Faithful are frequently misled through ignorance, and misapprehensions, or by deliberate distortions that are intended to make Orthodoxy more congruous with certain wholly unOrthodox concepts, such as political ecumenism, on the one hand, or "super-correct" fanaticism, on the other. Whereas the Holy Church Fathers are clear and consistent in their views, the purveyors of these unOrthodox concepts are precisely the contrary. Those following the ecumenist ideology generally adopt a position rooted in superficiality and mealymouthedness, revealing the effete character of their schemes, while the fanatics, on their part, seem intent on transforming Orthodoxy from a universal Gospel of faith, hope, and love into something more closely akin to the extremist sects on the fringes of Judaism or Islam. In both cases, the "Golden Path of Moderation" taught by the Holy Fathers is obscured beneath the debris of personal speculation, calculated obfuscation, simplistic catchwords, hidden agenda, and, most painful of all, the abuse of Scriptural, Canonical, and Patristic citations.

However, there does exist a body of authentic Orthodox teaching on the subject of non-Orthodox Christians, embedded within Holy Scripture, the Holy Canons, Church history, and the writings of the Holy Fathers and accessible to honest scholars and researchers. As the author of the present work demonstrates, that teaching is generally forthright and unambiguous, although often expressed in accordance with spiritual reasoning, as opposed to the cut-and-dry legalistic approach of much Western religious thought. Requisite to a correct grasp of this teaching is an investigation that is serious, and not selective or cursory, and an investigator who can escape the influence of certain of the pervasive and disabling illusions of modern man. I will mention three principles that assist one in escaping this influence: First, the Church exists and acts not in some isolated realm of ivory-tower abstractions, but in a fallen world. It functions, in other words, in human history and is therefore frequently subjected, in an external sense, to the persecutions, rigors, upheavals, and dilemmas imposed on it by the world. Consequently, certain decisions, judgements, and practices of the Church in particular historical periods can be understood properly only within their historical setting. To cite such decisions, judgements, and practices outside of their historical context is reckless, at best, and deceitful, at worst. Secondly, Church teaching, unlike many secular philosophies, does not deal with mankind in the abstract. Rather, it is ever cognizant of individual human failings and weaknesses, and so strives, despite those failings and weaknesses, to lead men to Christ and eternal salvation, all the while remaining faithful to itself, to its timeless and unalterable truth, and to its mission. Thirdly, twentieth-century Orthodox Christians are not brighter, more perceptive, more compassionate, better read or educated, or more enlightened with respect to human nature than their spiritual forebears, the Holy Fathers of the Church. Exactly the opposite is in fact the case. We are mere epigonoi. It behooves us, therefore, to look upon the legacy that the Fathers have imparted to us with awe. To imagine that we are at liberty to dismiss that legacy as obsolete, or to imagine that we face unprecedented circumstances that require the overturning of that legacy in whole or part, is simply to fall to soul-destroying spiritual pride.

The author of The Non-Orthodox, Patrick Barnes, himself a convert to Orthodoxy, has succeeded in his effort at setting forth the Orthodox Church's approach to the non-Orthodox primarily because, in the opinion of this writer, he has allowed the aforementioned principles to guide him throughout this work. The result is a balanced, charitable, convincing, and nearly exhaustive treatment of the subject which, though sober and scholarly, it is written in a style easily read and grasped by the non-specialist.

Does Grace exist outside of the Orthodox Church? Where are the boundaries of the Church? Are modern-day Protestantism and Roman Catholicism heretical in the same sense that the great heresies of the first millennium were heretical? Are all of the ordinary followers of these heterodox religious groups heretics-or perhaps even pagans? Is baptism within non-Orthodox ecclesiastical bodies valid? Does it possess the same spiritual power and carry the same spiritual blessings as Orthodox Baptism? How should converts from Protestantism and Roman Catholicism be received into Orthodoxy? What was the practice of the Church, in this regard, in earlier ages? These are only a few of the "burning questions" raised in Patrick Barnes' book, and all are explored in depth. In each chapter, the author presents views of contemporary Orthodox writers, modernist and traditionalist, examines these views in light of the Holy Canons and various Patristic authorities, and then synopsizes genuine Orthodox teaching in a highly useful conclusion to each chapter.

One hesitates to criticize so useful and important a work; and so, I shall simply offer a few suggestions for future editions. A "pet peeve" of mine with respect to many books now published, including this book, is the failure to provide an index. An index is indispensable to a study intended as reference work and not merely a book to be read through once or twice and then set aside. This book is too valuable not to have an index. There is also perhaps a certain excess of zeal in the multiplication of texts upholding the true Orthodox teaching on the matters at hand, especially where the author appears to anticipate objections from potential critics. The title, too, is a bit crude for such an important work. Yet, let me emphasize that these are minor faults in an otherwise powerful book that will doubtless be read with great profit by Orthodox believers. The Non-Orthodox is a much needed antidote to the theological and historical balderdash, if not brazen chicanery, that passes for scholarship in our unhappy time on complex subjects like those raised in this book.

Father James Thornton
Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XVII, No. 1 (2000).

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Another Review of The Non-Orthodox

This work, subtitled "The Orthodox Teaching on Christians Outside of the Church" is an invaluable addition to any library of Orthodox materials. It answers clearly and concisely so many of the questions which occur to the Orthodox themselves and to those making enquiries about Orthodoxy: Are the sacraments of the non-Orthodox valid? Do those who are not Orthodox lack any hope of salvation? How should non-Orthodox Christians be received into the Church? etc. And it answers them in a considered and authoritative way, because it consistently refers to the teachings of the Fathers and of the Church herself, and not to opinion or "how it must be." Patrick Barnes goes further, and without being contentious he demonstrates the fallacy of so many opinions that are current today within the Orthodox world and which are often presented as teaching although they are largely unfounded. He is not stinting in quoting even those whose opinions he shows to be erroneous. Often in books that have a polemical aspect, one finds that those who are being refuted are hardly given space to express of develop their thought. Barnes avoids this injustice. He also explains how it is that the Orthodox Church firmly believes herself to be the Ark of salvation, but does not therefore assert that those outside her fold, who must in any case be distinguished between those who are culpability [sic] so and those who are not, are devoid of God's blessings and His love. So much confusion has been caused in the past two or three generations by the spread of views within the Orthodox world that are not the Church's, but are designed to make her teachings more palatable to the ecumenistic world-view of the present age, that this book comes as a strong and healthy, but compassionate, remedy to these ills.

Hieromonk Alexis (now Ambrose) Young

From The Shepherd, April, 1999.