"I just want to say, that Im a reborn Christian living in a 98% Orthodox nation (Greece). I must say that its a pity Orthodox are so fanatic mostly about their religion and not on our savior Jesus Christ. They hardly mention His name, and always pray to saints and Mary and worship wooden icons and never mention His name. Everyone out of the Orthodox religion is considered a heretic for them. They believe in all their made up saints, and when their monasteries need to gather money, they send a piece of the saints bones or a piece of cloth in the big cities and all the people go worship these items on their knees. Total chaos. Their monasteries have become tourist attractions and they make so much money, they own almost all of Greece. Their leaders are always in limousines dressed in expensive robes with gold hanging everywhere. Their holy tradition is more important to them than the Bible. Jesus's mother Mary is called "Panagia" which means most Holy. But only God is most Holy. It is sad that these people consider themselves Christians. The truth is they dont have the Holy Spirit in them, or else they wouldnt need their speechless wooden icons would they?"As for my critique, first of all concerning the term "Orthodox", every Christian and every institutional form of Christianity reckons their own theology to be most Biblical. But the fact that there are diversity of beliefs among Christians reveals that someone has to be mistaken. (In fact even within the Orthodox Church there are a diversity of opinions as to what constitutes Orthodox theology and practice.) And though this particular group may call itself "Orthodox", that doesn't mean that its beliefs are necessarily "orthodox" from a Biblical standpoint, but rather that they are "orthodox" in their own mind. But Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism, being ultra-institutionalize forms of Christianity, suffer similar shortcomings when they purport to represent Biblical Christianity. But as I said not all Orthodox Christians hold to these positions.
I venerate the holy icons by prostrating myself before them, by kissing them, by showing them a "relative worship" *Claims of the Bible:
We worship the saints, their holy relics and their icons only because He dwells in them. Thus, the creatures that are sanctified by God are venerated and worshipped because of their relation to Him and on account of Him. This has always been the teaching of the Church: "The worship of the icon is directed to the prototype." Not to venerate the saints is to deny the reality of their communion with God, the effects of Divine sanctification and the grace which works in them; it is to deny the words of the Apostle who said, "I no longer live, but Christ liveth in me." (Gal. 2:20). *
Compare this to Luke 4:8 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'"
Concerning the worship of "holy relics", in John 3 Jesus made reference to the serpent on the rod which Moses had made in accordance with God's command in Number 21:8,9 as symbolic of his coming death on the cross. Yet rather than bow down and worship it, Hezekiah "broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it." 2Kings 18:4 And it is written of his action "He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD."
Concerning the worship of heavenly beings, the apostle John himself was corrected twice on this matter:
Rev 19:9,10 Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" And he added, "These are the true words of God." At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!
Rev 22:8,9 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!"
And Peter also gave the same instruction:
As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself." Acts 10:24,25
So if you're thinking of worshipping fellow servants of Christ whether they be angels or human, the Bible commands "DO NOT DO IT!", regardless of what Orthodox Christianity teaches. Though in the plain language expressed above the Orthodox themselves say that they do worship such things, yet when pressed on the matter they may say that they didn't really mean it. Words mean things. "For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Matthew 12:37 But they may say that they mean that though they bow down and kiss the symbol, yet they worship God to which the symbol belongs, essentially worshipping God through the symbol. They may argue for example that Peter perceived that Cornelius was intent upon worshipping Peter rather than God. And so also for the other cases. But notice that the Bible makes no distinction between the action and the intent. For the Bible reckons the very action to be worship not of God but of the object and thus forbidden regardless how "holy" the object. Though they may lack the revelation of the fact, the Orthodox are actually practicing idolatry. Or to use their own reason in which they equate "honor" with such actions, the Bible also commands to "honor" secular authorities. Would they then advocate bowing down and "worshipping" Caesar, since he is a minster of God according to Romans 13? Nor are there any examples in the New Testament of Christians worshipping icons as the Orthodox practice.
"Thou shalt venerate the Lord thy God, and him alone shalt you serve," says simply that veneration is to be given to God, but does not add the word "only;" for veneration is an ambiguous term; but it goes on to say "thou shalt serve ([Gk:] latreuseis) him only, for to God alone do we render latria.They trivialize the word "worship" here as if Jesus were saying, "There are many things which I can worship, like graven images and icons and the Virgin Mary, and also God, but the important thing is that I'm supposed to serve God only." This appears to be the manner in which the Orthodox elite interpret the text so as to get around what it says so as to justify their practice of idolatry. But to the rest of us ordinary Christians it is quite clear that Jesus is speaking in response to Satan's proposition. Satan speaks nothing about serving him. Satan is talking about bowing down and worshipping. (Or if the Orthodox would like to be consistent in their interpretation, simply venerating him). That was the main issue that Jesus was responding to. His logic is that bowing down and worshipping Satan is contrary to the Bible because its says that we're only supposed to worship God.
But now let's replace Satan with some religious elite type from the Orthodox church who let's say is trying to deify themselves, just as one of their own says "God became man so that man might become God", and calls themselves by elitist religious titles and wearing religous garb, what if they were to make the same proposition to Joe Christian as Satan made to Jesus? Isn't that what they are proposing, if not of themselves, then the "veneration" (as they call it) of graven images, icons, or of historic religious figures other than the Lord? Yet if Joe Christian were to respond as Jesus did it seems that the Orthodox elite would nullify such an objection by calling into question the interpretation of the verse, even though by his application Jesus clearly showed his interpretation of the verse. Thank God Jesus didn't have to face the Orthodox elite in the desert. He might not have made it out! So when an Orthodox priests says you should bow down and venerate religious trinkets, statues, graven images, icons, or even saints of the past, just respond as Jesus did, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’"
Just to reiterate, Jesus' response here is key in understanding God's perspective on the correlation between worship and veneration. Satan asks him to fall down ("pipto" in Greek) and "proskuneo" him, which is to worship. Jesus reponds not with a literal quote of the Bible, but of his interpretation of Deut 6:13 which is that we are to "proskuneo" the Lord God and "latreuo" him only. "Proskuneo" is to worship in form, such as bowing down, and in the King James of the 60 times it is used it is always translated "worship" . "Latreuo" is to worship through service. But Satan doesn't mention the word "latreuo". Therefore the only way to interpret Jesus' response to be relevant to the context is to understand him to mean "Proskuneo" the Lord your God only, and "Latreuo" Him only. As such, many things which the Orthodox label as "veneration" is in fact worship and is contrary to Jesus' teachings.
John 13:35 "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."The problem is that Traditional Orthodox Christianity doesn't reckon anyone outside of its own organization as being brethren in Christ, and thus contemptuously rejects as heretics multitudes of true believers. I'm speaking not of the modernistic variety of Orthodox Theology, which is ecumenical, but of the Traditional type. They reject mutitudes of Christians who believe in Jesus, and who have been baptized and walk as Jesus walked. But by doing so, the Bible calls into question whether they themselves have passed from death to life. And even in the early church there existed elitist exclusivists reflected today in "Orthodox" Christianity.
1 John 3:14,15 "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him."
3John 9-11 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.The Orthodox refer to those Christians outside of the Orthodox institutional church as "Heterodox" of whom they say, "we would say that the heterodox cannot be seen as Her members (members of Christ's true Church), because they have not been grafted into the one true Body of Christ through Holy Baptism." *** And they recognize no Christian baptism outside of the "Orthodox" church as legitimate.
H.H. Kalistos Ware on Synergism, Original Sin, Jesus Christ and Theosis
"If a man asks 'How can I become god?' the answer is very simple: go to church, receive the sacraments regularly, pray to God 'in spirit and in truth,' read the Gospels, follow the commandments."
Notice the implication of seeking to become a god is consisent with the idea within Orthodox Idolatry of worshipping orthodox "saints." And of course the method of obtaining such a status stated here also implies salvation by works, which in fact is more explicitly stated in the next section.
"I believe that man "works" for his salvation." *Let us contrast this with what the Bible teaches:
"Baptism in the true Church liberates us from the effects of sin and enables us to "work" for our salvation." *
"Our Church teaches that our personal salvation is neither a gift, nor a simple work, but rather a process and an undertaking that matures or develops gradually and is realized in the co-operation of two persons: God and man. On the part of God, Divine Grace (His uncreated Divine Energy) is offered to us, while for man's part, faith and righteous deeds are necessary. Consequently, the prerequisites for our personal salvation are the following: the Divine Grace or uncreated Divine Energy of God and the faith and virtuous deeds of man." **
Romans 4:2-8And there are many more verses which are very explicit on this matter. But let me first deal with a few verses which the Orthodox use to allegedly support their legalistic system of righteousness. For they claim:
If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about— but not before God. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him."
Holy Scripture itself makes clear that good works are necessary for salvation. Holy Scripture is filled with passages which refer to good deeds as a necessary prerequisite of our salvation (Mat. 25:34, Jn. 5:29, Rom. 2:6-13, 2 Cor. 5:10, Jas. 2:14-26, Rev. 20:12, and others). **But must any of these verses be interpreted to mean that good works are necessary for salvation, or might they be interpreted meaning good works inevitably accompany salvation. The second is quite a different concept. Is the gospel one of performance based salvation, making salvation dependent upon one's performance, or is it one of salvation based performance, in which one's performance is a fruit of one's salvation status? For is it not written of the New Covenant:
"This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds." Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." Hebrews 10:16,17And thus the salvation offered through the gospel incorporates not only justification in which one's sins are forgiven thus freeing one up from the wrath of God, just as it is written, "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!" Romans 5:9 But also it incorporates a rebirth experience which affects one's behavior as is elaborated upon throughout the book of 1st John.
John 5:29 "those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." - But is it that they will live because they have done good? Or is it that they have done good because they were already born of God through faith in Christ? Remember that the Orthodox state not that good works accompany salvation, as most Evangelicals would agree, but rather that good works are necessary for salvation, and are prerequisite to salvation, rather than being fruits of salvation.
Romans 2:6-13 This indeed is speaking of a legalistic righteousness. For Paul doesn't present the righteousness which is through faith in Christ until Romans 3:21 where he says, "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." What he was doing was contrasting the righteousness which is of the Law versus the righteousness which is of faith. But here we see that by identifying their system of righteousness with Romans 2:6-13, the Orthodox are clearly identifying with a legalistic system of righteousness.
2Cor 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Christians will also face a judgment, despite the fact that Jesus promised, "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." John 5:24 But such a judgment is not one dealing with condemnation. It is elaborated upon in 1Cor 3:11-15 which says, "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames." What happens in this case is that one's Christian life is like a book where some pages are gold silver and precious stones, and other pages are wood, hay and straw. It is not the person himself that is subjected to the flames, but rather his life (works). "It" refers to his work - what he builds. It does not refer to the person himself. His works having been subjected to the flames, all sin (bad works) are burned up. God forgives and it appears quite literally forgets our sins. "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." That's how God deals with the bad things that his children have done. Then we are rewarded for the remaining good things. But these verses are dealing with those who already have been saved from God's wrath. They are not dealing with a heaven/hell judgment.
Rev 20:12 This again speaks of the final
judgment. "The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded
in the books." But as I pointed out above, the believers had any bad
works burned out of their books and as such, having been justified (the
forgiveness of their sins), what is recorded is only good, God having "forgotten"
their other works in accordance with the New Covenant promise recorded
in Hebrews 10:17. And notice a few verses later in Rev 20:15 that the (Heaven/Hell)
decision was not simply one of relative merit, but rather whether one's
name was in the book of life. Thus if one's name is actually in the book
of life, their salvation is already decided upon. The issue with the Orthodox
is whether one gets into the book of life based upon good works.
"And after that, knowing that great is the force of punishment, and that the many are not so much led by the promise of good things as by the threat of the terrible, he concludes his discourse with these words; “He that believes on the Son hath everlasting life; but he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him.” Here again he refers the account of punishment to the Father, for he says not “the wrath of the Son,” (yet He is the Judge,) but sets over them the Father, desiring so the more to terrify them." Saint John ChrysostomBut to the modern Orthodox, their god is much like a Santa Claus figure in contrast to the God of the Bible who says, "Depart from me you who are curses, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" Mt 25:41 or Jesus who said speaks of being "thrown into the eternal fire", both of these in contradiction to the Orthodox position that God assigns no one to hell, but rather teach that people out of their free will chose to go there. If they are free to go there or not, then why does Jesus speak of being thrown into hell, or elsewhere where he speaks of people going there against their will?
I could comment further on other legalistic aspects of Orthodox theology such as their "you have to get wet to get saved" idea, and their idea that infants who don't have faith in Christ can nonetheless have salvation forced upon them through baptism, but I've commented on these to issues to some degree elsewhere concerning even deviant protestant theologies. I could also comment on the their reliance upon human tradition as they say, "Aware that God has spoken through the Ecumenical Councils, the Orthodox Church looks particularly to them for authoritative teaching in regard to the faith and practice of the Church." and I could comment on Ecclesiastical aspects of Orthodoxy and how it reflects the legalistic and elitist attitudes inherent in their theology. But let me ask this more generally, who more accurately mimics Christ? Who walks as Christ did? Do Evangelicals or Orthodox?
Christ was not part of the institutional religious establishment of his day. He did not come as an institutional religious leader. Rather he was viewed as a heretic by the religious elite, much as the Orthodox view protestants. While the religious elite obsessed over legalistic matters of ritual, time, location, buildings and the like, Jesus brought salvation through faith and the forgiveness of sins. Yes to those with a self-righteous legalistic mindset he preached Law in an attempt to convict them of sin so as to prepare them for the message of grace. But many legalistic types have yet to develop the humility and the fear of God necessary to drive them to the gospel of grace. Such people are like the Pharisee of Luke 18 who reckoned themselves as good and look down upon others. Thus on the negative side I could liken the Orthodox to the religious elite who even persecuted Christ to the death. They are wandering in the desert of legalism yet to cross the Jordan into the promise land. But realize also that the apostle Paul himself started out as one of them. And just as both Paul and Jesus present the Law in preparation to presenting the gospel of grace, so Orthodox Christianity (and Catholicism as well) could be proving grounds upon which to pass through in one's spiritual journey to the salvation which is found in the blood of Christ.
It's kind of ironic that the very concept of a synergistic journey to salvation advocated by Orthodoxy, when one actually follows the Biblical Christ, will end up in one leaving that very institution, and having done so one will be reckoned more a heretic by them than if one had never been Orthodox to begin with. But that's the Christian life. "A man's enemies will be the members of his own household." Leave the desert and move on to the promise land.
Finally my prayer for the Orthodox is reflected in a slight paraphrase of Romans 10:1-13
Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the (Orthodox) is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them." But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) "or 'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Orthodox and unOrthodox — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."Steve Amato
Recommended reading for Orthodox Christians:
** On the Presuppositions of our Personal Salvation Ch. 13. from The Truth of Our Faith:: A Discourse from Holy Scripture on the Teachings of True Christianity, By Elder Cleopa of Romania (Uncut Mountain Press, 2000)
*** The Orthodox Teaching on Christians Outside of the Church by Patrick Barnes