by Fr. John Parker (transcribed from video) –
(The following excerpts were transcribed from a public video of Fr. John Parker’s presentation at the Digital Media and Orthodox Pastoral Care conference from June 2018. Topical headings and bolded words were added for emphasis.)
But the digital age also provides a greenhouse for what I would like to call anti-catechism: the subtle and not-so-subtle questioning of, for example, the moral teachings of the Orthodox faith. On the whole, this anti-catechism is unmonitored and, one hopes, not blessed for publication; and yet, with several examples, we can see the advancing of agendas simply unrelated to Orthodox personhood and the moral life.
What do we do, for example, with a site like Public Orthodoxy? Public Orthodoxy is, according to their website, “a peer-reviewed online publication produced for the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University” in New York, whose “goal is to feature insightful, provocative op-ed pieces from scholars of Orthodox Christianity.” The blog is a main electric medium to “foster intellectual inquiry by supporting scholarship and teaching that is critical to the ecclesial community.” I’ll place my emphasis on “provocative” and “critical”.
Orthodoxy in Dialogue
A second online resource that captivates digital attention is Orthodoxy In Dialogue, which in 2017 according to its own report ranked in the top 60 Orthodox blogs on the internet. Orthodoxy In Dialogue considers itself a younger sister to Public Orthodoxy (mentioned above). In the essay “Same-Sex Love: The Church needs a conversation”, the anonymous authors and editors of the blog criticised Dr. Bradley Nassif for “not offering anything new” to the so-called conversation about homosexuality since he holds the Orthodox position that same-sex marriage and same-sex sexual activity both miss the mark and are contrary and immoral according to the Orthodox Christian tradition. The editors contrast his “unpastoral” spirit, as they identify his approach, to those of the radical Jesuit Catholic priest James Martin, S. J., who leverages his notoriety for consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications where he promotes the acceptance and normalization of homosexuality.
The Early Church’s catechesis was simple and direct. The well-known Didache, overwhelmingly accepted to date from the last decade of the first century, cites two ways to live: a way of blessings, a way of curses. A way to life, a way to death. “There is a great chasm between them”, it is written. The first Christians were clearly instructed that actions such as abortion and fornication are ways to death.
A century and a quarter later – circa 215 AD – Hippolytus of Rome penned On the Apostolic Tradition which delineates a straight path to the clear making of a catechumen. In his day, it was clear that one had to abandon sexual sins – among many other nonchristian behaviors – in order to enroll as a catechumen!
In the days of the fourth century pilgrim Egeria, as is accounted in her diary of Holy Week in Jerusalem (in the fourth century) one could not enroll as a catechumen without the personal testimony of one sponsor — before enrolling as a catechumen — that one had turned from immoral and sinful behaviors, having turned to Christ.
What is indisputable in the development of catechesis in the Early Church is an emphasis on four facets of Christian life. I call them Code, Creed, Services, Scriptures. That is, the moral life of the Christian, the dogmatic beliefs of Christianity, the mystagogical interpretations of the Church rites, and the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.
False Teachers Within the Orthodox Churches
Today, a tidal wave of forces races towards us, not only from outside of the Church, whence we would expect a deluge against the Ark of Salvation, but also from within the Orthodox Churches, where self-professed teachers presume to challenge the moral teachings of the faith. I have mentioned and named but two of many notorious sources of this diabolical — in the technical sense, divisive — teaching. It subtly divides simply by raising “pastoral questions” related to love.
One-time evangelical Episcopalian bishop FitzSimons Allison from South Carolina (where I live) wrote a book entitled “The Cruelty of Heresy” in which he taught that accepting false teachings “does not soothe or save people by scratching their itching ears. Rather, he suggests, “indulging the heresy is cruel to them, for it “distorts the truth and distorts the image of our Lord Jesus Christ’, to borrow an image from St. Irenaeus of Lyons.” In today’s age of “finding pastoral solutions,” is it not also cruel vis-à-vis our role to teach the truth in love, to suggest to someone that he or she will not be judged by God for engaging in certain sinful behaviors, which Jesus himself defines as against life.
The internet has become a place not simply of resources for faithful Orthodox Christians to read ancient texts or the lives of the Saints, it is in full swing a digital catechist; and while sites like OCA.org and Ancientfaith.com are repositories of significant and trustworthy catechetical material, there flourish unhindered sites such as Public Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy in Dialogue, and The Wheel which prowl around, wolves in sheep’s clothing, forming and shaping false ideas about the reality of our life in Christ. They are masters of promoting such agendas with passion; let the hearer understand.
Excerpts were transcribed from a public video of Fr. John Parker’s presentation at the Digital Media and Orthodox Pastoral Care conference in Crete from June 2018. Topical headings and bolded words were added for emphasis. Fr. Parker did not ask for or endorse their publication; he offered no explanation why.
Archpriest John E. Parker is an Orthodox priest in the Orthodox Church in America and the Dean of Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.
Video of Fr. John Parker’s presentation: