OCA News Release on the St. Tikhon’s Investigative Report

As a member of the Metropolitan Council, several people have asked me about the St. Tikhon’s Investigation Committee Report.   The OCA has announced through their webpage where one can find a copy of the  Executive Summary of the report online and how to obtain a copy of the report itself.  The OCA’s announcement is below, and I direct everyone who has questions about the investigation to read the report.  I was not on the Investigative Committee and have nothing to add to what the report says.   In Metropolitan Council we discussed this report in executive session – we really were not given additional documents or information beyond what is in the report.

SYOSSET, NY [OCA] — After completing a final review of the Report of the St. Tikhon’s Investigation Committee, which was charged with investigating the financial situation of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery and Bookstore in South Canaan, PA, the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America have decided to post the committee’s summary report on the OCA web site here.

The Office of the Secretary will send an electronic copy of the complete report to those who send a request to report@oca.org. The report is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission.

His Grace, Bishop Nikon of Boston and New England and the Albanian Archdiocese, chaired the investigation committee. Also serving on the investigation committee were Archpriests Michael Matsko, Mark Sherman, and John Steffaro; Priest Stephen Vernak; and Mr. Larry Skvir. Sergei Givotovsky, Esq. a member of the Metropolitan Council’s legal committee, served as legal advisor.

God Questions His Creation: The Story of the Flood (c)

See:  God Questions His Creation: The Story of the Flood (b)

Source Theory cannot explain to the satisfaction of modern scientific thinkers in what sense the text is true – literally, historically, and scientifically.   Source Theory only helps us deal with some of the literal contradictions and inconsistencies by showing that there appears to be more than one literary source from which the final editor of the Bible drew.

As is noted in the reflections, even the ancient pre-scientific Christians of the 4th Century had difficulties with believing every literal details of the story.  The Holy Bishop John Chrysostom in the 4th Century cautioned his flock against overly trying to rationalize about the text.  He felt there are some things that do not make logical sense but we have to just accept them in order to get to the real purpose of the story which is to teach us both about the God who is the Savior of the world, and the coming day of Judgment.  Theodoret of Cyrus, a bishop of the Antiochian tradition a generation after Chrysostom, notes at several points in his commentaries that interpreting scriptures in different ways is completely acceptable when the issue is not about the doctrine of the Trinity.  He sees no harm to religion occurring in instances where different interpretations can be determined, and even allows for the readers of the text themselves to determine which interpretation seems closer to the truth to them.

None of this is to say that it is wrong to believe the texts are literally true.  My reflections however do not rely on a literal interpretation of the texts to point out their eternal truths.   However, I will read the texts literally in that I will deal with each and every word of the text and will not gloss over the fact that the literalist reading presents us with certain contradictions in the text itself.   A literal reading of the text is one way to approach the text, but the literal reading of the text is not even the primary way that the New Testament writers read and understood the Old Testament texts.  The reflections point out how the New Testament made use of these Old Testament stories – as allegory, as prophecy, as typology, and as a moral teaching. 

While the Source theory helps us to understand the inconsistencies within Genesis 6-9 by unwinding the two stories which were woven together, both stories are completely monotheistic in their message.  There is only one God who is the main actor in either story, and both stories are about this same one God whether He is referred to by Name (YHWH, the Lord) or simply as God.  But different people were inspired to write differently reflecting their own understandings of God the LORD.  This is part of the beauty of inspiration.   God is so different than any one mind can imagine or grasp.  And so God reveals Himself in story and narration, in figurative images, to help us realize the limits of our ability to describe the incomprehensible God.   The story of the Great Flood is theology in narrative form – it is both theology and story and we should not lose sight of that fact.  God did not choose to reveal Himself through a dogmatics textbook.  While reading the narrative of the flood leads us to some clear ideas of doctrine and dogma about God, the text is sacred in that it points beyond itself to the truth about God.   In the New Testament, the story of the Flood is more important for offering us a way to approach the coming future than it is for teaching us about past history.  The story is referred to in order to exhort us to prepare for the future rather than to get us to focus on the past.

Having more than one story forces us to think beyond the plain sense of the Scriptures and to seek out the deeper meaning which God chooses to reveal to us in more than one way.    We do not have to explain the differences in the stories, but we must come to understand the depth of their revelation.   As St. John Chrysostom said, “Pay precise attention, however: the reading out of the Scriptures is the opening of the heavens.”  Orthodox in later generations will also refer to icons as windows into heaven.   Obviously the revelation of God, in whatever form it comes to us – scriptural or iconic — gives us a view into heaven itself. 

Remember, deciding to read the Scriptures literally means making literalism your method for interpreting the text.   Reading the text literally will force the literalist to interpret the text so that the 40 days of the flood do not contradict the 150 and 340 days of the flood also mentioned in the text.   The literalist must interpret what it means that God “came down” to Ba’bel to see the tower – couldn’t He see it from where He was?  Is God near-sighted?   Or is the text saying or implying something other than its plain meaning?   Literalism is a form of interpretation of Scriptures, it is not the only way to read the text for its meaning and purpose.

Next:  God Questions His Creation: The Story of the Flood (d)

Atheism: Luminous or delusion?

1st in a blog series.

Blogging has caused me on occasion to cross paths with some atheist – both on my blog and on theirs.  This has produced a few exchanges of ideas as well as exchanging barbs at times.  Often these communications are related to evolution which is one point at which the interest of atheists and believers do intersect.   This meeting point is actually a crowded city intersection because the spectrum of beliefs held by “faithists” (as some atheists like to label believers) and scientists is diverse.  There are of course atheist and biblical literalist/creationist ideologues who are the ones who draw the most media attention because their extreme views make for easier and more entertaining contrasts.  But there also are a wide variety of those who are agnostic, theistic scientists, deists, intelligent design adherents, and the indifferent.  The ideological atheists have no sympathy for the theistic scientists as they feel they just muddy the waters, but their real enemies are the biblical literalists/creationists.  Often when the ideological atheists attack religion they are referring only to biblical literalists and creationists, though admittedly they don’t distinguish between believers (see for example Jerry Coyne’s webpage Why Evolution is True which to some extent is devoted to refuting creationist claims that evolution is unproven).   Their attacks however often do not take into account the wide spectrum of beliefs held by “faithists” or that people believe for many different reasons, some much more logical and even factually determined than others.   While all creationists and biblical literalists are believers, not all believers are biblically literalistic creationists.

David Bentley Hart in his book ATHEIST DELUSIONS: THE CHRISTIAN REVOLUTION AND ITS FASHIONABLE ENEMIES offers a rebuttal to some of the common attacks on religion offered by “the new Atheists.”  (You can see a short video interview of Hart on the same topic: The New Atheists and the Ugly God).   Part of the basis of his polemics is that the new atheists’ attacks on religion are so broad in their claims as to be easily refuted by simply studying history (something many biblical literalists and “bible alone” believers are unwilling to do) and offering historical examples which refute the atheists’ claims.    For example in dealing with a favorite historical event for atheists – the Galileo affair in which the scientist having truth on his side is oppressed by the superstitious religionists, Hart points out:

“And the irony is, strange to say, that it was the church that was demanding proof, and Galileo who was demanding blind assent—to a model that was wrong.” (p 66)

Galileo couldn’t prove his theory as he still lacked the means to prove it, but he was asking the church to accept his theory as he felt certain it would be proven eventually.  The Church refused to accept his ideas without proof.  As Hart notes, ironically, the very model Galileo was proffering at that moment later proved to be inaccurate.   Thus to say the church always opposed scientific truth is simply not supported by historical example.  Hart offers several instances which refute the popular claims of “the new atheists.”

“This would, at any rate, be in keeping with one of the rhetorical strategies especially favored in New Atheist circles: one labels anything one dislikes – even if it is found in a purely secular setting—‘religion’ (thus, for example, all the twentieth-century totalitarianisms are ‘political religions’ for which secularists need take no responsibility), while simultaneously claiming that everything good,  in the arts, morality, or any other sphere—even if it emerges with an entirely religious setting—has only an accidental association with religious belief and is really, in fact, common human property; (so, for example, the impulse toward charity will doubtless spring up wherever an ‘enlightened’ society takes root).  By the same token, every injustice that seems to follow from a secularist principle is obviously an abuse of that principle, while any evil that comes wrapped in a cassock is unquestionably an undiluted expression of religion’s every essence.” (p 220)

Hart’s point is one that I have noted myself in conversations with atheists – if one points out that 20th Century Fascism and Communism were ideas both born of the scientific skepticism of the Enlightenment and both were profoundly anti-religious and based in absolute adherence to human reason and secular rationalism, the atheists immediately say that is because those anti-religionists followed religiously based thinking for how to solve problems.  Thus they claim 20th Century militant atheism is just another form of religion and not at all what real atheism is about.  However, if a believer points out that much evil that has happened in the name of religion was in fact a denial of that religion’s core values, the atheists simply scoff and say the two cannot be separated.  Hart’s contention is that much that happened in terms of religious warfare in Europe leading up to the Enlightenment’s separation of church and state was every bit if not more so guided  by political realities than by religious claims.  As states asserted themselves as independent of church control, their tendency toward relying on violence, abuse and warfare grew because they were freed from Christian moral constraints to do what was politically expedient – for which they always could find some religious support.  Certainly this is part of philosophical support that was given to Fascism in Germany – it was Christianity which was crippling Germany from being the dominating world power and which had to be overthrown.   Communistic Bolshevism made the same claim about Christianity in Russia.

Next:  Atheism: Ideal, Idyllic or Ideology?