TRANSCRIPT: Dr. Kurt E. Marquart on Eastern Orthodoxy


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The following is a complete transcript of an Issues, Etc. interview of the sainted Dr. Kurt E. Marquart1 (d. September 19, 2006) on the topic of Eastern Orthodoxy, the Rev’d Todd Wilken presiding, as usual; audio is linked above. There is no interview date available for this episode on the Issues, Etc. website, but my guess is that it was done in 2004 or 2005. If someone can provide the correct information in the comments here, we would be much obliged.

Many thanks to Katy Schumpert for her painstaking work in transcribing the program.

(1. Although he is rightly addressed as “Professor Marquart” in the following interview, it should be noted that “[i]n recognition of his lifelong service to Christ and his church, Concordia University – Wisconsin awarded [Marquart] an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 2001.” CTQ 70, In Memoriam: Kurt E. Marquart”, July/October 2006)

Tabel of Contents:

(Table of contents, section headings, emphases, etc. are mine —admin)

Basic Definitions, History, etc.

Todd Wilken: Greetings and welcome to Issues, Etc. I’m Todd Wilken. I’m sitting in for Don Matzat; he has the day off. Are you one of those Evangelicals who’s plain burned out? Burned out with the shallow theology, tired of singing “Shine, Jesus, Shine” every Sunday, tired of praise choruses and sermons that have a lot to do with your everyday life, but very little to do with eternal life? Are you just burned out with Evangelicalism in general? What’s the answer? Go back to Rome? Maybe even farther—Constantinople. You know, there are a lot of Evangelicals who have opted to return to Eastern Orthodoxy, and they find there theological substance, a worship life that is not disconnected from the worship life of the Church in ancient times; they find there things that intrigue them, and a certain mystical attraction as well.

We’re gonna talk about Eastern Orthodoxy in this hour of Issues, Etc. My guest in this hour, Professor Kurt Marquart, is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Welcome back to Issues, Etc., Professor Marquart.

Kurt Marquart: Thank you; good evening. How are you?

TW: I’m doing very well. What exactly is Eastern Orthodoxy? Could you give us a nutshell description?

KM: Well, Eastern Orthodoxy are the churches of the Christian East that— there are about nine national churches and several patriarchates, the largest of which is the Russian Orthodox Church.

TW: So when we use the term “Orthodoxy,” we are talking about a unified— and I know they’re going to hate to hear this— but we’re talking about, in a sense, a denomination or a communion, like the Anglican communion?

KM: Yes, it is a communion, but consisting of several independent churches, canonically independent, but they recognize the Patriarch of Constantinople as a kind of symbolical head.

TW: On the big issues— justification, the sacraments, the major doctrines of the Christian faith— can we say that there is a unity there in Orthodoxy as well? We can speak about them monolithically with regard to those issues?

KM: Well, I think it depends on whether the Orthodox theologian in question has been influenced by contemporary studies or not, very much as in other denominations, and the very traditionally minded unfortunately have inherited a kind of Roman Catholic polemical view of the Reformation, but the more, the better educated of the Eastern theologians will have a more sophisticated view of the matter.

TW: Walk us through some of the history of the East-West split in Christendom to find out the origins of this split.

KM: Yes. The main division, of course, the famous one, took place in 1054, with the mutual excommunications by Constantinople and Rome. And then the churches have walked side by side these last thousand years. There has been, for example, the Council of Florence, before the Reformation, which united the two churches, but the Russian Church, for example, strongly rejected it, as did some others, and therefore that union failed to produce a lasting result.

TW: So since 1054— and that’s a long time, Dr. Marquart— then, we have had an essential divide in the Church between East and West?

KM: Yes.

TW: Is it a theological divide as well as one of history?

KM: Well, the theological differences grew— grew, I think, in the course of time, because in the West, Scholasticism developed, and the East never quite got hold of that; their theology was never quite as precisely quantified as Western Scholastic theology.

Evangelical Eastern Exodus?

TW: So why are many Evangelicals— and I think in particular of Frankie Schaeffer, he’s the son of the famous Christian apologist— why are Evangelicals like him enamored with Orthodoxy, even, in his case, converting to Orthodoxy?

KM: Yes, and not only Evangelicals, but Pentecostalists; I’ve heard of one man in California who had fourteen different congregations—they all gave up hand-waving for icons and incense, and so on, and it’s attractive to many people. I think people see in Eastern Orthodoxy a lost dimension of the historic Church. It appeals to— well, it appeals to some very good senses, but it also can be a kind of romantic evasion of harder issues.

TW: Now, that surprises me for you to mention Pentecostals going Orthodox all of a sudden. I wonder— you said “giving up hand-waving for icons and incense”—

KM: Yes, yes.

TW: Do you think there might also be, along with the romantic infatuation, a certain— what?— a certain mystical connection between something like Pentecostalism and Orthodoxy that would make the transition easier in that case?

KM: Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know it means exchanging one very subjective, individualistic mysticism for a much more corporate, historical one, which appeals to the romantic imagination.

TW: Do you think that it is simply because a lot of Evangelicals are tired of a bankrupt theology, a vacuous content in preaching and in music, a worship life that has gone basically the way of the world, whereas Orthodoxy has remained in many ways a culture unto itself?

KM: Well, yes, I think an important document here is the Chicago statement of, I think, 1977, where quite a number of Evangelical leaders drew attention to the great weakness and shortcomings of so-called Evangelical worship, and they lamented the absence of a genuinely sacramental churchly dimension and lamented the superficial nature of this sort of saccharine, sweet, sugary nature of it, and ten years later, two thousand Evangelicals en masse joined the Antiochian Eastern Orthodox Church on dissent. But that was a famous Chicago call, issued from Chicago.

TW: Does it have something to do also with a view of history and Church history? People longing to connect with a church that does not ignore history before its own personal congregation’s founding or before I was born?

KM: Yes, I think that is the appeal. It gives the impression of continuity, unbroken continuity with Christian antiquity.

Jaroslav Pelikan

TW: So then, how do we account for a prominent Lutheran like Jaroslav Pelikan, who many people may be familiar with as an editor of a greater part of Luther’s works in English— how do we account for someone who— he was not fleeing a vacuous theology, there is a definite connection to history in the Lutheran tradition, the theology is substantive— why would someone like Jaroslav Pelikan go East?


A young Jaroslav Pelikan.

KM: Well, it’s hard to enter into individual minds here, but given, the, um, his— remember, Pelikan, in particular, I don’t know how typical he would be among all the converts— but Pelikan began as a kind of bright Missouri Synod— he was called a wunderkind, marvel— one of the marvel-children in the Missouri Synod— but he spent his life criticizing and lambasting the foundations of orthodox Lutheranism, and in the end, I think he saw the bankruptcy, but I think he escaped into mystical vapors and incense.

TW: Do you think his, the attraction there for him was— well, let’s stay away from Pelikan in particular— do you think the attraction for some Lutherans to Orthodoxy is one that you mentioned before, kind of a romantic infatuation with things Orthodox?

KM: Yes, I think it’s that, and I think the disillusionment with how Luther’s doctrine of the priesthood of all believers has become interpreted as a kind of general democratic mob-rule principle, that whatever the majority wants, the majority gets. And people disillusioned with that can easily jump into the arms of authoritarian Orthodoxy.

TW: And we would be one hundred percent with someone who would be disillusioned with mob rule.

KM: Yes. But the solution is not this mystical autocracy which you find in the East.

TW: I was— go ahead.

KM: I was just going to say, among the less well known in the West and less attractive features of Orthodoxy, I myself— I greatly love the Eastern liturgy. A great treasure is there from which all churches have profited and can profit. However, in practical terms, the notion of spiritual authority as understood in the East leads to things like the existence, for example, in Kiev, in Ukraine, of three different Orthodox patriarchs, each claiming to be the rightful patriarch of Kiev. I think one was recently murdered about three years ago. I don’t know if he has been replaced. And it is considered by some, I think those who follow the patriarch of Moscow, that his rivals are not truly connected to that historic body and therefore are grace-less—their sacraments offer no grace. Hence you have the expression, “a grace-less church.” Just because you’re connected with the wrong bureaucracy, you have no sacraments and no grace. I mean, this is horrendous, really.

TW: Now that’s something we’re gonna have to revisit a little later in this conversation when we talk about the particular differences between Orthodoxy and Reformation theology. I was watching National Public Radio— listening to National Public Radio recently, this was a couple of years ago, and there was a feature story on American Evangelicals returning to Orthodoxy, and the growth of the American Orthodox Church here in America, and the liturgy that they returned to—some of them had never in all of their Christian lives seen a church service conducted in this way. When we come back from the break, Dr.— Pastor— sorry, Professor Marquart— I always get it wrong when there’s no “Dr.” on the front of the name— when we come back from this break, Professor Marquart, I would like you to describe as accurately but as briefly as possible what the average Christian might see if they walked into a Sunday morning service at an Orthodox church. You talk about that liturgy; how would it appear to us, how would it appear distinct from what most Christians are familiar with?

We’re talking with Professor Kurt Marquart; he’s Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, talking about Eastern Orthodoxy, its allure, and where does it stand on the big issues, like justification, the sacraments? What role do icons play in the piety of the Orthodox? These are some of the questions we’re going to be answering in the minutes ahead. Professor Kurt Marquart is my guest; we’ll be right back.

Orthodox Worship

TW: Welcome back to Issues, Etc. I’m Todd Wilken. I’m sitting in for Don Matzat; he has the day off. Professor Kurt Marquart is my guest. We’re talking about Eastern Orthodoxy. Professor Marquart, I’ve given you a little time to think about it—what would I see if I attended an Orthodox church on a Sunday morning?

KM: First of all, you’d be impressed by the icons— the overwhelming impression of “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven”— you’d have visual reminders of that surrounding you. You’d have incense, and you’d have magnificent chanting— I’m thinking of the Russian liturgy, which I think is more magnificent than the Greek. And you could only describe that sound as otherworldly, as transcendent. I remember Alexander Solzhenitsyn remarking once that he remembers being taken to a church, to a liturgy, when he was a young child, in the Soviet days, when it was forbidden, of course, and says, he had made— the celestial beauty of the singing made such a deep impression on him that no amount of intellectual argument later or personal suffering were able to wipe it out. And you wonder how many children would be impressed by the kind of clap-trap and popular-entertainment-seeking that is practiced in so-called “happy-clappy” churches. Another thing is, the story has it that the monastery, I think it’s Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York, which is the headquarters of a very conservative branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the story that I heard was that they got the land by, or much of their money, from an American lady who happened to drive by, happened to stop in and attend the matins of the monks. And she said she immediately realized this is the only place in America where people pray. And she left all her wealth to that monastery.

Trinity ROCOR Monastery, Jordanville, NY

Trinity ROCOR Monastery, Jordanville, NY

TW: So it really does strike an impression on the observer.

KM: Yes, yes, it certainly would.

TW: I was at an Orthodox funeral about four or five years ago, and I remember all the things you mentioned—the incense, the icons, I remember a definite sense of transcendence—

KM: Yes.

TW: — about the worship service. I also remember a Kyrie, the “Lord have mercy,” that was chanted responsively, that took twenty full minutes. Is it an ornate liturgy— overly ornate liturgy?

KM: Well, it depends on whether it’s a high festival or not. Sometimes, for example, the “Alleluia” is repeated— there’s a story of an inexperienced Russian deacon who, in Moscow, was helping at a service, and suddenly he didn’t realize— and this was not to be repeated, it was his own direction— and he chanted “Alleluia forty times”— that was for a high festival. But normally it’s not recited that often. And of course in the Russian you have the magnificent Gospodi Pomilui, which is the equivalent of the Greek “Lord have mercy.”

TW: Would you think that the average Christian would have a hard time following what was going on on a Sunday morning in an Orthodox church?

KM: Well, you’d have a difficult time following it intellectually, yes. Even the Russian-speaking person would not quite follow, would not understand word for word the old Slavonic liturgy because the word usage is quite old.

Orthodoxy and Justification

"The Death of Theodora," a depiction of the Twelve Aerial Toll-houses

“The Death of Theodora,” a depiction of the Twelve Aerial Toll-houses, through which souls must pass to enter heaven.

TW: What does Orthodoxy teach with regard to the heart and soul of the Christian faith, justification?

KM: Well, unfortunately on justification, the Orthodox Church was mainly absent twice in the history of the Church when these great matters were debated and settled: once when St. Augustine debated with Pelagius, and especially North Africa took a very clear stand, which Rome later supported, against Pelagianism, the idea of self-salvation, or that you don’t really need much grace. And then a thousand years later, when the Augustinian monk Martin Luther had to fight the same battles over again, in a more subtle way, again the East was absent from that discussion.

TW: So if they missed out on the major debates that took place in the Western Church on justification, what view of justification does Orthodoxy hold?

KM: Well, one interesting thing is that the Orthodox writers generally don’t like St. Augustine. The refuse to call him “saint.” They usually refer to him as “blessed,” which means only local recognition rather than a global one. And they think that Augustine exaggerated the unique necessity of grace. Their theology, however, is not as exactly worked out as the Roman, and so it tends to make the impression of imprecision. But basically their idea is that, well, they like to use the term “deification.” Man by divine grace participates in the divine energies of God and so is led to be healed from the consequences of the Fall.

TW: Now put that into English that we can all understand.

KM: [laughs] Yes, it’s not so easy. But the thing is, according to Orthodoxy, the Fall did not, as we biblical Christians believe, really destroy man’s spiritual image of God. According to Orthodoxy, they usually distinguish the image of God and the likeness of God. And the image of God includes free will and can never be lost without human nature itself being lost. So there’s an in-built Pelagianism at the heart of Eastern Orthodoxy that holds that man, even in the Fall, did not lose his spiritual free will. Therefore the Fall— in the Fall, man did not experience spiritual dying, as St. Paul says, but weakening, sickening, and that sort of thing. So he needs the reviving but not resurrection.

TW: So, justification, according to Orthodoxy, would be akin to healing rather than to resurrection?

KM: Yes. Quite so. And there is a residual free will which can and must cooperate with God’s free grace in this whole process.

TW: What is the correct view? What would— what does Scripture actually teach on justification by contrast with the Orthodox view?

KM: Well, of course, according to Holy Scripture, which was so clearly recaptured by the Reformation, St. Paul clearly teaches that we are bankrupt after the Fall, and therefore we need— we are in a state of spiritual death, Ephesians 2, and need to be made alive. Justification is the forgiveness of sins received, entirely earned by Christ and entirely received by faith alone.

TW: So then, apart from the more exact formulation of the Roman Church, and the less exact formulation of the Orthodox Church, is there a real difference on justification between Rome and Constantinople?

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 2.34.45 PMKM: No, I don’t think there is. Substantively, Rome and Constantinople are very much alike in a number of things, including this tragic practice of what I call a Christian occultism, namely the invocation of the Blessed Virgin and other saints. And even, for example, in the Eastern liturgy, you can hear something which I don’t think the West since the Reformation puts quite that crassly, but the Russian pontifical liturgy says, “Presviataya Bogoroditse, spasi nas,” which means, “Holy Mother of God, save us.”

TW: So, Mary’s not only invoked for intercession, she’s invoked for salvation.

KM: Well, that is a recited liturgical exclamation. But it depends on the degree of theological sophistication and education as to how people understand that, I suppose.

TW: Is this why Orthodoxy can appeal to people of all different stripes? You mentioned Pentecostals, general Evangelicals, Lutherans— because their theological statements are less precisely formulated, you can almost fit your theology into it, regardless of where you come from?

KM: Well, just listening to you say that, it sort of strikes me, but I think it would appeal to the person, the whole postmodern mindset where mystical enactment or ritual enactment is more important than any kind of theological definition. So you flee from intellectual clarity to mystical obfuscation. That’s part of it, I think.

TW: I distinctly remember having a conversation with a fellow pastor friend of mine on Orthodoxy and justification, and we read two statements. One of us— I, I believed the statement sounded very much like the Council of Trent, and he believed it sounded very much like the Lutheran Confessions. And the sad thing was, the statement was general enough it probably could have been read both ways.

KM: Yes.

TW: We’re trying to answer in this hour how it is that we’re supposed to read that key question of justification according to Orthodoxy. So— go ahead, Doctor.

KM: I just was going to say, there is a book, you know, recording the Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue held in North America, and I think it’s called Salvation Today. And there you find quite clearly delineated the basic differences between the Lutheran-Pauline and, we believe also Johannine, understanding of justification as a free gift, and the Orthodox understanding that it’s basically equivalent to sanctification or growth in love and good works.

Justification vs. Theosis

TW: This is not a small question, the question of justification. This is the question. We’re talking about Eastern Orthodoxy in this hour. Professor Kurt Marquart is my guest. You mentioned before that central to the doctrine of justification among the Orthodox is this notion of “participating in the divine life.” Is it called theosis, am I correct on that?

KM: Yes, theosis, or deification, in English.

TW: Now, is there, is this a view that can be supported from Scripture? Is it something that the Western Church has completely ignored? Or is it a particular error of the Orthodox?

KM: No, it all depends on how you define the word. But the basic text, the clearest text is in 1 Peter 1:4, where we are partakers, said to be partakers of the very divine nature, participants of the very divine nature. It’s quite a remarkable thing in all the ancient Fathers, consider that as culminating here on earth in the reception of the Holy Eucharist or the Lord’s own body and blood.

TW: So, rightly understood, Christians of the non-Orthodox persuasion could hold to a similar view of theosis.

"To give a simple illustration of what takes place in this eating: it is as if a wolf devoured a sheep and the sheep were so powerful that it transformed the wolf and turned him into a sheep. So, when we eat Christ’s flesh physically and spiritually, the food is so powerful that it transforms us into itself and out of fleshly, sinful, mortal men makes spiritual, holy, living men." (Blesed Martin Luther, This is My Body, AE 37:101; image: "Last Supper," by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret 1896)

“To give a simple illustration of what takes place in this eating: it is as if a wolf devoured a sheep and the sheep were so powerful that it transformed the wolf and turned him into a sheep. So, when we eat Christ’s flesh physically and spiritually, the food is so powerful that it transforms us into itself and out of fleshly, sinful, mortal men makes spiritual, holy, living men.” (Blessed Martin Luther, This is My Body, AE 37:101; image: “Last Supper,” by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret 1896)

KM: They must if they follow the Holy Scripture. But the term has sort of fallen into disuse in the West. But there was a very— may I tell you a surprising story? It surprised me at the time. There was an interesting dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church of Finland in Kiev in 1977. And the chief lecturer on the Lutheran side was a Professor Mannermaa of the University of Helsinki in Finland. And he brought out the quite remarkable fact which most of us have quite forgotten, that theosis or deification is very prominent in the writings of Martin Luther. Now who would have suspected that? And moreover, Mannermaa points out that for him— that for Luther— he meant it in a very different way from the standard Orthodox view, and for him, justification can be put in those terms.

TW: So how would Luther have understood theosis, then?

Tuomo Mannermaa (1937-2015)

KM: Here’s the difference. For Luther, theosis or deification means this: The Lord Jesus Christ is God and man in one person. In Him, our humanity is absolutely united with God in one person. And through His humanity, by faith, our humanity participates in that. So by sharing in Christ by faith, we participate in the fullness of God. So here it is purely a gift. The famous saying, the famous statement of Luther in the Galatians commentary, where he said that “in faith itself, Christ is present.” In other words, that Christ is not merely— that the object of faith is not merely an idea, a specter, some spectral concept, but Christ Himself. And faith grabs hold of Christ, and thereby, God. And therefore justification is theosis. That is, the sinner, who has nothing in himself, by faith receives the righteousness of Christ and is united with Him.

TW: So how does Orthodoxy then view the sacraments?

KM: Well, could you first contrast that with standard Orthodox presentation, for example, as you have it in Gregory of Palamas, in the fourteenth century. For him, deification is rather the result of an ascetic exercise. And you have monks and other holy persons reciting the “Jesus Prayer”, breathing in a certain way, and if you rightly, by this ascetic exercise, unite yourself with God, then at the end you may glimpse with your physical eyes the uncreated light of God. So it’s a very different view. It’s a difference between God coming down and man going up.

TW: So, the Orthodox view, with man would be that man participates in the divine life by his own efforts, at least in part.


Gregory Palamas (1296–1359)

KM: Well, they would never say that. They would say that it’s a gift of grace. But remember, the free human will must cooperate in all that. And also, Gregory Palamas makes a special point of saying that it’s not really the nature of God, it’s not the being of God, but only His energies with which we’re united. And in the Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue, it’s very interesting that the Orthodox representative makes a special point of that, that they don’t accept the Petrine text I’ve just quoted, “partakers of the very divine nature.” They’re embarrassed by that; they say we really participate only in the divine energies, but the nature is beyond any participation. So I think there’s a touch of Platonism in that.

Listener Questions & Comments

TW: Let’s get to the sacraments in a minute here. First, let’s take a phone call from Bill, who’s listening in Phoenix, on KGCB. Bill, welcome to the show.

Bill: Yeah, how you doing, interesting show. Enjoying it.

TW: You got a question, Bill?

Bill: Yeah, it was a— I read a Eastern Orthodox paper last year, and I think Frankie Schaffer was one of the editors, I can’t remember the name of it. But anyway, in an editorial they talked about some of the differences between Eastern Orthodox and Evangelicalism, and one of the areas they mentioned was, they don’t hold to Sola Scriptura, and I just wondered if the professor would comment on that.

TW: Good question, Bill. Thanks for the call. Professor Marquart?

KM: Yes, quite right. They hold, like Rome, to the authority also of Holy Tradition, but unlike Rome, “tradition” is regarded by the Eastern Church of consisting basically of the decisions of the seven ecumenical councils. And of course, the Church Fathers, the ancient Fathers are understood as in harmony with that.

TW: Is it a similar view to that of Rome of infallibility of Church tradition, if it comes from the seven ecumenical heads?

KM: Well, yes, ecumenical councils are as such infallible, but there is no doctrine of any person— certainly there’s no infallibility of the Patriarch of Constantinople, one of whom in fact became a Calvinist, and was killed for his troubles.

TW: The phone number, 1-800-730-2727. Let’s talk to Deanna. She listens in Minneapolis on KKMS. Hi, Deanna.

Deanna: Hi. I have a confusion here about what you’re saying about justification. I am Greek Orthodox and have been brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church all my life, and from what I’ve learned from going to church is that we are saved through grace.

TW: OK, and you’re hearing something different here.

Deanna: Right.

TW: OK, Professor Marquart.

KM: Yes; the word “grace” is a longsuffering member of our theological vocabulary. You may remember the whole Reformation turned on the meaning of the word “grace.” You can say very similar things about grace and mean quite opposite things by it depending on what you mean by “grace.” Also Rome, for example, is willing to say “grace alone.” But Rome, as also Constantinople, thinks of grace— and Rome here in a worse way— but they think of grace as a kind of substance, spiritual force, etc., which is poured into man, and when man by his free will makes use of this grace, then in that way salvation is accomplished.

TW: So one could say, “You are saved by grace,” but mean “grace— which includes man’s active and willing participation.”

KM: Yes; grace essentially as a stimulant to Christian behavior. And grace as a kind of divine electricity, the divine energies which stimulate us to produce love and good works.

TW: Professor Marquart, if you were going to advise Diana to go back to her priest, and to ask him a question to clarify this word “grace,” what would that question be?

KM: Well, I don’t know about a question, but I’d suggest two Bible texts particularly that define how St. Paul uses the term “saving grace.” The term “grace” can be used in the sense of a gift of grace. But when Paul uses “saving grace,” for example in Romans 4, it’s quite clear that there grace means simply the divine attitude of forgiving kindness. And also in Romans 11:6, where it says, “If by grace, then no longer by works, otherwise grace is no more grace.” So grace is defined there as God’s attitude, not as some power poured into us, by which we then produce good works.

TW: Diana, go back and ask your priest what he means by “grace.” Ask him if he means, is it the favorable disposition of God toward us in Jesus Christ? Or does it include anything in us whatsoever? See what his answer is to that question; it may clear it up for you. Thanks for the call.

KM: May I add something to that?

TW: Please.

KM: Is that, you find, just as among Roman Catholic clergy, you find also many priests who are quite open to evangelical, Reformation interpretations of things, so you may find a wide variety of individual interpretations, but that is not the official position of the Eastern Church as such.

On the Sacraments


4fd648cf76137d393da760cb7bd89d1aTW: What is the official position of the Eastern Church on the sacraments?

KM: Well, technically the official position is that of the seven ecumenical councils. However, through the Middle Ages, the tradition of seven sacraments has been accepted by the Eastern Church. Very much like that of the Roman Church, except that, instead of confirmation, you have a sacrament of anointing, chrismation, which is administered at baptism.

TW: So, you would have baptism, you would have chrismation, you would have the Lord’s Supper, you would have marriage, ordination, and extreme unction?

KM: They have confession.

TW: And confession, OK.

KM: The chrismation, that would be their version of extreme unction.

TW: So it’s roughly parallel to that of Rome. Do they hold similar views to the sacraments, in particular the sacrament of the Mass? Do they hold similar views about the Lord’s Supper?

KM: Well, the one good thing is that the Eastern Church, as well as Roman Catholicism, holds to the true presence of the Lord’s body and blood in the Eucharist. But then in the Middle Ages, especially under the— well, after the Middle Ages, as a result of the Counter-Reformation, much of the Eastern theological literature came to reflect ideas of transubstantiation. But understand that some modern Eastern theologians are moving away from that. The Lutheran theologian Chemnitz, writing at the end of the sixteenth century, points out that we, too, in the Reformation, we accept the old Greek term metabole, that is “change”— there is a change in the Sacrament, but not a change as though the bread changes into body, but change that before the consecration it is only one thing, and after the consecration, when the word of God is added, then you have both an earthly element, the bread and the wine, and heavenly elements, the Lord’s body and blood— the analogy of the Incarnation.

The Place of Icons


TW: Professor Marquart, I was at this Orthodox funeral I told you about, and the icons there were huge. There were full-sized panels that stood at the front of the church. I really couldn’t even identify every person on each panel. But they seemed to have a prominent place in the worship. What is that place?

KM: Well, ikon is basically Greek for “image,” and the peculiar nature of the typical Eastern icon is that, unlike Western liturgical art, or Western ecclesiastical art, it does not simply mean to represent, say, a person or an event, but it means also to represent its spiritual significance. And therein, to my mind, lies a great strength of the icon. The icon will never simply repeat, will never give simply a photograph-like reproduction of some saint. It’ll— by the nimbus and so on— it’ll seek to indicate the spiritual meaning and the spiritual personhood and the spiritual significance of the event. And I think therein lies a certain defense against secularization. When you think of ecclesiastical art in the West, you think of Raphael and those magnificent paintings of the Middle Ages. But they were basically paintings of beautiful bodies— there’s no spiritual significance to them. I think the advantage of icons is that they avoid that secularization.

TW: Shouldn’t all church art do that? Seek to preach a sermon, not just represent a figure?

KM: I think so. But when you look at some of the saccharine productions in our Protestant church art, one could only find that the Eastern icon has more substance to it.

TW: But how have icons been abused in the East?

KM: Well, the abuse is— and largely, I think, from misunderstanding in popular superstition— that the spiritual power of the icon has been transferred to the actual physical object. I remember, for example, years ago in New York, there was a visiting miracle-working icon of the Mother of God being circulated, and one dear lady who was suffering from advanced cancer had that icon brought to her and put in bed with her, with the idea of helping to cure her. So I think that is a superstitious use. But it depends again on the degree of spiritual and theological enlightenment of the individual, how the thing is regarded.

TW: And those abuses wouldn’t fall within the teaching of Orthodoxy per se, but more within the piety of the faithful.

KM: Yes, practical piety, as you find also in Roman Catholic countries, can be very far removed from official dogma.

Dirt with Free Will

TW: Let’s go back to the phones. Phil is listening in Chicago on WYLL. Hi, Phil.

Phil: Hi! Yes, this is Phil. I’m an Orthodox Christian who became Orthodox, amongst other things, through reading the Lutheran Cyclopedia, back, uh, the 1925 edition, I think. Basically, I think there’s been some misrepresentation here. For instance, doctrine of sacraments, the issue of anointing the sick is different from chrismation. Chrismation is basically considered the sacramental act of receiving the Holy Spirit, as baptism is the sacramental act of becoming a Christian.

KM: Yes, I’m sorry—

Phil: These two are distinct sacraments, they use different oil.

TW: OK, Phil—

Phil: Also—

TW: Phil, what about the issue of grace, Phil? We had a previous caller, an Orthodox caller—

Phil: Right. We don’t believe in original guilt, and also, we believe in the power of the Gospel, that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, not a preexisting order of election which chooses individuals.

TW: Does man have a free will to make, or to cooperate with God’s grace?

Phil: Man can respond positively or negatively. Consider the parable of the soils, sometimes called the parable of the sower. The life principle is entirely in the seed. Soil is dead by itself; it can’t grow anything by itself. But the issue of whether the seed sprouts and produces a crop depends on the disposition of the soil.

TW: So man has a capacity to make a decision to accept Jesus, in some sense.

Phil: Right. And Pelagius is not known as “St. Pelagius”; he was associated— he’s considered a condemned heretic, as is his associate Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople— also a condemned heretic.

TW: OK, Phil, let’s get Professor Marquart’s response. Professor Marquart?

KM: Yes, first of all, on the chrismation, of course, I did initially say that chrismation is really the counterpart of Western confirmation. And you’re quite right, the— but instead of extreme unction there is anointing of the sick, and Rome, after Vatican II, is returning to that view as well.

TW: What about the issue of cooperation with grace?

KM: Well, there, yes, of course, that is the standard Eastern view, that man never lost his capacity of free decision, and had he done so, he would have lost human nature and would have ceased to be human. And that’s fundamentally wrong; that’s contradictory to the Pauline teaching.

TW: Not only wrong in a theoretical sense, but it does violence to the doctrine of justification as Paul presents it, doesn’t it?

KM: Yes, because it makes it no longer a gift of life to the dead, but makes it something in which we have a part.

TW: Let’s talk to Pete in Minneapolis. He’s listening on KKMS. Hi, Pete.

Pete: Yeah, very interesting. There’s a small Russian Orthodox church in our neighborhood that I’ve gone to on occasion, especially for their festivals, and it’s just as you described earlier, Professor, the singing is absolutely remarkable, and you feel you’re in— I feel that I was in a sacred space. And my comment is that so much of modern Christianity is— of Protestant Christianity— is becoming a very ordinary kind of space. It’s like you’re going to a railway station or a school or something. Could you comment on that?

TW: Thank you, Pete. I don’t think you’re going to find any disagreement on that criticism of modern Evangelicalism, even where it finds itself among Lutherans, with Professor Marquart, are we?

6645515_origKM: No, but unfortunately, there are some mindless Lutherans who are aping this headlong rush into pedestrian nonsense, and so it’s good to hear again what our caller is reminding us. Do you know that when Russia became Christian a thousand years ago, virtually exactly a thousand years before Communism collapsed, the commission that had been sent by Prince Vladimir reported that they had gone to see very many interesting things, including Rome and Islam and Judaism; “But,” the report says, “when we got to Constantinople, to the Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom, suddenly we no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth.” And that is a strength of the old Eastern liturgy. It does maintain the sense that in the liturgy, when we participate in the mystery of the Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, we are in fact in heaven.

TW: OK, so Evangelicals of all stripes are burnt out. They’re burnt out with a worship that seems as mundane as going to the shopping mall. They’re burnt out with songs that have little detectable theology, sermons with less detectable theology, and many of them are flocking to Rome or even going so far as Constantinople. Is there another alternative, Professor Marquart?

KM: Well, if only Wittenberg would know it, Wittenberg should be the place to which the spiritual heirs of Geneva would take their first recourse when they get homesick for the old traditions of the Church. But many modern Lutheran churches themselves have forgotten their identity and are also straying from the ways of the Church, and that is deeply tragic.

TW: Professor Marquart, thank you very much for being my guest.

KM: Thank you very much; it was a great pleasure. Thank you.

TW: Professor Kurt Marquart is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We’ve been talking about Eastern Orthodoxy.

Jesus has founded one Church on earth, a Church that He gathers around His Word and sacraments. We’ve identified in this hour a major difference that exists between those of the East and those of the West, those of the Reformation and those of Orthodoxy, on that issue of justification. Not a small question, folks. Not a minor question, not one that we can simply agree to disagree about, but a question about how you are saved. It is by God’s grace through Jesus Christ alone. I’ll be back next week.


Related Reading:

“Luther and Theosis,” by Dr. Kurt E. Marquart | Concordia Theological Quarterly

“The Happy Exchange – The Prince and The Pauper at Cross and Altar,” by Dr. John R. Stephenson | Lutheran Theological Review

“Theosis is Glorification,” by Dr. Eric Phillips | Just & Sinner

Distinguo brevis – Mannermaa, Osiander, and Eastern Orthodoxy,” by Quiet George | Just & Sinner

“Some good posts on Eastern Orthodoxy,” by T. David de Marest | Just & Sinner

“The vital place of union in Lutheran soteriology: Part 1 of n -or- ‘Thank God for Theosis’,” by  T. David de Marest | Just & Sinner

“On Leavings,” by Owen White



One Comment

  1. Trent,
    Man – I think this one is older yet. Wilken references filling in for Don Matzat, and I believe Matzat stepped down in the late 90s already. Maybe I’m off, but that is my guess.


Comments are closed.