My research has slowed to random spurts here and there (though this post resulted in a bit of renewed investigation). I think the struggle of deciphering the truth has simply left me feeling like further accumulation of knowledge is redundant. I still welcome any replies however as I’ll probably get more use out of conversation from here on out than I will from taking in any more content.
It seems the history of Orthodoxy has been a continual struggle to hold onto the authentic truth in a world bent on eradicating it. If you look at the history of Orthodox conflicts with the rest of the world you can see a continual onslaught:
Orthodox – Roman Conflict: As we know the church was born in conflict, not only with the Roman state but also with Judaism. It generally swayed between bare tolerance and outright persecution.
Something that has struck me though is the clear disparity between what Protestants consider the early church to be like (non-institutional, home-based communities, no definitive clergy-laity divide) and the witness of the very early Apostolic fathers. Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp (30-100AD) were contemporaries of Peter, Paul and John and the theology and ecclesiology of these Bishops has more in common with Eastern Orthodoxy than Protestantism. In addition their roles in the church predate the “supposed” Romanising of the church structures by the Roman Politicians in 300-400AD.
Orthodox – Catholic Conflict / East – West Conflict: After the edict of toleration by Constantine and later the adoption of Christianity as the religion of the empire by Theodosius the conflict became internal. Over the next 600 years the East and West grew steadily apart, finally splitting when the Pope in Rome tried to exert universal control over the Church. They were however united enough to agree on the findings of 7 Ecumenical councils of the One Universal Church.
My opinion is that the East represents a truer (or True) reflection of the faith as taught by the early church. It is clear that the West engaged in far more renovations of the anciently held beliefs and practices, renovations like the role of the Pope in the One Church. This finally gave birth to the greatest changes of all under the Protestant Reformation and its’ aftermath.
Orthodox – Muslim Conflict: With the conquest of the Ottoman empire Orthodoxy became a persecuted religion once again. The Ottoman occupation of “formerly” Orthodox countries led to serious corruption in the hierarchy of the church and great difficulty for the average Christian. This occupation culminated in the World War I genocide of 2 million (Armenian, Assyrian and Greek) Orthodox Christians by the Ottoman Turks and Kurds.
Many problems developed during this time as a corrupt hierarchy leads to potential corruption of the whole system. However, since Orthodoxy has no individual leader the church tends to rectify the mistakes of past leaders. Deviations from True Orthodox teaching and practice correct themselves over time since Orthodoxy is judged by the whole church and not by a specific bishop in the church. Also, the Russian Orthodox Church was not affected by the Muslims and therefore not prone to the same mistakes caused by the Ottoman oppression.
Orthodox – Communist Conflict: Russia finally had its own turn to face persecution with the onset of Communism and its attempt to eradicate all religion. The Government followed a dual agenda of persecuting true Orthodox clergy and believers and also setting up a “state orthodox church” controlled by the government and corrupted from the start. Currently the Russian Orthodox Church is the biggest of the Eastern Orthodox Autonomous Bodies.
Throughout the 2000 year history of the Orthodox Church there has been a continual interplay between the Church and the State. At times this has been to the churches favour, but at other times it has seriously affected the churches ability to remain True to the Faith. In the long run I believe this has been one of the major downfalls in the history of Orthodoxy – one that still plagues parts of the church in the 21st century.
Orthodox – Globalization Conflict or Orthodoxy in the 21st Century: One of the major disappointments for me in my exploration of the church is that serious corruption has continued to plague it, especially in its relation to the secular authorities, but also due to the pride and political games of its hierarchy. But even as I write this I realise that it could be no other way – the claim be the True Church has never been a claim to be a church without Tares. I suppose I need to ask whether the Wheat appears to be True Wheat and simply try to ignore the Tares (Jesus seems to think this is the only way). But what I can say is that the state of the church today is no pretty picture – there are multiple issues regarding jurisdiction and arguments over authority. There are squabbles over some minor and major changes, things like clerical dress and appearance, liturgical calendars and participation in Ecumenical dialog. There is also a bit of conflict between the traditional Orthodox countries and American Orthodoxy which is seen by many as a Masonic, globalizing, renovating and modernising body (together with the patriarch of Constantinople) – which has serious consequences for a Church that values historical immutability.
In the end it seems the major conflict today is centered around how much the Church can change to meet the world it ministers to and where to hold onto old ways as a means of preserving the Faith Once Delivered by the Apostles.