Monday, March 5, 2012

The New Iconoclasm and the Triumph of Orthodoxy

Seventh Ecumenical Council
At the Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers this evening, the homily included a very compelling presentation of the iconoclast heresy, complete with its historical context. Fr Justin elaborated on one of the more interesting facets of the iconoclast movement of the 8th century, the influence of Islam on the Byzantine Empire, specifically Emperor Leo III. Although iconoclasm did not spring fully formed from Islam, the Mohammedan tendency to reject images (especially Christian images which assert Christ as God Incarnate, and most especially therefore images of the Cross) often led to Muslim destruction of Orthodox churches, icons and crosses. Leo III may indeed have felt strongly motivated to adopt an aggressive iconoclastic stance in large measure to ally himself with the ideology of Muslim aggressors threatening Byzantium, thus hopefully appeasing the belligerent caliph. One Orthodox writer sums up the historical scene this way:

In the 8th century, the religion of Islam supplied one of the major forces in favor of iconoclasm. A notable example of this pressure came from the caliph Iezid II (720-724), who “ordered the destruction of all pictures in Christian churches within his dominions” (Edward James Martin, A History of the Iconoclastic Controversy, p. 23). Considering the warring relations consistently endured by nations bordering the Muslims, it is not difficult to imagine why an unscrupulous state official (such as the Emperor) might think it advantageous to proactively destroy certain elements likely to cause friction with neighboring aggressors. Source

We see a similar phenomenon in play today, whenever our political leaders turn a blind eye to Muslim persecution of Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Indonesia and elsewhere in the Islamic world, choosing instead to side with the Muslim Brotherhood in its efforts to establish shariah law with its institutionalized discrimination of Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims. Politicians who do not openly condemn the unbridled genocidal behavior and teachings of Muslim mobs and Islamic governments are complicit in mass murder by their silence.

This is exactly what the Obama State Department has chosen to do by ignoring persecution of Christians in Muslim countries. (See also here.)  (The Administration had also banned from its National Security documents and training any mention of the ideology of jihad and anything which might reflect negatively on Islam, thus preventing those entrusted with national defense from identifying and combatting the threat.)  Much concern and outrage has rightly been raised over Obama's Health and Human Services assault on American Christians and our Freedom of Religion through the abortion/contraception/sterilization mandate contained in Obamacare. Couple that with the Administration's stance in support of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic extremists and we see a broad pattern of anti-Christian activism conducted in an apparent effort to court the favor of the Islamic world. The tacit acceptance of Muslim persecution of Christians in the Islamic world, and this New Iconoclasm here at home, are blatant attempts to drive Christianity out of the public square and hammer away at it until Christians are cowed and intimidated into silence. The Christian conscience is under attack, no less than in 726 A.D. when Leo III started smashing the holy icons.

Complementary to the Obama Administration's anti-Christian, pro-Islamist agenda is a direct assault on Orthodox Christianity in the teaching of certain Christian leaders, educators, theologians and even hierarchs and clergy, only instead of iconoclasm, their heresy is one of softness, appeasement and flattery. In my book, Facing Islam, I term it the 'Same God Heresy', namely, the idea that Muslims worship the same God as Christians. Put another way, it is the false teaching that Allah of Islam is the same One True God whom we worship as Trinity, only Muslims worship him differently, as absolute oneness. Christians who buy into this false teaching often state their position using the language of epistemological and religious relativism; e.g. "Muslim and Christian conceptions of God are quite different, but they worship the same God." This is a double apostasy, for it reduces the Christian revelation to a subjective, human conception and equates it to the Muslim conception of God. Such a position of course is the complete negation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and a direct rejection of Orthodox dogma. 

The Same God teaching is also an ontological fallacy, for Allah and the Blessed Trinity could not be more dissimilar in their revelations given to man. When we look at even a few passages of the Koran, we see the matter could not be more clear:

The similitude of Isa (Jesus) before God is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: “Be”: And he was. (Sura 3:59)

Say not “Trinity”: desist: It will be better for you: For God is One God: Glory be to Him: (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. . . . (Sura 4:173)

In blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ the Son of Mary. (Sura 5:19)

They do blaspheme who say: “God is Christ the son of Mary . . .” They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them (Sura 5:75,78)

Christ the son of Mary was no more than an Apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how God doth make His Signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth! (Sura 5:78)

The Jews call 'Uzair a son of God, and the Christians call Christ the Son of God. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the Unbelievers of old used to say. God's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth! (Sura 9:30)

In fact, they never killed him, they never crucified him — they were made to think that they did. All factions who are disputing in this matter are full of doubt concerning this issue. They possess no knowledge; they only conjecture. For certain, they never killed him. (Sura 4:157)
A child in my parish's Sunday School could see that these Koranic verses reject Christ's divinity, reject the Blessed Trinity, and reject the crucifixion (which echoes the ancient heresy of Docetism). Yet learned scholars and even clergy blandly teach the Same God heresy. Other passages in the Koran spin a bizarre, fabricated tale of a "different Jesus" (2 Cor. 11:3-5) obviously patched together from fragments of the second century gnostic gospel of Barnabas and the fanciful false infancy gospel of Thomas. In spite of the Koran's anti-Christian, heretical nature, yet we see  the Ecumenical Patriarch give copies of the Koran as gifts, seeming to endorse it in doing so. Since, in Islam, the Koran is considered to be the literal and inerrant words of Allah, and the Koran is explicitly and irreconcilably anti-Christian, therefore the presumed source of the Koran, Allah, cannot be the same as the Triune Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

In spite of this simple clarity (and numerous other proofs against the same God teaching, which I present in my book), we see the afore-mentioned Same God proponents flattering Muslims by acceding to and repeating central tenets of Islamic dawah (missionary teaching), such as Allah being the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, and the notion that Muhammad was "an apostle, a man of God" (Patriarch Parthenius of Alexandria). The Purpose-Driven pastor Rick Warren is deep into this realm, having launched a Peace initiative with Southern California mosques where they affirm to worship the Same God, and agree not to evangelize among Muslims. And so Truth is betrayed and Christ is denied for some vague sense of "peace."

The New Iconoclasm is a betrayal of Christ by equating a false god (Allah) with the True God. As with the iconoclast heresy of the eighth century, the Same God Heresy is also a direct assault on the Church and the Faithful. One of the most pernicious effects of this false teaching is the confusion and wasted energy it introduces into the life of the Orthodox Church. Like other contemporary assaults against the Faith (same-sex marriage, abortion, secularism in general, etc.), the Same God Heresy saps the vitality of the Church, and dampens efforts at missions, especially missions among Muslims. Why should Orthodox Christians share the Gospel with Muslims if (in the words of one Antiochian bishop)  "Islam and Christianity are 90% the same, and only differ regarding the Divinity of Christ?"  And why would Muslims feel drawn to Christ if Christians do not incarnate Him before their eyes, but rather adopt an "I'm okay, you're okay" milk toast theology of equivalency?

Yet our task should be to pivot from false teachings, and use our repudiation of the Same God Heresy as an opportunity to seize the high ground, and proclaim the Truth of our Faith boldly and without reservation. If Christ be for us, who can be against us?

Once we come to the Truth, we are called to share it: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). The Truth is a Person. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him (Jn 14:6).  "This is the True God, and Eternal Life," says the Beloved Apostle. And he closes his letter by warning, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 Jn 5:21).  The Same God Concept is just such a false idol.

Deacon George (Yuri) Maximov, of the Moscow Theological Academy, and co-laborer of New Martyr Missionary Priest Fr Daniel Sysoev of Moscow (†2009), offered this admonition:

Among those who call themselves Orthodox, I have met such strange people who say that Fr. Daniel should not preach to Muslims, that one must respect their religion, and that there is no benefit from his preaching. But Fr. Daniel thought, as did the Lord, the Apostles, and all the saints, that one must respect mistaken people but not their mistakes. Truth is one, that which contradicts and negates truth is a lie, and respect for a lie is contempt for the truth.

Ultimately, turning to Christ — embracing the Truth — for each one of us, can be our own personal Triumph of Orthodoxy. And what better time to do so than during Great Lent. This is how we can triumph over the New Iconoclasm. Therefore, to embolden us all, myself being most in need, I post here the Anathemas from the Service for the Triumph of Orthodoxy.  (Note, we do not present the Anathemas to our neighbor as part of our missionary efforts. The Anathemas are intended for the Church, to strengthen the faithful and serve as a corrective rebuke to false teachers and straying hierarchs and clergy. God willing, future postings will emphasize missions among Muslims.)

This is the faith of the apostles! This is the faith of the fathers! This is the Orthodox faith! This faith has established the universe! 
Furthermore, we accept and confirm the councils of the holy fathers, and their traditions and writings which are agreeable to divine revelation. 
And though the enemies of Orthodoxy oppose this providence and the saving revelation of the Lord, yet the Lord has considered the reproaches of His servants, for He mocks those who blaspheme His Glory, and has challenged the enemies of Orthodoxy and put them to flight. 
As we therefore bless and praise those who have obeyed the divine revelation and have fought for it; so we reject and anathematize those who oppose this truth, if while waiting for their return and repentance, they refuse to turn again to the Lord; and in this we follow the sacred tradition of the ancient Church, holding fast to her traditions. 
To those who deny the existence of God, and assert that the world is self-existing, and that all things in it occur by chance, and not by the providence of God, Anathema! 
All: Anathema! (and so after each exclamation) 
Deacon: To those who say that God is not spirit, but flesh; or that He is not just, merciful, wise and all-knowing, and utter similar blasphemies, Anathema! 
To those who dare to say that the Son of God and also the Holy Spirit are not one in essence and of equal honor with the Father, and confess that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not one God, Anathema! 
To those who foolishly say that the coming of the Son of God into the world in the flesh, and His voluntary passion, death, and resurrection were not necessary for our salvation and the cleansing of sins, Anathema! 
To those who reject the grace of redemption preached by the Gospel as the only means of our justification before God, Anathema! 
To those who dare to say that the all-pure Virgin Mary was not virgin before giving birth, during birthgiving, and after her child-birth, Anathema! 
To those who do not believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, and by them taught us the true way to eternal salvation, and confirmed this by miracles, and now dwells in the hearts of all true and faithful Christians, and teaches them in all truth, Anathema! 
To those who reject the immortality of the soul, the end of time, the future judgement, and eternal reward for virtue and condemnation for sin, Anathema! 
To those who reject all the holy mysteries held by the Church of Christ, Anathema! 
To those who reject the Councils of the holy fathers and their traditions, which are agreeable to divine revelation and kept piously by the Orthodox Church, Anathema! 
To those who mock and profane the holy images and relics which the holy Church receives as revelations of God's work and of those pleasing to Him, to inspire their beholders with piety, and to arouse them to follow these examples; and to those who say that they are idols, Anathema! 
To those who dare to say and teach that our Lord Jesus Christ did not descend to earth, but only seemed to; or that He did not descend to the earth and become incarnate only once, but many times, and who likewise deny that the true Wisdom of the Father is His only-begotten Son, Anathema! 
To the followers of the occult, spiritualists, wizards, and all who do not believe in the one God, but honor the demons; or who do not humbly give their lives over to God, but strive to learn the future through sorcery, Anathema!