Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy
by Fr. Viktor Potapov


XV. Protestantism

Contents:
1. The Universality of the Priesthood
2. The Teaching of Justification Solely by Faith
3. The Teaching of Predestination and the Veneration of Saints
4. The View of Life Beyond the Grave
5. The Source of Faith

Having declared himself the infallible head of the Universal Church, the pope demanded from all Christians unquestioning sub-mission to him as the vicar of Christ and the sole transmitter of the grace of Christ. Unfortunately, the striving of the Protestants to restore ecclesiastical truth in the West did not return them to Orthodoxy, but drew them into errors sometimes more grave than those present in the Roman church. On the question of the Church, as on other questions also, the Protestants fell into the opposite extreme.

1. The Universality of the Priesthood

Justifiably denying the Roman bishop the significance of infallible vicar of Christ and immediate head of all Christians, many Protestants simply rejected hierarchy and proclaimed the teaching of the universal priesthood. Incorrectly interpreting certain passages of Sacred Scripture, they began to assert that all Christians are equal before God, that all enjoy the same right to turn to Him directly, personally, without any hierarchal mediation. The Church is the invisible society of believing hearts enlightened by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The Church is holy and infallible because it is governed by the Spirit of grace, Who cleanses her from defilement and invisibly cuts off unworthy members. The Apostle Peter writes to Christians: "We are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood" (I Peter 2:9). The Apostle John says that Christ "made us kings and priests unto God and his Father" (Revelation 1:6). But here the priesthood is spoken of not in the hierarchical sense, but in the sense that Christians, as regenerated and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, ought to be amid others - unbelievers - as if they were God's special sacred inheritance. That hierarchy is a divine institution, is a truth so clearly confirmed by numerous passages of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition that it could not be disputed, and Protestants themselves subsequently introduced among themselves a kind of hierarchy. The denial of hierarchy by the first Protestants is explained - besides their hatred for the Roman Catholic clergy - as well by the fact that not one bishop came over to Luther's side, and for this reason the Protestants could not have a lawfully ordained priesthood.

In this connection, it should be noted that the Protestants cannot have a lawful priesthood since the apostolic succession ceased among them already at the beginning of the Reformation.

The denial of hierarchy brought in its wake other denials as well, including the denial of all the sacraments, with the exception of Baptism. For some Protestant confessions, the Eucharist too is only a rite instituted in remembrance of the Mystical Supper and the Lord's Passion. But others, reckoning that the eucharistic bread and wine always remain only bread and wine, affirm that communicants, by virtue of their faith, all the same commune of the Body and Blood of the Lord.

2. The Teaching on Justification Solely by Faith

As a counterweight to the exaggerated significance in Catholicism of a man's personal merits before God, the followers of Luther teach that good works do not constitute an essential condition for a man's salvation, that they can even be harmful, since they develop self-conceit and pharisaical pride. God's grace, acting on a man, instills in him faith in Jesus Christ, and this faith, which places a man in an immediate relationship to the Redeemer, also affords a man salvation and makes him righteous.

Lutherans, as proof of their teaching on justification by faith alone, cite the words of the Apostle Paul: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28), and further: "...a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 2:16). But in these and similar expressions, the Apostle Paul does not at all deny the significance of good words for salvation, but only rejects the false view of the Jews, who in proud self-assurance hoped to attain salvation by an exact, formal fulfillment of the outward prescriptions of the law, apart from heartfelt faith in Jesus Christ. This faith, according to the Apostle Paul, ought to be alive and active, that is, united with good works. It ought to be that "which worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6); "and though," he says, "I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing" (I Corinthians 13:2). The Saviour Himself says, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). But the idea of the necessity of good works for salvation is especially clearly set forth in the Epistle of the Apostle James, which the Protestants so dislike that they even reject its authenticity: "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? ...as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:14, 26).

3. The Teaching on Predestination and the Veneration of Saints

Luther and his followers could not bring themselves to draw the extreme conclusions that logically flowed from their false teaching on man's salvation. Calvin and Zwingli and their reformer-followers proved to be more consistent. If good works have no significance whatsoever in the matter of salvation, if man through sin has lost every capacity for good, and if even faith - the sole condition for salvation - is God's gift, the question naturally arises: why then are not all men saved, why do some receive grace, while others believe and perish? There can be only one answer to this question, and the reformers give it: "From eternity, God predestined some for salvation, others for perdition, and this predestination depends not at all on a man's personal freedom and life."

The erroneousness of the reformers' teaching is obvious. It perverts the truly Christian understanding of God's justice and mercy, of man's worth and purpose as a free and rational being. God appears here not as a loving, merciful Father, "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:4), but as a cruel, unjust despot, who saves some without any merit and dooms others without fault to perdition.

The Orthodox Church also recognizes predestination, but does not consider it unconditional, that is, independent of men's free will and based on a groundless decision of the divine will. According to Orthodox teaching, God, as omniscient, knows, foresees the moral state of men and, on the basis of this foresight, preordains, predetermines for them a certain fate.

But He does not preordain for anyone a definite moral state; He does not preordain either a virtuous or a sinful life and does not at all inhibit our freedom. Therefore, even the Apostle Paul, whom the reformers cite, very closely connects the teaching on predestination with the teaching on God's foresight. In the Epistle to the Romans, he explains this thought in detail, and, incidentally, says concerning predestination: "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son? Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified" (Romans 8:29-30). In this way, God predestinates to glory not according to His groundless arbitrariness, as the reformers think, but according to His foreknowledge of a man's merits accomplished through his free will.

Protestants do not recognize the veneration of saints, since it, in their opinion, debases the worth of the Saviour, as "the one mediator between God and men," and contradicts those passages of Sacred Scripture where it says that one should worship God alone. Protestants consider the veneration of saints as useless, since the saints cannot hear our prayers.

In the Orthodox teaching on the veneration of saints there is no belittling of the Lord's redemptive sacrifice, since we ask of the saints not that which is not within their power - the forgiveness of sins, the granting of grace and the future blessed life - but we pray to the saints, as members of the Church who have been redeemed by the most pure blood of Jesus Christ and are nearer to God than we, that they mediate for us before the one Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the passages of Sacred Scripture cited by the Protestants (Deuteronomy 6:13, I Timothy 1:17), the rendering of divine honor to God alone is spoken of; but we do not render such honor to the saints. We venerate God's grace, which resides in them; we venerate God, Who is, according to the words of the Psalmist, "wondrous in His saints."

As for the hearing of our prayers by the saints, for this there is no necessity to possess omniscience, which really is proper to God alone. It is sufficient to have that gift of clairvoyance which the Lord deemed many of his saints worthy of while still on earth, and which they, one must suppose, possess to a higher degree in heaven.

The Protestants object also to the veneration of relics, saying that by worshiping them, we Orthodox are venerating dead matter. But in relics we venerate not matter itself, but the living and life-creating power of the Holy Spirit, which makes them not only incorrupt, but also healing. From Sacred Scripture, it is known that from the touch of the bones of the Prophet Elisseus a dead man resurrected (IV Kings 13:21); a woman with an issue of blood received healing from touching the hem of the Saviour's garment (Matthew 9:20-22); the sick and the possessed were healed by laying on them the Apostle Paul's handkerchiefs and aprons (Acts 19:12). The same divine power that was inherent in the bones of the Prophet Elisseus, the garment of the Saviour, and the handkerchiefs of the Apostle Paul also grants incorruption and miracle-working power to the bodies of the saints to strengthen the faith of Christians.

4. The View on Life Behond the Grave

The Orthodox confession of faith is completed by a lively expectation of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. Whoever does not believe in the future life, whoever does not believe in the future last righteous judgement of God, whoever does not believe in a recompense for the righteous and punishment for the evil is not Orthodox, is not a Christian. Whereas we Orthodox believe in the efficacious power of prayer for the dead, sectarians (ed. note- followers of Christian sects not in communion with the Orthodox, Apostolic Church) reject prayers for the dead on the grounds that there is no direct commandment in Sacred Scripture concerning prayer for the dead and because a man's fate beyond the grave supposedly depends exclusively on what he was himself personally during his earthly life and, finally, because believers have one Mediator - the Saviour Jesus Christ Himself.

But if prayer for the dead is really not spoken of directly in the Word of God, this our duty with regard to them follows of itself from the obligation of Christians to support the communion of love between themselves, which with regard to the dead is expressed in prayers for them.

The Apostle James persuades us to pray for one another (James 5:16) and adds that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much"; the Apostle Paul exhorts to pray for all men (I Timothy 2:1); Saint John the Theologian - especially for sinners (I John 5:16). One must not presuppose that these exhortations related only to the living, since the dead are also members of Christ's Church, just as we are, and a man's death, from the Christian point of view, ought not to break communion between him and those remaining among the living. "For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto Him," says the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 20:38). "Whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord's," teaches the Apostle Paul (Romans 14:8).

As for the citation by Protestants of passages in Sacred Scripture where the matter concerns the recompense to each man according to his works (Psalm 6:6, Galatians 6:7, II Corinthians 5:10 and others), either the fact that the dead themselves cannot change their fate or the condition of the dead after the Dread Judgment is spoken of in these passages; but the benefit of prayers for the dead is not denied.

Finally, it is completely true that our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the "one Mediator between God and men." Thus the Orthodox Church teaches, and thus is it said repeatedly in Sacred Scripture, especially often in the epistles of the Apostle Paul. But, after all, we Orthodox, in our requiem prayers, do turn precisely to Him, our Saviour, as children of His Church. Commemoration of the dead and church prayers for them are a primordial apostolic tradition of the Church, preserved holily by her throughout all the centuries. Already in the fifth century, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, a participant in the Second Ecumenical Council, in explaining the structure of the divine services and mysteries to the catechumens that had entered the Church in his time, wrote apropos the church's commemoration of the dead at the Liturgy: "Very great will be the benefit to the souls for whom supplication is offered at the time when the holy and dread sacrifice is set forth" (Mystagogic Instruction 5, Chapter 9). Particles taken out from the prosphoras in commemoration of the living and the dead are placed on the discos at the foot of the Lamb, where they remain until that moment when they are put into the chalice with the words: "By Thy precious Blood, O Lord, wash away the sins of those commemorated here, through the prayers of Thy saints."

5. The Source of Faith

All of Protestantism's erroneous repudiations have as a basis the no less erroneous repudiation of Sacred Tradition by Protestants. They strive to lean only on Sacred Scripture, not realizing to what extent both constitute one undivided whole. Protestants arbitrarily limit the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church to apostolic times, and that is why they consider all church enactments that have appeared definitively after the Apostles as purely human. They forget at the same time that even the very composition of the books comprising Sacred Scripture was determined considerably after the death of the Apostles. Protestants forget also, or prefer not to remember, that the oral preaching of Christianity (that is, the oral Tradition) preceded the inscription of the sacred books of the New Testament.

Or, recognizing Sacred Tradition until the time of the definitive composition of the books of the New Testament in the second century, Protestants have difficulty agreeing that the Holy Spirit, abiding in the Church as in the Body of Christ, did not cease to safeguard and vivify the true meaning of Sacred Scripture in the following centuries as well.

According to Orthodox teaching, Sacred Scripture is the fundamental monument of Sacred Tradition and contains the fullness of the divine revelation. But the Holy Spirit, Who inspired the Apostles and Evangelists in their oral and written evangelism, guides the Holy Church even now, promoting the understanding and assimilation of Christ's truth.
ŠV. Potapov, 1996-98