From a Russian Orthodox Catechism, 1830

1

One difference between Orthodoxy and Western Christianity is that Orthodoxy has been strongly disinclined to make systematic theologies and catechisms. I’ll leave it to people better-versed than I to explain the reasons for that.

As I approached Orthodoxy from Calvinism (a systematic tradition if ever there was one!), I longed for an Orthodox Catechism. I wanted to be able to say “On Question A, the Calvinists say A1, the Catholics A2, the Orthodox A3” (I was particularly interested in how Orthodoxy differed from Catholicism because I thought I had Catholicism’s errors all figured out). I imagined luscious comparative tables — I’d make them if nobody else had.

I never got that Orthodox Catechism until I didn’t particularly want or need it.

But in Russia, which went through a period of Royal infatuation with all things Western, there was a Catechism published in 1830. It’s (ever so slightly) known as The Longer Catechism of The Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church or the Catechism of St. Philaret (Drozdov) of Moscow. Having stumbled onto it some time ago, I put it on Pinboard and finally made it back this long weekend just past.

It was thought necessary to discuss Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture, and there is one captured of the choicest patristic quotes on the topic:

24. Why is tradition necessary even now?

As a guide to the right understanding of holy Scripture, for the right ministration of the sacraments, and the preservation of sacred rites and ceremonies in the purity of their original institution.

St. Basil the Great says of this as follows:

Of the doctrines and injunctions kept by the Church, some we have from written instruction. but some we have received from, apostolical tradition, by succession in private. Both the former and the latter have one and the same force for piety, and this will be contradicted by no one who has ever so little knowledge in the ordinances of the Church; for were we to dare to reject unwritten customs, as if they had no great importance, we should insensibly mutilate the Gospel, even in the most essential points, or, rather, for the teaching of the Apostles leave but an empty name. For instance, let us mention before all else the very first and commonest act of Christians, that they who trust in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ should sign themselves with the sign of the cross–who hath taught this by writing? To turn to the east in prayer–what Scripture have we for this? The words of invocation in the change of the Eucharistic bread and of the Cup of blessing–by which of the Saints have they been left us in writing? for we are not content with those words which the Apostle or the Gospel records, but both before them and after them, we pronounce others also, which we hold to be of great force for the sacrament, though we have received them from unwritten teaching. By what Scripture is it, in like manner, that we bless the water of baptism, the oil of unction, and the person himself who is baptized? Is it not by a silent and secret tradition? What more? The very practice itself of anointing with oil–what written word have we for it? Whence is the rule of trine immersion? and the rest of the ceremonies at baptism, the renunciation of Satan and his angels?–from what Scripture are they taken? Are they not all from this unpublished and private teaching, which our Fathers kept under a reserve inaccessible to curiosity and profane disquisition, having been taught as a first principle to guard by silence the sanctity of the mysteries? for how were it fit to publish in writing the doctrine of those things, on which the unbaptized may not so much as look? (Can. xcvii. De Spir. Sanct. c. xxvii.)

I thought you’d want to know where all those practice came from that I’m sure your Church still faithfully observes.

You do observe them, right?

Hellooooo! Anybody home?

2

Subsequent Catechism answers on marriage seem to me less than completely satisfactory, but for a peripheral reason I need not address:

286. What virtue is there in each of these Sacraments?

6. In Matrimony he receives a grace sanctifying the married life, and the natural procreation and nurture of children.

361. What is Matrimony?

Matrimony is a Sacrament, in which, on the free promise of the man and woman before the priest and the Church to be true to each other, their conjugal union is blessed to be an image of Christ’s union with the Church, and grace is asked for them to live together in godly love and honesty, to the procreation and Christian bringing up of children.

362. Whence does it appear that Matrimony is a Sacrament?

From the following words of the Apostle Paul: A man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This Sacrament is great: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.Eph. v. 31, 32.

363. Is it the duty of all to marry?

No. Virginity is better than wedlock, if any have the gift to keep it undefiled.

Of this Jesus Christ has said expressly: All men can not receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.Matt. xix. 11, 12.

And the Apostle says: I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I; but if they can not contain, let them marry. . . . He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. . . . He that giveth his virgin in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. 1 Cor. vii. 8, 9, 32, 33, 38.

Of all the breeder-centric gall! This blasphemes against all that is right, holy, good and liberating (i.e., orgasmic but barren)! It even says that virginity is better than marriage! What drivel!

But what gave them the ability to foresee the current mess from 185 years ago? You don’t suppose that something like that is what the Church actually and always believed, do you?

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.