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"No one man, or group of men, can himself speak for the Church of Christ. It is nonetheless possible to speak from within the Church, in conformity with Orthodox tradition; and it is this that we shall attempt to do." Fr. Seraphim Rose Orthodox Word #1 Jan-Feb 1965 p. 17
Book Review: Orthodox Christian Catechism
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Book Review: Orthodox Christian Catechism
Orthodox Christian Catechism: A Basic Instructional Guide to the Ancient Christian Faith. Hollywood, CA: Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry, 1996. Pp. 127. Paperbound.
While purporting to teach Orthodoxy "in everyday American language" (p. xiii), a brief examination of this catechism quickly reveals that, however sincere and well-intentioned its compilers, Protestant Evangelicalism is their mother tongue. Given the fact that the publisher conducts a "prison ministry," we should not be surprised that the text speaks more fluently in the vulgar idiom of Evangelical proselytism than in the katharevousa of pristine Orthodoxy. Undoubtedly, this is a direct result of trying to frame the Eastern Faith in a systematic question-and-answer catechism, a literary genre which is ultimately the brainchild of Western Christianity. Although employed at times by Orthodox writers, catechisms have for the greater part consistently failed to convey properly the essence of Orthodoxy, simply because for Eastern Christianity, "catechism" primarily designates not an academic manual of tenets composed for potential converts to study, but the vivid, practical immersion of catechumens into the traditions of the Church, culminating in their reception of Holy Baptism.
Although the compilers of this cathechism attempt to mask their Protestant leanings—if only halfheartedly—, their Evangelical sensibilities are manifestly visible. For example, while stating in a doctrinal section of the brochure that the "Sacrament" (more correctly, "Mystery") of Holy Confession is effected by God through the agency of a Priest, nonetheless, in a devotional section, we read, after a traditional confessional prayer, the following astonishing instruction, there being no mention whatever of the necessity of a Priest: "(Confess to the Lord your specific sins)" (p. 112).
Likewise, despite a disclaimer that extensive Scriptural citations are not "given as proof texts" (p. xiii), their exclusive ubiquity belies this claim. The total omission of Patristic references from the catechism is glaring. Not even once is the authority of a single Church Father invoked in the text of this catechism! To present Orthodoxy without constant and explicit reference to the Holy Fathers is tantamount to preaching "-ianity"—that is, Christianity devoid of Christ. Sola Scriptura is the operative presupposition here, and blatantly so. Again, we should not be surprised by this, since many of those involved in the production of this catechism were also directly responsible for that notorious deformation of Holy Scripture and Orthodox teaching known as The Orthodox Study Bible.
Offering Orthodoxy to the West in simple terms is not per se the ruination of this work. Nor can one fault, again, the good intentions of its authors. It is, rather, that while aiming for simplicity, Orthodox Christian Catechism falls well wide of the mark, striking instead a bull's-eye in oversimplification, rendering Orthodoxy a type of minimalistic Christianity. And the West already has had enough of that, beginning with fundamentalistic Protestantism.
Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies
From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XIII, Nos. 3&4, p. 84.
Webmaster note: in writing this the CTOS is certainly not decrying prison ministry—a Gospel mandate (cf. St. Matthew 25)—, as one correspondent nastily opined to me. Whether or not anyone who may criticize this book supports or is involved in prison ministry should have nothing whatsoever to do with a fair, even firm, critique of its contents. These are separate issues and should be kept that way. The review is important because the book presents Orthodoxy in a denuded and un-Orthodox manner which could ultimately mislead those reading it (related to this, see the reviews of the ill-famed Orthodox Study Bible). There are numerous Orthodox sources that could be used in "prison ministry." A new "catechism" is not needed. Again, as the reviewer states in his opening, the sincerity and intentions of the book's authors are not in question here.