-Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
In the ongoing discussion about East and West, no one can speak with more authority than the pastor of All Saints Orthodox Church in Chicago, Father Patrick Henry Reardon (who also is a senior editor of Touchstone, and the author of several good books). In one lifetime, he has done what it has taken all three of the Hart brothers to do: he has been Roman Catholic, then Anglican and is now Orthodox. What sets him apart is the depth of his learning, since his knowledge of the entire Christian Tradition is about as exhaustive as any one man can possess. After all of his decades of scholarship, he has been able to speak in terms that all Christians can appreciate, demonstrating the reality of our common ground. Fr. Reardon has stated more than once the threefold separation between man and God that has been overcome for us in Christ, the separation by nature, by sin and by death. We are saved from our separation by nature in Christ’s Incarnation. We are saved from our separation by sin in Christ’s death, and we are saved from our separation by death in Christ’s resurrection.
I want to use this to answer the opinion of a commenter who calls himself Kolokotronis, specifically when this Kolokotronis wrote: “The West's concept of God, salvation, human nature, even sin itself, are near 180 degrees off that of the early Church, but are in many ways quite consistent with Greek pagan philosophy.” Before I do, let me say that this idea exalts Greek Paganism beyond measure. If the “Western” “concept of God” is consistent with Greek Paganism, then the pagans must have believed in a transcendent God who is Wholly Other from every created nature, dwelling in eternity, unknowable and unapproachable. Somehow, this does not fit the notion of Zeus on Mount Olympus, or of the gods who were subject to passions. It is simply another empty charge and invented excuse for maintaining and deepening division at any price.
About salvation, just how different is the “East” from the “West?” I believe that Saint Paul, unless he was capable of time travel, never read Cur Deus Homo by Saint Anselm. And, yet, he summarized the entire concept of the Jewish sacrificial system in the Law, and the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah, with the words “Christ died for our sins, according to the scripture (i.e. in fulfillment of those scriptures about sacrifice).” – I Cor. 15 : 3. Here we look again at those three ways in which salvation is offered to us in Christ. By dying He took away the sins of the world. Can this really have no relationship to Divine Justice? Is God so immoral or a-moral? Christ overcame death, but in His cross He conquered both sin and death. Furthermore, in order for the Incarnation to save us from death and open to us the hope that we become “partakers of the divine nature,” sin must first be taken away by the Lamb of God, the “propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” In order for His resurrection to give us immortality, sin had to be removed first. In order for us be given the grace to partake of the divine nature by Theosis, we first needed this redemption from sin/ death (really one thing for us, not two).
To what degree this Kolokotronis believes that the East and the West have different concepts about what sin is, I would rather not even begin to question. It simply makes no sense. I really cannot say what Kolokotronis meant by condemning the “Western concept” of human nature, unless he is referring to a belief taught only in some Protestant circles that the Fall created something new called “sin nature,” a kind of anti-grace in the descendents of Adam. The Fall should be understood in terms of what we lost: we lack the grace to become what we were created to be. Our only hope is in Christ, His Incarnation, His cross, and His resurrection, by which grace is restored.