Letters on the Virginity of the Theotokos, True Orthodox and the Canon of Scripture (From One of the Old Sites)

Last Updated: 12/30/04

I scanned/read your essay, which was very good, and think (but am not sure) you may have missed the point about her virginity. As you know, whenever you see an icon of her, there are three stars on her garment; one on each shoulder and one on her forehead. This of course signifies that she was a virgin before, *during*, and after the birth of Christ. An icon withgout this should be destroyed. The part I believe you *may* have missed was the point that Christ had a miraculous birth, never passing through the birthing canal, but miraculously appearing outside her body.

Many people today think this is ridiculous or “fanatasy”, but it is important as it ties into the first sin of Adam and the pain of birth thereafter…

Anyway, since I didn’t have time to read the whole article, if you did mention this, then just ignore this note! ūüėȬ†

John  (Note: John is himself an Orthodox apologist)

Actually, I did not mention this, and it was a mistake on my part to miss it.¬† Thanks for pointing that out; I will correct it.¬† While I don’t think the texts indicate Christ suddenly appeared outside the body of the Theotokos, but close (the texts I have looked at indicate that the birth canal was unruptured but indicate that Christ did pass through the birth canal) the simple fact is that Christ’s incarnation from conception to birth is a great mystery.¬†— JS

From the Vespers of the Nativity of the Theotokos: She is the only gateway of the Only-begotten Son of God, who passed through this gate, yet kept it closed: and having ordered all things in His own wisdom He has wrought salvation for all mankind.

From a reader of the page:

I saw the link to the True Orthodox Churches, which I figured were Old Calendarists since they were few in number and had weird names. I wonder, why is there such a controversy over this? I go to a Greek Orthodox (goarch.com) Church and an Albanian one when I visit my dad, which is a part of the Orthodox Church in America, but I have no beef with new or old calendars.

By the way, do the Orthodox believe the Septuagint as we have it today is innerrant, as in there are no copyist errors? I’m not exactly sure what the Orthodox view is on the innerrancy of biblical writings.

In answer to your question, Orthodox who know their faith well are locked in a pretty nasty struggle against ecumenism, which has been anathematized as a heresy a number of times individually by some of the Church’s hierarchy, but not in an altogether “official” fashion.¬† The difficulty was based primarily in historical circumstance– in Greece, the Old Calendarists formed in the midst of governmental power struggles, whereas the Russian Church found itself liquidated by the Revolution.¬† Most of the Orthodox Church numerically is in those two Churches, so their witness is of relevance.

On paper, the official Orthodox Churches and the True Orthodox Churches held identical views on matters of faith until very recently.¬† So if you are reading, for example, a catechism that was put out by the OCA 30 years ago, chances are everything is fine.¬† One good way of seeing real changes is by looking at the differences in published texts in later editions, such as “The Orthodox Church” by Kallistos Ware.¬† What you will notice is a subtle modernization of doctrinal viewpoints incompatible with Orthodoxy, such as new teachings on birth control, et cetera.¬† As well, since then Saints have been added to both calendars that are not recognized by the other side.

Given the Orthodox propensity towards Tradition in general, there really is only one way to go after a while, and having been baptized in a True Orthodox environment and then living in official Orthodoxy for over a year before returning, I can say from my own experience that the situation is changing rapidly enough in official Orthodoxy that it’s very unclear as to which way they will head.¬† Many people want True Orthodoxy– the hierarchs want whatever the world will offer them.¬† (To be fair, many people also like the status quo and are people I would have a hard time doctrinally referring to as Christians, let alone Orthodox Christians.)

This divergence has been dealt with in a variety of ways, between baptizing official Orthodox, et cetera (which I think is incorrect if the people in question were properly baptized, although even the form is changing in many official Churches) to simply allowing the official Orthodox to confess, et cetera, provided they don’t return to the New Calendarist Churches, which is really preferable given the circumstance.¬† Some communities recognize both official Orthodoxy and True Orthodoxy as valid.¬† While this is done out of pastoral kindness, it’s heretical.

In general, all I can say is that if you want to see the difference, you have to find a good, established True Orthodox parish.¬† Then visit as many World Orthodox parishes in your area as possible.¬† You’ll begin to see the difference.¬† So at least on the question of Old or New Calendar– it’s ultimately a matter of conscience on our part.¬† While the best thing for a new convert would be to simply start and end his life as an Orthodox in a True Orthodox parish, we believe in a merciful God who wills all to salvation in His name.¬† Every Orthodox Christian who seeks the truth will have to make that decision on his own.¬† After all it was only recently that our hierarchies began to organize in a better fashion.¬† Time will tell how this plays out.

Now onto your second question, which is actually a question that there is no definitive answer to because it assumes that Orthodoxy has an official version of Scripture.¬† The answer to¬†that¬†question comes from the understanding the Scriptures in the light of the Church’s living tradition.¬† Thus, the authoritative version of the Scriptures varies from national Church to national Church.¬† Technically, all of the Church’s Scriptures are inerrant insofar as their translators should ideally be masters of noetic prayer themselves (thus having the inspired understanding to *read* the Scriptures, let alone to translate them, as well as competency to translate the Holy Books.¬† This doesn’t always happen.¬† And because this isn’t happening with English translations today, we aren’t seeing much progress in the way of Orthodox Scriptures in English.

Thus, there is only one Septuagint for the Greek Church and one Slavonic Bible for the Russian Church and one Peshitta for the Syrian Church and one Vulgate for the former Orthodox Church of the West, et cetera.¬† (However, none of the Bibles I have listed have the same number of Old Testament books!) The Septuagint takes primacy in the mind of many Biblical students in Orthodoxy, due to the history of Orthodoxy being heavily intertwined with the history of the East Roman Empire.¬† I don’t share such a view, however, and don’t believe the Church even requires it, or that there are any Fathers who require one to believe such a claim (as they do, for example, with the commentators on the Church’s canons) except within their own national Churches.

Now to answer your question directly; within that full corpus of Scriptures is the innerancy of the Church which then manifests in Her Holy writings.  To be sure, copyists make mistakes by handРand many such mistakes, for example.  But those mistakes get corrected over time through consistency with other Orthodox Biblical versions, and so the substance of the texts is the same, save for an occasional spelling error that gets corrected.  Thankfully, there are no mistakes in the Orthodox versions of the Scriptures that cause any doctrinal disagreement, though occasionally there are differences that also help shed light on the Orthodox teaching.  But the occasional mistranslation that *does* occur in a version of the Scriptures (remember, these books are used officially and liturgically) is usually flatly corrected by the mind of the Church, and after a hundred years or so of use, the translations which bear the approval of the Church are usually quite clean.

While it is good to read all the Scriptural texts in the Old Testament, the occasionally disputed deuterocanonical books cause no harm to the reader.¬† While there is now work on an Orthodox version of the Old Testament in English (there are actually three such projects) I have found no problems personally with using the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims and ignoring the footnotes, as it is a fairly strong and consistent English translation of the Vulgate, even though it is missing the books of Esdras (the Vulgate itself, however, does include them).¬† A slightly more complete and traditional form (though there are some problems with it) is a complete 1611 KJV (yes, they are available and actually rather cheaply) that contains all the Septuagint texts, though I trust nothing that references the heretical Masoretic text at all.¬† And of course, there is the Bagster House translation of the Septuagint.¬† The “Ecumenical Study Bible” RSV (which contains *all* the books of *all* the Scriptures) is decent, but to be frank, is not worth the money, in my opinion.¬† In general, the rule of thumb is to avoid heretical liberal translations (NRSV, for example) and to avoid heretical conservative translations (“New World” edition put out by the Jehovah’s Witnesses), since those do not simply add heretical footnotes, but actually alter the words of the Scriptures themselves.

I hope that answers your questions!– JS

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