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Discussion Between an Orthodox and a Pashkovets (Protestant) About Holy Scriptures and Church Tradition

By Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev
Translated from the Russian by Dormition Skete, 2020

Pashkovets: I came to ask you, fellow patriot, for a recommendation for the factory that you work at. You know yourself that I am a hardworking and honorable man, and for that reason you won’t decline me some help for the sake of Christianity. I am new to these parts and have spent all my money; if you won’t recommend me, then at least let me ask for some alms.

Orthodox: That you are a man worthy to work at our factory, this I know; but there is one thing I just cannot understand: how is it that you, a Pashkovets (Protestant sect), remind me about Christianity, when you don’t even agree to call us Orthodox people Christians, and second, you ask me for the sake of the Christian Faith to recommend you for a position. You know that according to your opinion, the only thing that concerns the Christian Faith is what is directly able to be read according to the letter in the Holy Bible, but there is nothing said in the Scriptures about recommending someone for a position. If one were to reason according to your opinion, then I am not in the least obliged to aid you in this instance.

Pashkovets: How are you not obliged to do this? Are you saying that the Lord doesn’t order one to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty? And you can see, I’ve been going hungry for the second month.

Orthodox: It’s one thing to feed, and another to recommend: Please, let me give you something to eat; I would have also given money, but I only have 8 kopeks to my name.

Pashkovets: So wouldn’t it be easier for you to help me through a recommendation for a position? You know the boss would listen to you, and he has a position available, but he says, “I won’t hire without a recommendation.”

Orthodox: In my opinion it would be much easier. I know also that the boss will believe me and would take you. Just explain something first: how does this concern the Christian Faith if in the Holy Bible nothing is said about recommendations? You will remember, when you asked me to show from the Bible why we rely on the intercessions of the saints for us, or ask the Lord to give rest to the souls of the reposed, and I read for you from Apostle John and from Iakovos that we must pray for each other, as it is said: “Keep on praying for one another, that ye might be healed. The entreaty of a righteous man hath much strength” (Iak. V, 16). I demonstrated to you from the Holy Gospel that here one must understand not only prayer for the living, but also the reposed, as the Lord Himself said: “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to Him” (Luke XX, 38). I pointed out to you also the words of St. Paul that “Love never fails” (1 Cor. XIII, 8). However, you demanded that in the Holy Scriptures the dictums of God must be explicitly stated: “One ought to pray to the saints, one ought to pray for the dead.” Now I demand: where is it said in the Bible that one ought to give a recommendation for a position for a reliable man who is in need?

Pashkovets: Of course, this kind of exact saying doesn’t exist, but Holy Scripture teaches us to have that kind of feeling—love for our fellow man, which certainly would prompt you to help me with the mentioned circumstance, and if you will not help, then you will be guilty of transgressing the law of love. The word of God does not speak about the very action of recommending, but it inspires those kinds of feelings which would lead one to do it.

Orthodox: What you say is absolutely right, only by these words you are no longer a Pashkovets but an Orthodox Christian, because all the actions prescribed by the Church come out of these kinds of dispositions which are commanded in the Holy Bible: prayers for the reposed from a feeling of love towards your neighbor and faith in the fact that for God all are living; the sign of the Cross from a disposition of continual remembrance of the saving power of the Cross of the Lord and His life-giving death for us, which St. Paul orders us to proclaim “until He should come” (1 Cor. XI, 26), similar to how he says in a different place: “But may it not be for me to boast, except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. VI, 14). Whoever has the attitude of boasting in the Cross of the Lord and the proclaiming of His death, he will also perform the corresponding action—the sign of the Cross.

Paskovets: Not true! Do the Orthodox really reflect upon the Cross [of Christ] when they cross themselves? They are thinking that in this kind of folding of the fingers there is a special power, even if they do not at all think about Christ the Savior. Likewise they also keep the fasts by this same superstition, holding the opinion that milk and meat are defiled on certain days, in contradiction to the apostle who clearly said that food doesn’t commend us before God. And your priests, do they really think about God while blessing or censing with the censer? I saw for myself how they sometimes during this time are looking around and even converse with each other.

Orthodox: If you may, hold on a minute. Speak first about one thing, and not about everything all at once. Did you actually see in our law that it’s allowed for someone to talk while performing the clerical services or to make prayerful gestures without the lifting of our souls to God?

Pashkovets: I didn’t read this in your law, but all of you do it.

Orthodox: All, or not all, that’s not the point. Here you’re getting angry now, cursing, judging, but you see that I am not saying that your faith permits you to sin in such a way against your neighbors. Why then do you accuse our Faith of that which concerns our transgressions against our very own Faith? You remember what the Lord said to the people, denouncing the Scribes and Pharisees: “All things therefore whatsoever they tell you to keep, be keeping and doing, but according to their works do not be doing” (Matt. XXIII, 3). You then, on account of the personal sins of men, departed from the Faith and from the authority of the Church, forgetting the word of Christ: “The one who heareth you heareth Me, and the one who rejecteth you rejecteth Me” (Luke X, 16). So point to a service like this that the Orthodox have, which might not show evangelical feelings, as if it had some kind of significance by itself, and then go ahead and judge us.

Pashkovets: Well, okay, but what kind of dispositions do fasts convey?

Orthodox: You want to know? Don’t you remember the stichera that are sung during the Great Fast?

Pashkovets: I do not know your stichera, alright, and in general while I was Orthodox I wasn’t praying to God; I amused myself, I was even in the habit of drinking heavily, but it wasn’t until now that I got to know the Christian life.

Orthodox: Tell me please, are there any among the Pashkovites who, before entering into your like-mindedness, read the word of God or studied our Orthodox services?

Pashkovets: I do not know any such people; they all came to know real piety only after they were with us already.

Orthodox: That’s just what your trouble is, that you departed from the Church and condemned her, not even knowing what she is guilty of. You know that no kind of robber is condemned without investigating him first, and you all have departed from your mother, not even wanting to get to know her first. So allow me to explain to you what kind of feelings the Fast conveys among the Orthodox. Here are how the stichera are chanted: “While fasting with the body, brethren, let us also fast in spirit. Let us loose every bond of iniquity; let us undo the knots of every contract made by violence; let us tear up all unjust agreements; let us give bread to the hungry and welcome to our house the poor who have no roof to cover them, that we may receive great mercy from Christ our God.” The stichera from Vespers on the first Wednesday of the Great Fast. And here is another one: “Let us observe a fast acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. True fasting is to put away all evil, to control the tongue, to forbear from anger, to abstain from lust, slander, falsehood and perjury. If we renounce these things, then is our fasting true and acceptable to God.” Would you like to also listen to the beginning of a third? “Let us keep the Fast not only by refraining from food, but by becoming strangers to all the bodily passions; that we who are enslaved to the tyranny of the flesh may become worthy to partake of the Lamb, the Son of God, slain of His own will for the sake of the world.” The stichera on the Tuesday of the first week.

Pashkovets: Yes, I must repent that I was not aware of this exalted teaching about the fasts, but you know, do you all really think about these virtues, and not think the entirety of the fast to be about fasting oils only? True, it’s possible to say what the Lord spoke about the Pharisees, except for the fact that you would again accuse me for judging.

Orthodox: Here is the Gospel for you, read what you want out loud; there is nothing offensive in there for an Orthodox.

Pashkovets: But what is written here? “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye tithe the mint and the anise and the cummin, and ye leave the weightier matters of the law: judgment and mercy and faith” (Matt. XXIII, 23). Such are you Orthodox people, having forgotten the evangelical feelings for a long time already, those feelings that you are explaining, but you only fulfill the solely outward commandments.

Orthodox: Read a little further there, my friend.

Pashkovets: “These ought ye to have done, and not to leave aside those others” (Matt. XXIII, 23).

Orthodox: What do you say to that?

Pashkovets: Okay, but who told you about these practices, since you know that they don’t exist in the Bible.

Orthodox: You are asking me about what you yourself already answered. There is nothing in the Bible about recommending a poor person for an honorable job, but there is given the law of love for mankind. In the Bible, there are no schedules of days of fasting and feasting, but it speaks about the usefulness of fasting often (Matt. VI, 17-18; Mark IX, 29; etc.). To apply this specific commandment in detail is left to the faithful. Why condemn this most pious custom only because the ones performing it are unworthy? The custom is not guilty, but the ones [imperfectly] following it.

Pashkovets: Well that’s just it, that it’s not left to you to decide, but it is required for all to fast together and to be baptized in the same way, to build a church in only one fashion, just like soldiers. Everything has to be according to form. Is this really the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” as Apostle Paul says? Is this that “law of freedom,” which St. Iakovos teaches? (Rom. VIII, 2; Iak. I, 25).

Orthodox: But is it really the case that Pashkovites do not have any common prayers, hymns, or liturgical rites, and everyone just prays however one likes?

Pashkovets: No, we sing our favorite verses together when we pray, then we all get on our knees together, laying our head on the seats, or closing our eyes with our hands; but we do everything according to mutual love and with understanding, not by commandment.

Orthodox: Where did you read that our prayer is ordered to be done not according to love, but by command? I can also show you that all of our customs are done not from slavery but only from love. But you have really astounded me with your admission. Consequently, even you have your own prayers and rituals. Well, if someone doesn’t go on his knees with the others, having fallen out from among them, then what do they do with him?

Pashkovets: We would ask him not to separate from the common love, make peace with those whom he offended, and participate in the prayer, according to the example of all.

Orthodox: Is this not how the entire society of Pashkovites acts against the spirit of love, having separated from the united prayer of the Church and establishing their own rituals on account of trivial dissatisfaction with some negligent pastors?

Pashkovets: No, we don’t accept the very Faith you profess.

Orthodox: I have been asking for an entire hour for you to demonstrate what it is in her (the Church) that is contrary to Scripture, and you can’t do this at all.

Paskovets: You people have thought up too many traditions.

Orthodox: I asked you to demonstrate likewise which tradition is actually against the Scriptures in spirit.

Pashkovets: It is said that “if anyone should add to this book, God shall add to him plagues.”

Orthodox: Right there, God will add to you plagues because you are distorting the words of this book, i.e., the holy Apocalypse. Here is a New Testament for you: read it as it is written.

Pashkovets: “I testify to everyone who heareth the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone should add to these things, God shall add to him the plagues having been written in this book” (Rev. XXII, 18).

Orthodox: So, what is it talking about here?

Pashkovets: Okay, here it is speaking against distorters of the prophecy of John the Theologian. But for some reason our teachers cite these words against the introduction of any kind of decree which isn’t set forth word-for-word in the Scriptures.

Orthodox: Your teachers slander the holy Scriptures a lot. For example, they openly teach as if the Lord forbids any kind of prayer except for the “Our Father,” and at the same time He directly refers to prayers for the casting out of demons (Mk. IX, 29), prolonged prayers night and day (Luke XVIII, 7), prayer asking for gifts of the Holy Spirit (Luke XI, 13), and finally, He teaches His disciples to pray another kind of prayer, which they never knew and never prayed, the prayer in the name of the Son of God (John XVI, 23-24), after which He Himself lifted up a new prayer to His Father for His disciples and the Church (John XVII). Is it even possible that the holy apostles afterwards transgressed God’s commandment when they created a prayer for the election of the twelfth apostle (Acts I. 24-25), a prayer of thanksgiving for enduring bonds, from which “the place was shaken in which they were gathered together” (Acts IV, 24-32)? Could it be that God was not pleased with the prayer of Stephen about his murderers (Acts VII, 59-60), the prayer of Peter on the housetop (Ch. X), Ananias’ in Damascus (IX), or Paul’s in Ephesus (XX)? But your teachers said that there should only be one prayer: the Lord’s Prayer.

Pashkovets: Yes, they say that.

Orthodox: And on account of this they condemn our prayers, the Orthodox, but don’t consider it wrong to compose new ones? Did you not say that you have spiritual verses that you sing in the Russian common tongue?

Pashkovets: Yes, that is also true.

Orthodox: Therefore, we are not the unauthorized ones, but your teachers. They accuse us of deviating from the Bible for the reason that we display the very biblical feelings through the corresponding customs which were set down from the most ancient times, but yourselves think up your own customs, against the spirit of the Bible, for it is tearing apart the unity of the body of Christ, the Church. You already agreed that the Bible only defines those feelings by which Christians must be led, but how these are displayed is left for the society of the faithful to decide. Now I will tell you that not only our reasoning witnesses such, but even the very word of God. Is it not visible from the very apostolic epistles themselves that not all the teachings of piety are contained in them, but there are many things the apostles handed down orally? Do you know these sayings?

Pashkovets: Are there really these kinds of sayings?

Orthodox: Yes, but your teachers most likely never bring them up, although they are sufficiently clear. The blessed Paul clearly witnesses to this, having written to the Corinthians, “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye have remembered me in all things; and even as I delivered to you, ye are holding fast the traditions” (1 Cor. XI, 2), also writing in his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians (II, 15): “Brethren, be standing firm and holding fast the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word or by our epistle.” Do you not see, that not everything is from the Scriptures, but much is taught by oral tradition? Or maybe you will say that the latter is of little importance, almost unnecessary? Then listen closely to the condemnation of this very kind of thinking: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to withdraw yourselves from every brother who walketh disorderly, and not according to the tradition which they received from us” (2 Thess. III, 6).

Pashkovets: But you see these are talking about the traditions of the apostles, but among you people there are many [traditions] which appeared after the apostles.

Orthodox: We affirm, with the foundation of the words of the apostles, that the Church is always infallible, just as were the holy apostles. Do you consider only the apostles infallible?

Pashkovets: Yes, I think that after Pentecost the apostles received an infallible mind and afterwards taught and acted correctly, but their successors started to sin and invent absurdities.

Orthodox: Here now you are departing from your own ideas, for I will show you that not even the apostles were able to institute their own traditions, but they only passed on that which the Holy Spirit established for the infallible Church. Was it not to the apostles that the Lord said, “If your brother does not listen to you, tell it to the Church.” Do you see how He does not separate the apostles from the Church?

Pashkovets: The Church was infallible only during the time of the apostles.

Orthodox: And thus, you nonetheless admit that the Church was infallible. So why do you reject even those traditions which are witnessed to by history as having appeared in the time of the apostles, like, for example: the seven holy mysteries, three ranks of clergy, the sign of the Cross, and many others, which are witnessed to by the great teacher of the Faith, St. Basil of Caesarea, who lived not more than 300 years after the Ascension of the Lord. “From the observed dogmas and preachings of the Church, some we have from the written commandment, and some we received from Apostolic Tradition, by succession. For example, we bring to mind among all the previous the very first and most common: That calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we should make a sign in the form of the Cross, who has taught us through writing? Which writing has taught us to turn towards the East in prayer? Is it not from the unpublished and unutterable teaching which our fathers safeguarded by guarding it from curious eyes and through keeping silence? For what would have been the decency to proclaim the teachings about which an unbaptized person is not even allowed to look at?” (Rule 97, On the Holy Spirit, Ch. XXVII). Do you not see? This most learned and God-enlightened man not only attests to how these holy traditions were taken from the apostles, but even explains why it was impossible to write them out in that time, when Christians lived amidst heathens and were subjected from all sides with the mockery of the Faith and holy customs by the enemies of the Faith. And so, why do ye reject all this tradition?

Pashkovets: I don’t know. We’ve probably never heard of this before.

Orthodox: Yes, without any research you have judged your own judge, the holy Church, just like the Jews did with Christ. But you say that the Church was infallible only during the time of the apostles, and afterwards there is only one guide, the New Testament. So why do you even believe in the apostolic epistles?

Pashkovets: The Lord spoke about the apostles, that whoever listens to them listens to Him, and for that reason I consider all of their epistles just as much the word of God as the sayings of the Savior Himself.

Orthodox: My friend, could it be, then, that you would place on equal footing with the New Testament the epistles of St. Barnabas, who was the very travel companion of St. Paul according to the witness of the book of the Acts, or the works of Apostle Clement, whom St. Paul commemorates in the letter to the Philippians?

Pashkovets: Yes I would. Could it be that there are such writings?

Orthodox: Indeed, there are, and everyone knows them to be genuine, but they are excluded from the New Testament. We don’t include them because they were not included by the Church, of which the Lord said that the one who should take no heed of her, let him be to thee even as the heathen and the tax collector (Matt. 18:17). But why do you differentiate between epistles and epistles? Who told you that an epistle, of Iakovos for example, is the word of God, but the epistles of St. Barnabas are of man? You would not begin to say that you are going to discern based on personal taste, are you? Then how could your society stand? One Pashkovite would say, “I do not want to reverence Paul, but only John.” Another would say, “I only recognize three gospels, but the fourth I reject.”

Pashkovets: Now, why are you speaking this way, when all Christians from the very beginning recognized the New Testament?

Orthodox: Not true, many sects thought up new gospels, which becoming known to us we rejected. These are the ones of the Gnostic, Manichean, and other heretical sects.

Pashkovets: But you know, that is how heretics acted, as you are saying, but not true Christians.

Orthodox: And so, according to your opinion, the higher guiding principle ruling us should have the example of true Christians?

Pashkovets: Certainly. It is better to be guided by love and example rather than one’s own arbitrary heart.

Orthodox: Right there again is the second time you are putting down the Pashkovite philosophy but are reasoning in an Orthodox fashion: to place as a guide for yourself the consensus of all the true believers, this is truly to believe in the Church and to submit to it according to the conviction that the Lord Himself lives in it according to His unfailing promise (Matt. 28: 20), such that the one who does not take any heed to the Church will become in her eyes as the heathen and the tax collector (Matt. 18:17).

Pashkovets: But our teachers say that upon such a proposition men have invented every kind of falsehood. They think up unnecessary superstitious commandments and say that the infallible Church established these. It came to be, they say, that the Church’s holiness disappeared after the apostles. For this reason it’s better to just hold on to what’s in the Bible.

Orthodox: But where is it written that one should listen to the Church and hold on to Tradition?

Pashkovets. In the Bible.

Orthodox: And who put together the Bible and teaches us to believe in it?

Pashkovets: Yeah, as you just now demonstrated, it was the Church.

Orthodox: Yes, the Church, and what’s more, even after the apostles: by rejecting the holiness of the Church, you, it seems to be, reject even the infallibility of the Bible. Why now do you not return to the Church?

Pashkovets: But you see, it seems to me that after the apostles the Church came up with many things contrary to the Bible.

Orthodox: But what is it that is contrary?

Pashkovets: Or at least, doing things that are not in the Bible.

Orthodox: Yes; you know I said to you that authority was given her in order to guide the faithful by Tradition, and that it is not able to err in this matter, for according to the portent of the Lord, the Church is “cleansed...in the laver of the water with the word, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any of such things; but that she may be holy and unblemished” (Eph. 5:26-27).

Pashkovets: But you know that the customs in the Church are established just by chance.

Orthodox: Not true. God Himself, naming the Church the pillar and the confirmation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), doesn’t allow any false opinions or customs to take root in her, such that from the person of the Church nothing false or erroneous can come out. This is what constitutes the holiness of the Church.

Pashkovets: Demonstrate to me from the Scriptures that it is impossible for the Church to be firmly established in a false teaching for a long time, and until you show me this, I will not obey her in all things, as you demand.

Orthodox: And if I demonstrate this, then you will submit?

Pashkovets: Yes, although it is hard to return to my former slavery from my freedom.

Orthodox: Indeed, we will return to this idea of “slavery.” Is it really true that the Pashkovite sect doesn’t require any kind of obedience from you?

Pashkovets: Yes, it asks for it, but with love.

Orthodox: Show me where the Church asks for it with hatred. On the contrary, she exclaims everyday: “Let us love one another, so that with oneness of mind we may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” If then you, not with love, but from enslavement fulfill the commandments, then the guilt is not on the Church but your own ignorance.

Pashkovets: So, you are able show me from the Scriptures that not only the Church is holy by itself, but that even all the customs which are established in her are also holy?

Orthodox: I am able, but before this tell me, do you consider infallible the Lord Jesus Christ?

Pashkovets: Of course.

Orthodox: Following this, if the Lord speaks about how unfruitful branches were grafted into Him, is He speaking about Himself?

Pashkovets: No, but He is speaking of His kingdom.

Orthodox: Then here is what the Lord spoke about the Church in which He lives, and about how the Lord does not allow there to be anything bad in her: “I am the vine, the true one, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me which beareth not fruit He taketh away; and every branch which beareth fruit, He pruneth it, in order that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2). For this reason, all that which the Church has always accepted, from thenceforth, and by all, is already infallible. From this comes the infallibility of the holy Bible, that it is accepted entirely by the entire Church, and you Pashkovites yourselves are not able to select other books due to the weight of her testimonies. But that the Church shall remain infallible for all ages, the Lord spoke about this clearly: “I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against her” (Matt. 16:18).

Pashkovets: Many groups call themselves the Church.

Orthodox: The Church is only one, for there are not two bodies under one head, but one (1 Cor. 12:12): “For also by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body” (v. 13). Those then, who are separated from the body, such as the Pashkovites, earlier the Lutherans, earlier the Catholics, they are separated from the Church. Try to show me how we [Orthodox] were ever separated from the body of Christ.

Pashkovets: I know that everything you possess is according to ancient traditions, but if your truth is so clear, then why don’t the other confessions become united to yours?

Orthodox: Why didn’t everyone follow Christ?

Pashkovets: Some from hardness of heart, others from ignorance.

Orthodox: And now the same occurs and will always occur, to the great pain of the true disciples of Christ.

Pashkovets: Is this also foretold in the Bible?

Orthodox: Yes, in the epistles the apostles forewarned that there will appear false teachers who will begin to act exactly in this way, like your missionaries, i.e., to stir up the simpleminded against the authorities of the Church, to lure with a false freedom, to act through the passion of avarice. This subject is written about in the second epistle of St. Peter and the epistle of St. Jude; St. John and St. Paul also foretell it.

Pashkovets: But could it really be possible that our teachers are such as those?

Orthodox: They spread their faith by their money, although the Lord promised His followers not earthly goods but a cross; they start their preaching with the condemnation of priests, when the Archangel Michael did not dare to even judge the devil (Jude 9); they help only their own people, when the Lord said about this kind of assistance: “Even the heathens are so doing, are they not?” (Matt. 5:47).

Pashkovets: Yes, this has also troubled me, that the strangers among us were not given help.

Orthodox: But did it not trouble you that the formation of your society did not start with the love of Christ, but with hatred?

Pashkovets: What kind of hatred?

Orthodox: With hatred towards priests and the Church.

Pashkovets: Yes, I am now realizing the unlawfulness of our church and I rejoice that the Lord led me to speak with you about the Faith. I was not able to differentiate the life of the Church from the life of its members.

Orthodox: In order to comfort you, let me bring to mind that you know that the Church commandments we have are not always fulfilled without the inner participation of the soul. Were you ever once in church for Matins during Bright Week?

Pashkovets: Yes. To tell the truth, I am not able not to attend this service [at the Orthodox church] even after I joined the Pashkovite Society.

Orthodox: Would you say, then, that all the customs and prayers were performed just with the bodies alone, and not with the souls of the Orthodox?

Pashkovets: No, everyone rejoices and cries out from their hearts.

Orthodox: And why? Because they rejoice with the entire Church together; they rejoice with those same exact customs and hymns as the ancient holy men, as the contemporary Orthodox-believing Greeks, Syrians, Japanese.... Does this not inspire the Christian, that being in the Church, he triumphs over times and distances, he is close both to the distant and to the ancient, and to Christ, Who resides in the Church? Does this not bring joy, does it not comfort, does it not reassure one in the struggle with sins? Blessed be the Lord that He calls us not as lone strangers, but He has united us into one body, so that we with one mouth and one heart may glorify and extol His name.

Archbishop Gregory
Dormition Skete
P.O. Box 3177
Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177
Contact: Archbishop Gregory
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