No Spirituality Without Correct Dogma by H.G. Bishop Abraam

“We can find our dogma as life in the divine Liturgy.” Worship IS theology. That is why it is so crucial that non-Orthodox (pseudo-)liturgies (e.g. so-called “praise and worship”) are forbidden in Orthodox parishes. In May 2005, the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod ruled that “No Protestant chorals [singing] and no unorthodox prayers are allowed in Orthodox churches”. This ruling is therefore by no means arbitrary, for our spiritual lives are at risk until we fully enforce it. Similarly, we should not sell or otherwise promote Protestant spiritual books in our parishes – for there is “No Spirituality Without Correct Dogma”.

There is No Spirituality without a Correct Dogma
HG Bishop Abraam of Fayium (of blessed memory)

Translated by Fr. Athanasius Iskander

Dogma is the care for studying the truths of the Christian faith with the aim of offering it in a scientific way. Ecclesiastically, dogma is inseparable from the Church, for the Church is the one that explains and comments on the orthodox dogma.

The orthodox dogma is a dogma for life and fellowship with the Lord Christ, with His angels and His saints. It follows that if we seek to live a true spiritual life, we must have an Orthodox dogma. Orthodoxy believes in the Holy Trinity, in one nature of the person of the Lord Christ, out of two natures in a complete union, with one will. (Orthodoxy) believes in the mystery of the Eucharist through which we are united to the Lord’s body and blood, where He abides in us and we in Him. All of these are essential in shaping our spiritual life.

There are today some teachings that lessen the importance of dogma and imagine the possibility of having a Christian spiritual life without paying much attention to dogma. These teachings claim that Christian life is a spiritual pious and emotional relationship with God, that should be unfettered with dogma! These teachings go under the name “nondenominational”.

The truth is, he errs whoever thinks that Christianity is piety and emotion only, and that dogma has no importance in it. The truth is that orthodoxy of spiritual life is intertwined with orthodoxy of dogma. The two cannot be separated. Orthodox dogma is inseparable from the life of the church in the same way that the stream is inseparable from the river. For the dogma cannot be apprehended outside the Church.

The word Orthodoxy means the true, upright, original and constant doctrine. It was so understood before the schism of Chalcedon in 451 AD. Orthodox dogma is based on biblical doctrines and apostolic tradition preserved and explained by the early Fathers. The early church preserved the orthodox dogma, considering it the basis of the true Christian spiritual life.

The holy Bible that teaches us about the Christian virtues is the same Bible that teaches us about the dogma that we believe in. The Bible never separates piety from dogma. There is no orthodox dogma that is not based on the Holy Bible. For example, concerning the mysteries of the Church, we find in the Bible that God is the author of the mysteries and commanded His disciples to continue in them. Also other orthodox dogmas like justification and salvation are found explained in St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. The sacrament of the priesthood was instituted by the Lord Jesus Himself in John 20:21-23. St. Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews explains this sacrament and demonstrating its superiority to the priesthood of the Old Testament. St. James in his epistle explains to us the connection between faith and works and how that faith without works is dead.

There were epistles that were written as answers against heresies and innovations and schisms. For example, St. Paul warns the Corinthians:

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Cor 1:10)

This proves the importance of the one true dogma in the life of the Church.

The Gospel of St. John was written to prove the divinity of the Lord Christ against those who spread doubts about this dogma, he therefore at the outset affirms that the Lord Christ is God’s eternal Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). And throughout this Gospel we find that each chapter confirms the divinity of the Lord from different angles. And he seals his words in John 20:30-31:

And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

By this he proves that Life is tied to His divine Person, and faith in Him as God, as Saviour and Redeemer. The Bible affirms that this is an essential dogma in man’s spiritual life.

The holy Bible warns against strange doctrines and false teachers, who teach doctrines that differ from those that our Fathers received (and delivered to us). St. Paul tells his disciple Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:3-5 “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; … from such withdraw thyself.”

Besides the Bible, we find the dogmas of monotheism, the Trinity, the incarnation, redemption, the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father, the general resurrection and the life of the age to come are inscribed in the Creed that we believe in and live wherewith, and in our Liturgy by which we live at all time. We can find our dogma as life in the divine Liturgy. We find the history of salvation, and the Church living this salvation through the prayers of the Liturgy and communion of the holy Body and Blood. The prayers of the Liturgy speak to us about the divinity of Christ, of His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and eternal life. It explains to us how we live this (eternal life) through our abiding in God through communion of His Body and Blood.

He who believes in a true dogma will live a true spiritual life. He will live his daily life by this dogma as a daily living habit. There cannot be any spirituality without true dogma. We believe that works and faith are tied together and faith is what introduces work. For example, many non Christian religions like Buddhism ad others ordain more rigorous fasts than Christianity, but what good are these without faith in the Lord Christ? Cornelius wrought many good deeds but these were only perfected after he believed on the Lord Christ. For dogma, faith, spiritual life and all that an Orthodox offers, prayers, fasts, good deeds are all sanctified by the Holy Spirit, which makes him partake from the wells of salvation and obtain the earnest of eternal life. Whatever is offered without the fellowship of the Holy Spirit becomes a moral work, a spiritual exercise of mere social benefit.

Orthodoxy teaches that the grace of God works through His gifts in the holy mysteries. And it believes that any spiritual strife is unprofitable without the participation of grace. Further, the grace of God does not work in man without man’s own strife, even as St. John Chrysostom says: “Grace does not work in those who are reclining on their backs.”

Orthodoxy allows us to live the life of ecclesiastical oneness through the sacraments. For example in the sacrament of the Eucharist, we are united mystically with the Lord Jesus (and with each other). And in the (communal) prayers we are all united in spirit, thought and being. For every believer according to his rank has a role; the priest, the deacons and the congregation, in unity offer prayers in oneness of heart and soul. The prayers of the hours (Agpeya) also unite us even if we were in different places, when we gather to pray to the Lord on a holy occasion.

Orthodoxy teaches us to care for the whole creation. For we pray for the good weather and the fruits of the earth, for the waters of the rivers, for those who are travelling, for the sick and the departed. We pray for the widow and the stranger. We pray for our country, for the president, the chiefs, the counsellors … for all.

Orthodoxy teaches us to behave in a true Christian attitude towards men and the environment. For example, in the liturgy we pray for the widow, the orphan, the stranger and the sojourner. An orthodox who participates in these prayers cannot behave unseemly towards the widow, the orphan, the stranger and the sojourner. We also pray for waters of the river, for the good air and the fruits of the earth, etc. An orthodox Christian cannot pollute the river water, or destroy the trees or pollute the air etc.

How can I help those whom I serve to live an orthodox life, both as dogma and a spiritual life? There are three principles:

1. By explaining that the relationship with the Lord Christ has to be a complete relationship that encompasses knowledge about His person, His teachings and what He has offered us. That we should seek to perform all that He asks of us in love, and live according to His commands.

2. Constant teaching: as we are told in the Didascalia: “abolish sins by teaching” We do this by teaching the dogmas and the rites of the Church, her sacraments and all that pertains to them in the Bible in a livable way.

3. Ecclesiastical reference: In addition to the teachings of the early fathers who taught us the faith, we should study their commentaries and explanations and to return to the mind of the church exemplified by her contemporary fathers that can explain the difficult matters.