Are all of the Canons to be Blindly Followed?

By dogcatcher on September 16th, 2012
  Introduction The following article was submitted to us by one of the youngest members of our editorial board. This person gives us a lighthearted review of a book entitled The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy by Charles Shingledecker published by Regina Orthodox Press, 2011. Like many of us who have encountered the negative effects of the Ephraimite movement, this person wanted to educate himself about his own faith and stumbled upon this book. The editor uses humor to get all of us to think about some of the Canons of our faith and how the Ephraimites have used and often misused the Canons. The humor is not intended to make light of our religious history or the Ephraimite issue but is used as a tool to reach out to the largest audience possible, a tool often used by priests during their sermons to reach out to their flock. We thank this young editor for his efforts and commend him for his obvious concern and love of our Greek Orthodox Faith.

A Book Report on The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy by Charles Shingledecker

Are all of the Canons to be Blindly Followed? An Interesting Viewpoint from a Converted Believer

What do get when you disregard the wholesome and meaningful Canons of our faith and focus on the most outdated canons of the Orthodox faith? What happens when this is done by a traditionalist movement that is horribly disrupting Greek Orthodoxy with its arrogant militancy? Yes, you guessed it; the Ephraimite Movement! For the record, we certainly do not think that the Church Canons are crazy or ridiculous, in and of themselves. We need Canon Law. The fact that some of them are outdated and ridiculous speaks to the need for the Church to review them, and thereby indicate that the Church is a living entity that operates in the real world, spiritually and physically. The Church is a living God-created entity that deals with issues from the eternal world and the temporal. A book was recently passed in my direction that does a wonderful job bringing the most dated Canons of our faith to light. This book, titled The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy, by Charles Shingledecker, exposes the problems of this traditionalist movement that seems to idolize all Canons. There are many followers of the Orthodox faith who believe that all Canons should be followed literally and absolutely with no questions asked. The author states early on: “Today many Orthodox traditionalists quote The Rudder as if it were Holy Scripture”. Shingledecker, page 2. Why, you ask? Their answer is usually because all the Canons are “divinely inspired.” Some might be, but others are most certainly not. Our own Bishops seem to feel the same way in that they routinely overlook some, and emphasize others (as is their right by the use of dispensation). What some people fail to realize is that yes, some Canons are great and should be followed; there are others that cannot be followed because they are so outdated that the rules that they speak of are downright embarrassing. We will, with the help of this book’s author elaborate on this. In our estimation, simplistically speaking, there are two types of Canons that we have identified: the first we refer to as “dogmatic” and these have to do with the theology of our beloved Orthodox Christian Faith; the second we refer to as simply speaking to “policies and practices.” All someone needs to do is take a step back and “think for themselves” (something the Ephraimites do not promote) and realize that some of these Canons are absolutely dated and approach ridiculous. This article, which is equal part book review, will briefly describe what is exposed in the book The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy. A quick side note, the author of the book, Charles Shingledecker, is a devout Greek Orthodox convert; he does not bash our Faith. He is a loyal and faithful Orthodox Christian. His goal is to expose the outrageous Canons of our Church that need to be changed/removed. The advent of the Ephraimite movement has made it clear that unless the Church acts to clarify the Canons, there will be those Ephraimites who have lost their capacity to discern for themselves. The following are a non-comprehensive list of some of those outdated Canons of the Orthodox faith. 22nd Canon of John the Faster “A woman, who involuntarily has expelled a baby through miscarriage, receives her penance for a year.” (22nd Canon of John the Faster). This Canon goes on to state that if she wants to be forgiven for this “act” she must submit to this penance. Forgiven? This poor woman just suffered a horrible tragedy, her future child’s death, and she now has to worry about getting excommunicated? It doesn’t stop there. Women can also get excommunicated for having their menstrual cycle! (2nd Canon of the Four Canons of Dionysius) These are two natural acts which we believe God created, that are used against women! This is just the tip of the iceberg. Apparently the Holy Spirit has it out for women. 11th Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council “Let no one enrolled in the sacerdotal list, or any layman, eat the unleavened wafers manufactured by the Jews, or in any way become familiar with the Jews or call them in case of sickness, or take any medicines from them, or even bathe with them in public bathing beach or bathhouses. If anyone should attempt to do this, in case he is a clergyman, let him be disposed of office; or in case he is a layman, let him be excommunicated.” (11th Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council). You can’t have a Jewish doctor? What about going to the beach? Will there be Jews there? Are you a fan of Matzo bread? I hope the answer is “no” to those questions; if it’s not, you can be defrocked or excommunicated! Sound a little Anti-Semitic? Isn’t our religion based on love, NOT hate? The followers of this Canon seem to have forgotten that the person our religion is based on WAS A JEW! Did Jesus ever once talk about hate? Jesus himself hung around the “lowest of the low” in those times but in this day and age we can’t have a Jewish doctor? 67th Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council “We therefore suitably penance those who on account of their dainty stomach eat the blood of any animal after they have rendered it eatable by some art…if he be a clergyman, let him be disposed from office; if he be a layman, let him be excommunicated.” (67th Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council) We go from complete Anti-Semitism to adopting a Jewish tradition? That seems a little bit hypocritical. Are you a fan of steak? I hope you don’t tell your local priest that because you may be excommunicated. Christians are prohibited from eating anything which contains blood. If this Canon were strictly followed, I’m sure the entire Orthodox Church would be left with only a couple thousand people. Warning, the following Canon may be the most upsetting of them all. 2nd Canon of St. Gregory of Neocaesarea “As for the charge that the female captives have been ravished, the barbarians violating their bodies. But if the life of any particular one of them has been duly investigated and she has been found to have been following the lead amorous glances, as it is written, it is plain that a propensity to fornication may be suspected also during the time of captivity; accordingly, such females ought not to be admitted offhand to communion of prayers. If it is found that any particular one of them has loved a life of the utmost sobriety, and that her previous life has been pure and above suspicion, but that she has now fallen as a result of violence and necessity a victim to insult we have the example to be found in Deuteronomy…” (2nd Canon of St. Gregory of Neocaesarea, aka St. Gregory the Wonder Worker). What this is saying is that if a woman were to be raped, it is the victim that would have to be investigated to determine if she brought it upon herself. If the investigation proves that the victim was a “good girl,” there will not be any punishment from the Church. If a woman has been proved to be a “bad girl,” she is then excommunicated. I can’t believe this. We are BLAMING THE VICTIM! How can anyone defend this Canon? The argument that “she was a sinner beforehand so she brought it upon herself” is just as ridiculous as this Canon itself. If someone can justify this Canon, they need to take a look at themselves in the mirror. 7th Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council “Since we have learned that Deacons having ecclesiastical offices in some of the churches have hence had the impudence and self-assertion to sit down ahead of the Presbyters, we decree that no matter in what office, that is to say, ecclesiastical position, a Deacon may happen to be, he must not sit down before the presbyter does so, unless he is acting as the personal representative of his own Patriarch or Metropolitan and has come to another city on some errand…” (7th Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council). This Canon is telling us that we are not to sit down before the Presbyter? Not only that, if a Deacon sits down before his Priest/Bishop that Deacon should be deposed and become the lowest rank out of everyone who is enrolled. Yes, you read that correctly; no one should ever sit down before a Priest. You may be saying to yourself, there is no way that this is followed to this day. Guess what? It is. In the 21st century there was “an entire intra-Orthodox dialogue taking place among bishops and Patriarchs regarding what order they get to enter a room and sit down at a table” (Shingledecker, 91). These “Holy” men obviously don’t keep the words of Jesus close to their hearts. Jesus said “But do not ye after their works: for they say and do not do…They love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats at synagogues. But he that is the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:3,6,11-12) 21st Canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council “Clergymen or laymen accusing Bishops or Clergymen are not to be allowed to file charges again them promiscuously and without investigation until their own reputation has been examined into.” (21st Canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council). This Canon also states that this does not only apply to ecclesiastical crimes but also secular crimes. So, if a Priest has, let’s say, sexually abused a child, we must first investigate the child and make sure that he has a “clean record of any kind of wrong doing” in order for the accusation of the child to be taken seriously. Have we not learned anything from the Catholic Church regarding this issue? Why would we want to fill our Churches with Priests that do not have the love of God in them? A Priest is supposed to be a spiritual guide who will hopefully lead you along the path to God. You are supposed to trust your Priest. What happens when that trust is broken? If a Priest has done something wrong, don’t even think about bringing up that issue unless you have a perfectly clean record, as determined by a Church investigation. 8th Canon of John the Faster “Anyone having committed masturbation is penanced forty days, during which he must keep himself alive by xerophagy and must do one hundred metanies every day.” (8th Canon of John the Faster) Now while this is a hot topic in the Church, the consequences for committing this “heinous act” are over the top. You essentially need to starve yourself; if you are unaware of what xerophagy is, it is eating nothing but bread and water. This is a perfect example of the penitential abuse that is going on in our Church allegedly imposed by the Ephraimites. Not only does this have physical ramifications, it has emotional, mental, and spiritual ramifications as well. 70th Canon of the Council of Trullo “…In the churches let your woman remain silent. For it has not been permitted them to talk but to obey, as the law directs. If they wish to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home.” (70th Canon of the Council of Trullo, aka the quintisext Council). If you are a woman reading this, how do you feel knowing that you can only learn something from your husband at home? One more thing, all you women out there better not talk but obey men, remember this is Canon law! 18th Canon of the Council of Carthage “It has pleased the Council to decree that Bishops, and Presbyters, and Deacons shall not become farmers or procurators, nor derive any profit from anything that is shameful and dishonorable. For they ought to take into consideration that which is written: “No one campaigning for God will entangle himself in worldly affairs.” (18th Canon of the Council of Carthage). Aren’t Christian monasteries “known for the beautiful gardens?” Isn’t Mt. Athos referred to as “The Garden of the Mother of God?” Some may argue that there isn’t farming going on at the monasteries, it’s gardening! How big does a garden need to be before it is considered farming? What exactly is the difference between the two? 82nd Canon of the 85 Apostolic Canons “We do not permit house servants to be ordained to the clergy without the consent of their masters, to the sorrow of the masters owning them. For such a thing causes an upheaval in the households. If any house servant should appear to be worthy to be ordained to any rank, and their masters are willing to permit it, and grant them their freedom and allow them to leave home, let him be so ordained.” (82nd Canon of the 85 Apostolic Canons). Is this Canon saying that slavery is permitted? Did God not create everyone equal and in His image? If so, why doesn’t the Church stand up for what is right? At least if a slave gets permission from his master, then he can leave home and be ordained! Congratulations, you are now free! It wasn’t even the Church granting your freedom, it was the slave owner! 47th Canon of the Council of Carthage “It is decreed that Clerics shall not enter taverns for the purpose of eating or drinking, unless when driven to them for shelter.”(47th Canon of the Council of Carthage). Good thing priests strictly adhere to this Canon. God knows that they have never stepped foot in a tavern unless they needed shelter, right? What’s interesting is that the Canon never actually explains why they are not allowed in taverns, just that they better not step foot in one! Can you imagine if this was enforced? How many of the priests and hierarchy would be excommunicated? Would we have any hierarchy left? 53rd Canon of the Council of Laodicea “Christians attending weddings must not waltz or dance but must sup or dine in decent, fashion, as becomes Christians.” (53rd Canon of the Council of Laodicea). Greeks not dancing at a wedding? Blasphemous! Has anyone ever been to a wedding were there wasn’t dancing of any kind? I would love for this Canon to try to be enforced today; there would be a huge uproar in the Church. There are many mentions in the Bible regarding music and dancing. In Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, he tells of a feast which celebrates the son’s return with “music and dancing.” Jesus apparently doesn’t know what he’s talking about; good thing these Traditionalists do! Conclusion Think about what you have just read. Those are actual Canons from our Church still on the books. It is the goal of the Ephraimites to have these Canons be strictly enforced, no matter how off base they are, as divinely inspired words of the Holy Spirit. How sad is that? Anyone with common sense can realize how outdated those particular Canons are. Others are more benign, but may be still out of date. Divinely inspired? Maybe not all of them? The Holy Spirit came down and revealed these specifically mentioned Canons? Think about that; some of these Canons are embarrassing. Jesus himself preached about doing what is right, not about avoiding doing what’s wrong. So how do we change this? Therein lays the problem. Can you change something that is believed to have “come from” the Holy Spirit? By changing those Canons, you then admit that they weren’t “divinely inspired;” if you keep those Canons, you prove just how out of touch with reality some followers actually are. We need to have a better understanding of these Canons. To do this, we also need to remember that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for following the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law. Canons are useful guidelines that are sometimes dated. On the other hand, not one of the Canons referring to dogmatic theological truths has been identified as being dated. So therein we have something to demarcate “types” of canons: dogmatic (theological) and policy. Policy can change, but dogmatic theological truths do not. The examples set forth herein graphically illustrate how ridiculous it is to look at these dated “canons of policies” as “absolute dogmatic theological truths”. What are we afraid of? The Author makes some wonderful observations in his personal journey through the Canons. On the issue of canonical infallibility he states: “Of course some people just cannot bring themselves to admit that the Church can and does make mistakes. They fear that by admitting that a particular Council, Father, or decision was wrong on a single point such as this, leaves the proverbial door open for all of the Church’s decisions to be questioned. But questioning is a risk worth taking because Truth is more important than tradition. Or put it this way: do we worship a book or books if you include the canons, or GOD?” Shingledecker page 44. On the issue of clarifying his personal beliefs about his Orthodox Faith and the current conditions of our Faith he states the following: “I love history, and I truly believe that learning from the past is one of the most important endeavors of human civilization. If that was what the word ‘Traditionalist’ implied these days within Orthodoxy, I’d be one too! But that is not what the word means today. It means covering up the insanity of the Church, vowing to never change a thing and badmouthing all who dare question this addiction to false ‘certainties’. In other words, Fundamentalism is now unleashed and rampant within the Orthodox community. And it will hurt, and is hurting the Church.” Shingledecker at pages 171 and 172. The Author sums up his personal feelings with a call to fellow Christians “We Christians need to realize that our religion’s history was never all good; that the Bible, Tradition, and everything that goes with it is not perfect or infallible. And we Orthodox Christians need to realize that Canon law is not divine, then and only then will we be able to focus upon the One Who is.” Shingledecker at page 180. If you have a couple of free hours, please take the time and read this book. Mr. Shingledecker does an excellent job mixing fact with humor to show just how out of date some of these Canons are. Although Mr. Shingledecker calls some of these Canons crazy or ridiculous, in and of themselves, they do not truly reflect a thinking, living organization such as our Orthodox Church in the 21st Century. We need Canon Law. The fact that some of the Canons are dated and ridiculous speaks to the need for the Church to review them, and thereby indicate that the Church is a living entity that deals in reality. This book is a very interesting read and is highly recommended. To purchase the book contact the following website: Notes that may help: can•on [kan-uhn] Noun An ecclesiastical rule or law enacted by a council or other competent authority (Key word in the above definition, “competent.”) tra•di•tion•al•ism [truh-dish-uh-nl-iz-uhm] Noun A system of philosophy according to which all knowledge of religious truth is derived from divine revelation and received by traditional instruction. ex•com•mu•ni•cate [eks-kuh-myoo-ni-keyt] Verb To cut off from communion with a church or exclude from the sacraments of a church by ecclesiastical sentence.