church bell from below

No Other Foundation

Reflections from Fr. Lawrence Farley

       In a recent edition of the “Public Orthodoxy” website (of course; where else?) Dr. Carrie Frost offered some exuberant and triumphant reflections of the recent ordination of the “deaconess” Angelic in Africa.  The recently ordained woman was vested exactly as a deacon (in contrast to ancient and real deaconesses, who were vested differently from deacons).  She also, in sharp contrast to ancient real deaconesses, read the Gospel and help distribute the Eucharist.

       Frost’s article consisted largely of a rehearsal of the distorted propaganda one has learned to expect from the St. Phoebe Centre for the Deaconess—propaganda that I and others have responded to at length before. (see: and the responses need not be repeated again here.  Here I would like to address what Dr. Frost said in her final paragraph. 

There she wrote:  “The evening after the ordination, my daughter Annie and I, our faces hurting from smiling all day, struggled to put into words our thoughts and feelings about the ordination. For me it ranked among the most joyful days of my life including my marriage and the birth of my children and my grandson. We talked about hearing Deaconess Angelic read the Gospel and watching her distribute the Eucharist. Neither of us had ever witnessed a woman read the Gospel in church or distribute communion. Annie said there was a sense of something that had been missing falling into exactly the right place. We agreed that we were, for the first time, witnessing the Church in its fullness.”

Please note the final sentence:  “We were, for the first time, witnessing the Church in its fullness.”  That is an extraordinary thing for any Orthodox Christian to write, and I would like to try to unpack its significance.  We shall see that it expresses the essence of Protestantism with its rejection of apostolic Tradition.  For as a matter of historical fact, deaconesses never did read the Gospel or distribute Communion at a cathedral or parish Liturgy.  This is an innovation and represents a rejection of our Tradition.

For that is what historic Protestantism is built upon—a rejection of Tradition and a consequent willingness to jettison (usually with some heat) parts of its Christian past.  That is perhaps why the older parts of Protestantism are now so afflicted with theological liberalism—since Protestantism began its life by rejecting ingrained and long-standing Tradition, it is hardly surprising that some of its groups continued along that path in a more radical way.  Rejection of Christian history is a part of its ecclesial DNA.

To take some examples.  Hardly anything in the history of the Church’s dogma and practice is more ancient than the belief that in the Eucharist Christians partake of the very Body and Blood of Christ.  We find it as early as St. Paul (1 Corinthians 10-11) and the Didache (chapter 14), dating from about 100 A.D.  Yet this Eucharistic teaching was rejected by all strands of Protestantism at the Reformation.  When the innovative rejection was made and the Lord’s Supper reformed, Protestants of all sorts hurt their faces from smiling all day when the Reformed Eucharist was celebrated, feeling that now, at last, the Church had been delivered from the Mass, and purified, and that for the first time in many centuries they could witness the Church functioning as it should, in all its fullness.

Or take the Anabaptist/ Evangelical rejection of infant baptism and the notion that baptism regenerates and bestows the forgiveness of sins.  When the old baptismal practice and theology were rejected, the new praxis and doctrine were celebrated not as an innovation, but as the restoration of something long lost and now finally recovered.  Now at last, after a lapse of many benighted Catholic centuries, the Church could function in its purity and its baptismal fullness.

What is common to all such “restorationist” changes is the notion that for centuries the Church was deficient, erroneous, lost, tragically distorted in its doctrine and praxis, and in need of change—a change always advertised not as innovation, but as simply a return to an earlier and purer practice.  It was assumed (and often stated) that the Church fell into apostasy at some point in its history (be the apostasies, errors, and deficiencies big or small) and now needed to recover its lost heritage.  Given that its supposedly lost heritage of the equality of male and female deacons dove-tails so perfectly with the apprehensions and canons of modern feminism, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that modern feminism is the engine actually driving the current changes.

This notion of the Church’s liturgical doctrine and praxis (whether regarding the Eucharist, baptism, or Holy Orders) needing massive correction (for let us at least be honest about the magnitude of the change) constitutes a failure to believe that God guides His Church.  Obviously not everything in the Church is perfect, and some things could stand improvement (a list is available upon request).  But its theology concerning the sacraments, being fundamental to the Church’s life, must surely be regarded as firm, solid, and not deficient. 

Protestantism, of course, denies this, and it is just this deficiency which they regard as justifying its schismatic existence.  For them, the fundamentals were so deficient and “whacked” that they had to be fixed, even at the cost of schism.  I sympathize.  But I also deny that much of what they regarded as deficient and “whacked” was anything of the kind.  My point here is simply that the sexist deficiency that Dr. Frost sees as afflicting the Church for many centuries and which is now being fixed so that the Church can regain its “fullness” is typical of and is the characteristic of Protestantism.

And let no one be mistaken:  once accepted, it will not stop here.  For there are many others in the Church (one suspects that Archbishop Elpidophorus is among them) who regard that the Church’s practice of refusing to marry homosexuals is sexist and wrong, that it afflicts and mars the Church’s marriage practice, and that it is only after the Church marries homosexuals that the fullness of the Gospel of love can be recovered.  No doubt after the first marriage service the faces of the happy homosexual or lesbian couple and their wedding sponsors will hurt all day from smiling.

Or take the new transgender ideology:  there are those who believe that the Church’s refusal to embrace the transgender dogma that gender is chosen and not given at birth mars its life, and that it is only after the Church embraces transgenderism that we will be able to witness the Church in its fullness.  One does not need to be a prophet or a seer to make such predictions.  A crystal ball for the future is not required; just a newspaper documenting the past.

Given that I have now reached my Biblical “three score and ten” years, it is unlikely that I will be around to see all the chaos that will ensue in the decades to come, with all its celebration, denunciation, letter-writing, and blogging and (let none doubt it) the inevitable schism.  I will be spared the new “St. Whoever Center for the LGBTQIA2S+ ” or the “Axia/os” group celebrating a service to recognize the transition of the transgender. 

Or, if things continue in the Church along the trajectory with the cultural escalation that obtains in secular society, maybe I will around.  It is, I suppose, the down side of longevity.   Either way, Christ will preserve His Church in purity, even if it be the little flock huddling together as it awaits the final conflagration and the contest with Antichrist.

Fr. Lawrence Farley

About Fr. Lawrence Farley

Fr. Lawrence serves as pastor of St. Herman's Orthodox Church in Langley, BC. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.