I have a certain affinity or appreciation for Eastern Orthodox Christianity, having visited Ukraine two years ago where I had the opportunity to visit many of the beautiful cathedrals all across the country. I found many of the practices, architecture, and artifacts of the faith to be intriguing from an LDS standpoint, showing parallels to our own traditions and beliefs. From the structure of the cathedrals, to the mosaics and frescoes, to the belief system, many things stood out to me. Could it be that the apostasy has had less of an affect upon the Eastern tradition than other sects of Christiandom?
This morning an article by Marvin R. VanDam on Meridian Magazine was brought to my attention. VanDam most recently was the director for temporal affairs of the Eastern European and Central Asian Area of the Church. In his article VanDam explores the studies of a well-known Russian religious scholar, Sergey Antonenko, who finds many striking parallels between Eastern Orthodoxy and the LDS Church. Antonenko finds that, like the Latter-day Saints, Eastern Christianity has a tradition of “taking care [concerned] about the deceased, instead of forsaking [them].” Such a concern, he says, can be traced back to early Christianity.
Most particularly, VanDam informs us that Antonenko finds that the practice of baptism for the dead has its roots in ancient Christianity, citing Paul in Corinthians as evidence:
Those who are advanced in the religious studies may conclude that vicarious baptism existed in the history of the Christian Church. . . . Direct [literal] meaning of the verse implies that “baptism for the dead” for the ancient Christians was confirmation of their confession [faith] – of their belief in resurrection.
VanDam then cites striking examples that Antonenko gives of the practice of baptism for the dead in Kiev, medieval Russia, an area which is now part of Ukraine. In contrast to the Latter-day Saint practice of vicarious baptism “for” the dead, these baptisms were very literally baptisms “of” the dead, where the bones of deceased relatives were exhumed, baptized, and reburied, such was the overarching concern of these people for the salvation of their dead, but citing precedence and reason for doing so from the early Christians.
Read the entire article at Meridian Magazine.
Another parallel between Eastern Orthodox doctrine and LDS is a belief in becoming like God. This was first brought to my attention from a blurb from Eighth Day Books on a book entitled “Deification in Christ: Orthodox Perspectives on the Nature of the Human Person” by Eastern Orthodox historian Panayiotis Nellas. The blurb says: “From St. Irenaeus on, the Fathers expressed the ultimate destiny of the human person in the astounding – yet scripural – language of deification: we are ‘called to be gods, partakers of the divine nature.’ Here is a thorough study of patristic anthropology , and as such, an exploration of the awesome destiny of humankind expounded by the Fathers”.
Sounds more than a little familiar, huh? On reading the book, I found that Nellas interprets deification, or becoming divine, somewhat different than a Latter-day Saint might, but it is a very interesting read. As to original sources, I find the writings of Justin Martyr (cir. 160 a.d.)
filled with many parallels to LDS belief.
Thanks for your commentary Larry. You are absolutely correct. Deification or theosis was a widespread belief in the early Christian church, as several scholars have shown, and looks like it made its way into Eastern Orthodoxy. The apostasy did not have the same effect in all areas of the Old World.
I particularly like the quotes by Saint Athanasius who said, “The Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods…. Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life.” And, “He became man that we might be made divine.”
Thanks for the book reference. I’ll have to add it to my list of books to read.
Very interesting article. Thanks for posting it. I was reading on another blog http://www.mormanity.blogspot.com recently about other non-scriptural records from early saints. These records dovetail very nicely into current LDS beliefs as well.
You’re welcome. Thanks for commenting.
Jeff Lindsay’s Mormanity blog and his website at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/index.html are both very good resources for extra-canonical apologetic material. There is lots of good stuff on his sites. Highly recommended.
Reading VanDam’s article in today’s Meridian Magazine was edifying and enlightening for me. I am of Greek descent and am a convert to the LDS Church of 30 years. As a child, I attended the Greek Church and Sunday School on occasion and Greek school weekly. Unfortunately, we were not encouraged to learn much about the doctrines of the Orthodox faith — indeed, my earliest memories were asking questions and being told “it’s a mystery, and if you ask those questions, it is proof that you do not have faith.” I have seen some similarities between Orthodox and Mormon worship rites, but this article is the first time I have read anything that compares and contrasts doctrine. I appreciate the previous posts – and will look for the Nellas book. Thanks.
Thanks for stopping by Carol. I’m glad you like the site.
I am a scholar of Mormonism and editor of a European journal that studies Mormonism, the International Journal of Mormon Studies, and am looking to get into touch with S. G. Antonenko who was featured in this article. I would be so grateful if someone could put me in touch with him. Please have him contact me at zachhistory ‘at’ yahoo.com. Thanks again and I would be most grateful for you help.