Archive for November 28th, 2006

Crowded Prayer

November 28, 2006

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For reasons I won’t go into here, I am in Boston for the better part of the week at a conference with a group of priests. Many good conversations, to say the least. In the course of one I was reminded of how “crowded” Orthodox prayer is. The service in the Chapel was part of the reminder. The place was packed, like most seminary chapels, with an extra thirty priests thrown in to boot. But the little children present (seminaries always seem to have lots of these in the Orthodox world), peeking, and poking, and laughing, and singing, and filling in the extra spaces between all of these big adults, was a wonderful image. Orthodox prayer, even when you’re not looking at the kids is crowded. There are the icons – usually lots of them – everywhere you look. And they are all praying, or blessing, or standing there as reminders of heaven. And even when you close your eyes, ignore the children and block out the icons, the words come crashing through in their own crowdedness:

Commemorating our most holy, most pure, most blessed, Lady Theotokos, and ever-virgin Mary and all the saints, let us commend ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God.

This petition occurs in almost every litany of the service. The image is of a very crowded heaven. Scripture itself tells us that God is the “Lord of Sabbaoth,” that is, “the Lord of Hosts.” He is not the God of one, but of many – even very many. The Orthodox experience of prayer has this crowdedness about it. I pray to God who hears me – but so do all of these “eaves-dropping” saints. The other aspect of it is that I wouldn’t want it any other way. The loneliness of some American spiritualities is unbearable. We weren’t created for it. “It is not good for man to be alone,” God pronounced in the earliest chapters of Genesis. This isn’t just a good reason for marriage, but a general observation of human beings. Not even hermits, in the Tradition, are alone. They may live alone in a cave, but the caves become crowded – with angels, saints, distracting demons, what have you. We were not created for alone. When we pray, we should get used to the crowd that joins us. We should not ignore the “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us. We should not pretend there are no angels constantly crying aloud and saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” I want to cry aloud with them.

Why You Can’t Do Orthodoxy By the Book (or the Blog)

November 28, 2006

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There is a grave problem with Orthodoxy – you can’t do it by the book. Even less so, can you do it by the internet (he says as he types away at his blog). The reason for all this is simple: we teach that God has revealed Himself as Person. As I’ve noted before, God cannot be known in general or in a non-personal way. Indeed, it is God Who reveals to us what it means to be personal. Prior to the revelation of the Trinity, mankind did not know of truly personal existence. It is the gift of God.

But, because we know God personally, everything we know about Him is personal as well. All that we know about each other is personal (at least the things we know that have true value).

This is why Orthodox canons work as they do. Orthodox canons state the Church’s discipline in a maximalist fashion – a fashion which then requires Bishops and priests to apply them, pastorally. Thus Orthodoxy cannot be done “by the book” because people are not books. They are each unique and must be treated in a unique manner.

I have four children (five, including my son who fell asleep in Christ). I love all of them – but as every parent knows you do not love them equally (equality simply has no place in relationships – it’s an abstract and children are not abstractions). I love each of them for themselves, and thus could only love wrongly if I loved them all the same.

There is so much information about the Orthodox faith to be found today. Some of it is in books, some is on the web. Some of it is more accurate than others, some is just plain inaccurate. But if it is a matter of the canons, discussions of them simply must be taken before priests or Bishops who alone bear the responsibility for their application. Indeed, I cannot give someone an opinion on a canon with regard to their life if I am not their priest – I would be usurping the authority of another priest if I did so – and in many cases would need to submit a matter to my Bishop, who alone may give certain rulings of economy.

God has so ordered His Church that it remains personal. I have heard my Archbishop say: “Never let anyone tell you that you are ‘people of the book!’ We are not Muslims!” Orthodoxy recognizes Scripture and its authority, but that authority cannot exist apart from the Church anymore than it can exist apart from God.

I have seen more damage done by the mishandling of Scripture than good done by its proper handling. The reason for this is that in our Protestant culture, everyone thinks their own opinion of Scripture is as good as everyone else’s and it is not. Sola Scriptura has not worked (it has created more schisms than can be numbered). The same approach, applied to the Canons, or books on Orthodoxy will only yield the same fruit.

Thus, the best advice you can give someone with regard to the Orthodox faith is: “Go to Church.” It is the Church that St. Paul calls the “Pillar and Ground of the Truth.” The internet is a wonderful tool. It can even function to give us the Scriptures electronically. Blogs can be nice. But none of them are the Church. Here you may read and by God’s grace good things will happen. But blogs will not give you the Body and Blood of Christ. Blogs cannot anoint you. Go to Church. Say your prayers. Remember God.

And remember to pray for bloggers.