Archive for January, 2007

Finding Faith

January 31, 2007


Two of my favorite modern Orthodox authors, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom and Fr. Sophrony Sakharov have a peculiarity in common that make them “work” for me. Both include in their personal stories their own search for God, including the confession of dealing with modern Atheism.  I never personally became an Atheist – that was a faith journey that I never needed to make. I well understand that someone could come to the point that they felt the need to launch out into their own abyss. I understand, too, the fact that some people are so angry with Christians and other religious sorts that they prefer to have nothing to do with it – God and all. Unbelief is not a contradiction of our age – it’s one of its symptoms. When I listen to my youngest child, a sixteen year-old daughter, I hear a teen who prefers not to make strong distinctions between people. I forget that the experience of television and radio (at least when an adult has had control) have largely been to listen to talking heads not talking, but yelling at each other. She has seen two election cycles or more in which people were so polarized that they could hardly discuss the subject civilly. If young people seem to say, “We would simply like to get along,” it may not be that they are “relativists” for whom there is no truth. They have rarely encountered anyone professing truth who wasn’t at the same time bludgeoning someone with it. They’re gun shy (literally). What they would like is a little peace.  For my children, probably the most profound experiences have come as they gathered with other Orthodox kids – either at Orthodox summer camp, or at an All American Council. In either place the celebration was of a common faith – not an argument.  

I suspect that the age of civility has passed us by. Certain issues are worth arguing about (like the life of an unborn child). It is also true that we have religious enemies who have stated world domination as a goal. That does not bode well for a peaceful, quiet future. But it doesn’t mean the end of a genuine search for God. Every age has its torments, every age its challenge. But every age is in the hands of God whose purposes are not thwarted. I pray for our children – most especially that they will see enough genuine Christianity that they will perservere in their faith. It is interesting to me that one of my sons-in-law, now an Orthodox priest, was deeply drawn to Orthodoxy by his encounter with St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai as a young teen. I know of member of my parish, as well as a catechumen and one of my inquirers, all of whom first came to hunger for Orthodoxy beginning in a visit to Russia.  

America needs its monasteries. It needs parishes. It needs practicing Orthodox families. It needs people who believe in God and live their lives as if that belief matters. Christ raised the question, “Will the Son of Man find faith on the earth when He comes?” (Luke 18:8)

 Will our children find faith on the earth even before He comes? May God make it so.

Conversion and the Return of our Humanity

January 31, 2007

My wife and I returned last night for Detroit, Michigan, having attended and been part of a Colloquium on the Orthodox Faith, aimed primarily at Episcopalians and Anglicans. We met a wonderful group of people and were struck by the quality of the conversation that took place.


I thought I would share a thought or two of my own from the conference (in the next weeks I’ll have links set up so that you can listen to any of the presentations). Ancient Faith Radio was kind enough to record the entire event.

One of the thoughts that I shared was that “we are all ‘cradle born’ Orthodox (I’m beginning to tire of the distinction between ‘cradle born’ and ‘convert.’ Everyone in the Christian faith must be a convert – and must be a convert as often as possible.

But I commented that “I was a ‘cradle born’ Orthodox who lived in schism from myself for 44 years.” In that sense I stated that I thought everyone was a ‘cradle born’ Orthodox, if this is indeed the Truth as found in Christ. We were not created for anything less than the Truth.

But living in schism from your true self is a great sin indeed. For me, it led to much and continued confusion. I was constantly being drawn in a direction that ran counter to what I was doing and made demands on me that I wanted to avoid. In short, this is simply the problem of being a human being pursued by God. And we are all human beings pursued by God.

I noted that Bishop Kallistos Ware not only said that “God became man so that man could become God,” but also that “God became man so that man could become man.” This I believe with all my heart and think is frequently more to the point. It is our willingness to live on something less than a human level that is the hallmark of our sin.

Conversion for me, means daily saying to God, “Here am I!” (to quote Scripture). It is as Cranmer’s Anaphora says, “And here we present unto Thee our selves, our souls and bodies, a reasonable and living sacrifice” (echoing St. Paul’s admonition in Romans 12).

We are not meant to live out of union with our heart, much less out of communion with God. I recently quoted Yeat’s The Second Coming.

In his poem he said:

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Those lines echoed in my mind as I thought about the journey I have made over the years. Continuingly losing innocence as I was initiated in the world of men, where lies and half-truths reign, where decisions are made for political expediency and you simply learn how to “get on.”

I saw that the “best” did lack all conviction and were willing to let the larger part of the Christian faith disappear, so long as the institution remained healthy (i.e. solvent).

And those of us who complained were brim-full of passionate intensity, constantly angry and losing our souls in the process.

The narrow path that came to me in the Orthodox faith, was the simple path of accepting that there really is a God Who has made Himself known in Christ Jesus, and that He established a Church which has faithfully maintained that living relationship in its fullness.

My conversion was a return to the cradle for which we were all born – the cradle of humanity – where God Himself can be found – having once lain there as the first true man. United with Him. heart to heart, I now meet real human beings on a regular basis, who have also taken up the cross of Christ’s humility and found it to be the way forward to the fullness of their humanity.

My last thoughts are that none of us should think about movement from some ecclesial body to Orthodoxy as moving from one “Church” to another. That’s the Protestant model and it misses the point. If there is a coming to Orthodoxy, it can only be because we are coming to God. The Church is about God, and only about God. Coming to anything else is to not discern the Body of Christ, and to still maintain the delusion that leaves us trapped in something less than the fullness of our humanity. To embrace the Orthodox way is to embrace a journey back to God, nothing less. God help me, I don’t want to forget that. Nor let others around me fail to hear that witness.

I Can’t Make It Without God

January 30, 2007


I introduced some of Tito Colliander’s Way of the Ascetics. I offer here the second chapter as well. I have been in Detroit, Michigan attending a conference and will return to the website on Tuesday evening if I’m not able to do any work in Detroit. May God bless.


THE holy Fathers say with one voice: The first thing to keep in mind is never in any respect to rely on yourself. The warfare that now lies before you is extraordinarily hard, and your own human powers are altogether insufficient to carry it on. If you rely on them you will immediately be felled to the ground and have no desire to continue the battle. Only God can give you the victory you wish.

This decision not to rely on self is for most people a severe obstacle at the very outset. It must be overcome, otherwise we have no prospect of going further. For how can a human being receive advice, instruction and help if he believes that he knows and can do everything and needs no directions? Through such a wall of self-satisfaction no gleam of light can penetrate. Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight, cries the prophet Isaiah (5:21), and the apostle St. Paul utters the warning: Be not wise in your own conceits (Romans 12:16). The kingdom of heaven has been revealed unto babes, but remains hidden from the wise and prudent (Matthew 11:25).

We must empty ourselves, therefore, of the immoderately high faith we have in ourselves. Often it is so deeply rooted in us that we do not see how it rules over our heart. It is precisely our egoism, our self-centeredness and self-love that cause all our difficulties, our lack of freedom in suffering, our disappointments and our anguish of soul and body.

Take a look at yourself, therefore, and see how bound you are by your desire to humour yourself and only yourself. Your freedom is curbed by the restraining bonds of self-love, and thus you wander, a captive corpse, from morning till eve. “Now I will drink,” “now I will get up,” “now I will read the paper.” Thus you are led from moment to moment in your halter of preoccupation with self, and kindled instantly to displeasure, impatience or anger if an obstacle intervenes.

If you look into the depths of your consciousness you meet the same sight. You recognize it readily by the unpleasant feeling you have when someone contradicts you. Thus we live in thralldom. But where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (11 Corinthians 3:17).

How can any good come out of such an or biting around the ego? Has not our Lord bidden us to love our neighbour as ourselves, and to love God above all? But do we? Are not our thoughts instead always occupied with our own welfare?

No, be convinced that nothing good can come from yourself. And should, by chance, an unselfish thought arise in you, you may be sure that it does not come from you, but is scooped up from the wellspring of goodness and be stowed upon you: it is a gift from the Giver o life. Similarly the power to put the good thought into practice is not your own, but is given you by the Holy Trinity.

Learning to Sin

January 29, 2007


As strange as it sounds – human beings have to “learn to sin.” Not that we need any help doing the things that sinners do – all of that comes quite easily to us. But we have to learn that we are sinners – and this does not come easily to us.

Oddly, I first heard this when listening to one of Stanley Hauerwas’ lectures at Duke. “You have to teach someone to be a sinner,” was his statement. What he meant by that is that the Christian understanding of sin is not something we are born with. We have to be taught to understand the human predicament and the precise character of the situation in which we find ourselves.

Depending on how you define the problem, the answer will come out differently. Another way of saying this would be: sin is the question to which Jesus’ death and resurrection is the answer. To a great extent, it is likely that the disciples did not understand the teachings of Christ because they did not see death and resurrection as an answer to any of their problems. Indeed, though death is seen as problematic on occasion in the Old Testament, it is not always seen as the over-arching issue. If someone could live to a ripe old age and “be gathered to his fathers,” then it doesn’t sound like the writer saw this as an existential crisis.

Christ not only reveals Himself as the answer to our problem, but defines the problem as well.

In our modern world, the success of preaching the gospel may often depend upon whether anyone thinks he needs such a gospel. In a “culture of death,” is a resurrected Messiah such good news?

From the Church’s perspective, the very fact that our culture has become a “culture of death, ” a place where death can be seen as friendly, a welcome end to otherwise meaningless suffering, is tragic indeed. Some of the “Extreme” character of things today (sports, etc.) has a way of taunting death and mocking it as though it were not a problem. I can recall conversations of my teen years (not particularly great moments in my life) when no one in the room seemed to think living past 30 was such a great idea. The death of contemporaries such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, et al., were seen as tragic only in the sense that there would be no new albums coming from those sources.

Strangely, it was reading history that first taught me to “sin.” I finished high school and announced that I was not going to college (what was the use?). Long story short, I wound up living in a commune (actually a Christian commune) which included among its members a number of young college intellectuals (if you can say that without laughing too hard). But they were the first people I had ever met who actually read history and had a thought or two on the subject.

It was reading the stretch of Western Civilization and realizing that it was, in fact, headed for destruction, that first awakened the despair of sin within my consciousness. If that sounds too intellectual, forgive me. It wasn’t that “heady” an issue. It was simply waking up and realizing that the things around me were the bits and pieces left over from a train wreck and not the “modern world,” that overwhelmed me. It was not so much my own personal death that awakened this sense of loss, but the fact that in the midst of the death of a culture, a single life could have so little meaning and purpose.

That “the wages of sin is death,” made sense – but not the sense that “if you do something wrong you’ll die.” Rather something much larger. I can recall reading Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,” as if I’d never heard the ideas before:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

By this time the poem has almost passed into cliche. But it remains prescient. Thirty some-odd years later the center holds less and less and the shape of the beast that slouches seems far more clear – on many levels. For myself, I feel ever more profoundly the sinner, dwelling in the midst of sinners, and the beast threatens to swallow us all.

Thus it is that I love the Savior who enters the belly of that beast and brings us all safe again to some paradisiacle shore. It is not the footsteps of something slouching I hear, but the approaching sound of victory, trampling down death by death.

Doubtless there are many other ways to present the gospel – Christ is the Savior and the Savior of us all – and not just a gloomy historian. But to know He saves is also to know, at least in part, from what it is we are saved. 

Back to the Cross

January 28, 2007


I feel a need to tie a few loose ends together – or at the very least to make a few connections. It’s possible as in this last week to drink rather deeply at one of the many wells of living Orthodoxy such as the writings of Fr. Sophrony. It’s also possible in doing so to almost need to come up for air. The waters are truly deep.

His teaching on “dogmatic consciousness” is one of those places in his writings that are deeply true, and yet not always easily explained or taught. It is not an anti-rational place, just a place that is more than reason itself can easily contain. It is the learning of a lifetime, or a good part of it, and a learning that occurs by living a life in conformity with the Cross of Christ. And it is to the Cross that I would redirect our attention.

Fr. John Behr, in his new book, The Mystery of Christ, takes a very close look at the earliest centuries of the Christian faith, and at the very heart of Orthodoxy itself which is to be found there. In particular he speaks with great clarity about the “rule of faith,” certainly known to all of the Apostles and to the Apostolic Church. If placed in words it sounds much like the Apostles’ Creed (which is, indeed, one of its earliest verbal expressions). We hear echoes of that same rule in various places in the New Testament, which bears witness that the writers of the New Testament, such as St. Paul, knew full well the “rule of faith” before ever they wrote a word.

The early Christian community, despite being surrounded by false teachers, Judaizers, gnostics, and what-have-you, were nonetheless not a confused bunch. It was not the “California-believe-what-you-want” paradise that the neo-gnostics such as Elaine Pagels and some others would have us imagine. Orthodox Catholic Christianity was steady on from the beginning and silenced all around them, not through the machinations of the state (they were not even legal yet), nor of some plot of sinister paternalism that modern feminists like to conjure.

This small minority clung to an understanding of Christ because they both knew the “rule of faith” – that is they could recite the Tradition that had been given them – but also because the Tradition that had been given to them was itself living and true. The truly Great Tradition of the Church was and is the Crucified God. It sings through every page of the New Testament. Unknown in the gnostic writings with their Ogdoads and Aeons, the gospel of Jesus was the good news that God became man, and became the very least of us, entering even into the depths of death and hell to rescue us from the hell we had created for ourselves.

The Gospel of the Crucified God is that strength is found in weakness, triumph in forgiveness; evil is overcome by good; losing ourselves is finding ourselves; wealth is poverty and poverty is wealth; and the list could be multiplied many times over. Most importantly these are not abstract principles, but descriptions of Who God Is and How God Is in His revelation of Himself to us.

The “dogmatic consciousness” of which Fr. Sophrony spoke, is finally having the truth of the Crucified God written into the very core of your heart and soul. It is knowing the God who emptied Himself and yielding yourself to be conformed to His image.

The wonder of the writings of a Fr. Sophrony, and of others like him through the years of the Church, is that both they themselves and many whom they knew, embodied this knowledge of God and became bearers of the light in their own generation. The saints are the great treasury of Orthodoxy, living proof of the rightness of our doctrine. Indeed, they are what the doctrine looks like.

St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 3:3) …”you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” This gives a new meaning to the “New Testament Church.” Now we can see that it means the Church which is the “New Testament,” and this same New Testament continues to be read in the Churches who have preserved that same faith.

It is simply not enough to study the Scriptures. We must become the Scriptures so that all might read Christ in our heart and know the Truth of the gospel. Talk about the gospel will not save the world. Only the gospel enfleshed in human lives can be said to constitute preaching. This is what Christians are ordained (Baptized) to do.

They can’t be one if they can’t see one.

A Closing Word Tonight from St. Silouan

January 28, 2007


A few paragraph’s from Fr. Sophrony’s St. Silouan the Athonite.

It was a great moment in the history of human thought and spiritual experience when Descartes pronounced the words, ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ (‘I think, therefore I am’). Another philosopher, one of our day, understood life rather differently, putting it, ‘I love, therefore I am, for I esteem love a more profound motive for searching out the reality of our existence.’ Others might say, ‘I eat, I walk, therefore I am’ – meaning, ‘Everything I do, everything I manifest, is proof of my existence.’

All these formulae spring from a rational reaction to the question, ‘Do I exist?’. But independently even of such a reflection, in the sphere of irrational (self-) consciousness every man recognises that he exists.

Thus there are spiritual states where man has direct knowledge of his immortality, knows for certain that he is a participant in eternal life; when the Holy Spirit, as the Staretz [St. Silouan] expresses it, bears witness to the soul of her salvation. Trying to find the solution to the problems before us is, indeed, work for the wise man. It is the way of life, the way followed by the Church of Christ. Authentic knowledge of Divine being constitutes the wealth of the Church. Blessed Staretz Silouan was rich precisely in this experience of eternal being bestowed on him by the Holy Spirit and in which he put his trust.

Icons And Coming Home Again

January 28, 2007


A recent news story reported the return of icons to Cypress from the United States, where they had apparently surfaced after being missing for a fair number of years. The museum in whose possession they had come worked with the Church in Cypress to see them restored to their rightful place. This is not the first time such an event has occurred, even in recent times. Back in mid-December I wrote about icons “finding” their home. Getting things put back in place is a very important part of the Gospel.

A serious questions for us as human beings is: “Where do I (we) belong?” It may be a question that we seek to answer with trying different vocations. Some, particularly in America, do it by trying different spouses. But “finding home” is about none of these things.

There are a number of Orthodox converts who speak about “coming home” to the Orthodox faith. That is certainly true to a certain extent, and I can say something similar as time passes by. It was not the first thought that came to my mind when I attended my first Orthodox Liturgy. My first thought was, “This is different,” followed closely by, “Exactly how long does this service last?” When some of my early visits took me to a monastery, I became seriously worried. It was different, and the length (typical of many monasteries) was unlike anything I’d ever imagined, and nobody thought it was something to apologize for.

“Coming home,” is a much larger issue of which the Church is certainly part. Man hasn’t “been home” since he left the Garden. If there is anything Scripture teaches us it is that we are not home. Expelled from paradise, the people of God were eventually given a “promised land,” but they’ve been expelled from there ever so many times. Today, Jews, Muslims and Christians can all three complain that they’ve been expelled from the land. It’s a very large sentiment.

The book of Hebrews offers the rich image of saints wandering, looking for a promised land. In the 11th chapter, the so-called “roll-call” of faith cites saint after saint “of whom the world was not worthy” who like Abraham waited for a city with foundations “whose builder and maker was God” (11:10).

We are told that from the very beginning we were made “in the image and likeness of God.” Human beings were created to be icons. More than that we are told that Christ himself is the true icon, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Some of the early Fathers of the Church taught that Genesis’ comment on man being created in the image and likeness of God referred to Christ rather than Adam. Adam, in their teaching, failed to fulfill his vocation and be conformed to the image and likeness of God. It was not until Christ came that we actually have before us both the image of God, and the image of what a man is actually to be. Christ is our home.

It is in this sense, that coming to the Church is a “coming home.” It is because the Church is the body of Christ that we belong there. We too, are icons who are being returned to their true home.

The first two years after my conversion to Orthodoxy I worked as a hospice chaplain, ministering to dying patients in their home, up and down the mountains of Eastern Tennessee. I went places that I would never have dream of going. One of the most common occurrences was to find, in small Appalachian homes and trailers, a wall with holy pictures. There were no “Orthodox” Christians in the hills – mostly Baptists (not even Southern Baptists) some Pentecostals. But the pictures were a common language. It was the projection of the heart on the wall of a southern home. Jesus, praying in the garden; standing at the door and knocking; even Jesus’ Sacred Heart.

On January 7 this year (Russian Christmas) our parish was visited by a small contingent of Russians. One had been to Moscow recently and brought a number of icons as gifts to our parish. One of them I recognized immediately. It was Jesus in the Garden (the same English portrait that hangs in homes around here), but the caption at the bottom was in Cyrillic Script: The Prayer in the Garden. I could not help but smile. It’s now hanging in our parish hall. An “icon” has come home – back to Appalachia where it is so beloved. And it’s easier for me to tell that I’ve come home as well. The Russians, like my dear dying friends in the mountains, love Jesus in the Garden. I know I’m home when I’m with friends who love Jesus. And nobody apologizes for it. Home.

Getting Started

January 27, 2007


Tito Colliander wrote a small spiritual classic, The Way of the Ascetics. I heartily commend it to all. Asceticism is not simply the domain of monks, or something foreign to Christianity, much less is it opposed to salvation by grace. Asceticism is not an earning of grace, but a “doing of the Word.” It is obeying the commandments of Christ and not just talking about them. I am offering here the short first chapter of Colliander’s work. Again, I commend the book.


IF you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the Cross and say:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Faith comes not through pondering but through action. Not words and speculation but experience teaches us what God is. To let in fresh air we have to open a window; to get tanned we must go out into the sunshine. Achieving faith is no different; we never reach a goal by just sitting in comfort and waiting, say the holy Fathers. Let the Prodigal Son be our example. He arose and came (Luke15:20).

However weighed down and entangled in earthly fetters you may be, it can never be too late. Not without reason is it written that Abraham was seventy-five when he set forth, and the labourer who comes in the eleventh hour gets the same wages as the one who comes in the first. Nor can it be too early. A forest fire cannot be put out too soon; would you see your soul ravaged and charred?

In baptism you received the command to wage the invisible warfare against the enemies of your soul; take it up now. Long enough have you dallied; sunk in indifference and laziness you have let much valuable time go to waste. Therefore you must begin again from the beginning: for you have let the purity you received in baptismbe sullied in dire fashion. Arise, then; but do so at once, without delay. Do not defer your purpose till “tonight” or “tomorrow” or “later, when I have finished what I have to do just now.” The interval may be fatal. No, this moment, the instant you make your resolution, you will show by your action that you have taken leave of your old self and have now begun a new life, with a new destination and a new way of living. Arise, therefore, without fear and say: Lord, let me begin now. Help me! For what you need above all is God’s help.

Hold fast to your purpose and do not look back. We have been given a warning example in Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back (Genesis 19:26). You have cast off your old humanity; let the rags lie. Like Abraham, you have heard the voice of the Lord: Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred,and from thy father’s house, into a land that I will show thee (Genesis 12:1). Towards that land hereafter you must direct all your attention.

The Triodion Comes (and I Can’t Wait)

January 27, 2007


Preparing bulletin and sermon for tomorrow, the realization that we begin the Lenten Triodion tomorrow brings with it the “crashing down around you” realization that Great Lent will be upon us shortly. For the non Orthodox, the Lenten Triodion is the book that contains all of the specific material needed for the Lenten season. We are now entering the “pre-Lenten” season. If your memory goes back to 1928 Prayer Book (or earlier) Anglicanism, you’ll remember pre-Lent and such wonderful words as Septuagesima, etc. Pre-lent, like so much, has been tossed into somebody’s liturgical waste basket. The reason is quite simple – if you don’t plan to do much with Lent anyway – then why the need for weeks of warm up. Orthodoxy seems to have no liturgical waste basket.

Next week is a “fast-free” week. Eat it now, for before long you’ll be eating differently and a lot less. Lent is coming.

I love the Lenten season. It may be my favorite. It’s exhausting in its fullness, even on the parish level. But the exhaustion brings Pascha in its final throes.

Rumors of snow dash about town today – but this is East Tennessee – and it’s just not likely to happen. My wife and I will fly to Detroit on Monday for the Colloquium on Faith of our Fathers (Orthodox talking with Anglicans). I’m eager to see old friends whose paths do not often cross with mine. The Matthewes-Greens, Fr. John Parker, Fr. Pat Reardon, etc. As well as any number of Anglicans I can only imagine.

On a yet more personal level, it’s a trip to Detroit by plane that I could not take in the early 90’s. Then, my panic and anxiety would not let me fly and I had to find a way to say I cannot come (I was to speak at an Anglican event). Since becoming Orthodox, I’ve flown a lot. It became clear as we made this conversion in 1998 that there was to be no way around getting on a plane. Good friends prayed me on my first flight (they actually sat in the waiting area and held my hand – imagine non-flyers being able to go to the departure gate). Many flights later, and I don’t want to drive. Fly me.

I was ordained to the Orthodox priesthood in the season of Lent. I was chrismated on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son (a year before the ordination). Lent is that season that you cannot do. It is too large, to overwhelming. All you can do is be sure to show up, do what is given you to do, and wait for the plane to taxi down the strip.

We’re all flying to Pascha.

All God’s children are flying to Pascha.

The Knowledge We Should Seek

January 26, 2007


Just another few paragraphs from Father Sophrony’s St. Silouan the Athonite. He is here even more explicit on the difference between the knowledge acquired by experience and that acquired in a more abstract manner:

God is neither envious, selfish nor ambitious. Humbly and patiently He pursues all men on all life’s paths, and each of us can therefore come to know God to some degree, not only in but outside the Church, though perfect knowledge of God is impossible apart from Christ or outside Christ. Apart from Christ no spiritual (mystic) experience will lead to knowledge of the Divine Being as One Objectivity, absolute and inconceivable, in Three Persons, absolute and inconceivable – to knowledge of the Trinity, consubstantial and indivisible. This revelation is given in Christ alone. In Him it becomes light eternal pouring itself out on all the manifestations of human existence…..

The Staretz [St. Silouan] testified categorically that the Divinity of Jesus Christ is made known in the Holy Spirit. The knowledge of Christ’s Divinity thus acquired through spiritual experience enables man to comprehend in Christ the unfused union of two natures and two wills. The uncreated nature of Divine Light and the other dogmas of our faith are likewise made known through inner experience in the Holy Spirit. But here it must be noted that the dogmatic consciousness that comes from experience of grace differs essentially from a dogmatic knowledge which outwardly resembles it but is the product of ‘faith in things heard’, of academic study or a philosophical conviction in the form of a series of ideal abstract conceptions.

It is one thing to believe in God, and another to know God, as the Staretz said.

Ideal – abstract – conceptions may correspond to the facts of existence but, separated from positive experience of grace, they are not that knowledge of God which is actual life eternal. Yet they, too, are precious for at any moment they may afford help to a man in his spiritual life.

I find this last paragraph strangely comforting. I know that most of what I know I do not know by experience but from books. I think that it is precisely book knowledge that fuels so many arguments on very high subject (theological) on the internet. It is also why I tend to avoid argumentation like the plague (discussion is fine) because it produces anger and other passions rather than any advance in grace. But having said that, here is that strange comfort that says, “Don’t despise knowledge that comes from books, ‘for at any moment [it] may afford help to a man in his spiritual life.”

Having said all that, it is certainly true that I probably read less now than at any point in my life.