Archive for October 11th, 2007

The Church of Many Rooms

October 11, 2007

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In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? (John 14:2).

I have shared before about a dream I once had of a Church in which there were many rooms. It was an old, wooden Orthodox Church, packed with people and with a service going on – but the service continued from room to room. The image has stayed with me for better than 20 years.

Frequently when I think of the heart, which is finally that Church in which we must all learn to worship, I remember this dream and the saying of Christ that in His Father’s house are many rooms (RSV translation). Most particularly I think this dream, for the inside seemed larger than the outside.

Human beings are more-or-less the same size – give or take a few feet and inches. But what we do not see in the other is the space within the heart. A spiritual space, and yet a space that is here, within us. I have quoted on my sidebar the saying of St. Macarius:

The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there. (H.43.7)

There is such a fullness present within the heart that learning to go there is utterly essential for us as believers. If we do not know the treasures that are ours in the heart then we will likely not recognize them when we see them set before us elsewhere.

St. Macarius does not mention the Church in his list of things within the heart, although it too must be there if the life and kingdom, the light, the apostles, the heavenly cities, etc., are all there. In the end, and even now as God makes the end to be present to us, the Church is all of these good things – for it is the very Body of Christ, it is the fulfillment of His eternal purpose:

For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:9-10.)

This eternal purposed is echoed again later in Ephesians with a slightly different twist:

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in him (Ephesians 3:7-12). Emphasis added.

I have often spent time teaching Catechumens and others about the kinship between the Church in which we worship and the heart that dwells within us. I take time to talk about the Narthex, the outer court of the heart, its most public place, also to speak about the Nave which is the court of friends. There in the Nave are the majority of icons and the gathering of the people. But I spend the most time teaching about the area of the altar, which is the throne-room of God. That place in the heart which corresponds to it is the most intimate place within us. There we sup with God as He promised (Rev. 3:20). This is the place of great prayer.

And just as I have described three rooms within the heart, so we also discover that those rooms are larger than we dreamed. A room that is large enough for us to sup with God must indeed be larger than the universe! And so God means to make us larger, to teach us to have room in our heart for the whole world and more.

We have had our conversations about Churches, which we will not resolve by argument or counter-argument, for the Church is not an argument but a reality given to us by Christ. There indeed is salvation to be found, for there is Christ, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there.

Glory to God for all things!

A Further Thought on Failure and the Church

October 11, 2007

A priest much beloved to me wrote to me privately (among other things) these thoughts on my article on the “Failure of the Church.” He is entirely accurate and his words bear posting here lest I be misundertood. May God bless him in his ministry.

It’s tempting when we see scandal and sin in Church life to attribute these things to the Church Herself. But there is no time or place in the history of the Church where the Church can be shown to have sinned, or to have failed to save Her members. Emperors, hierarchs, priests, deacons, monastics, laypeople all sin, all fail. But the Church does not, becuase She is not a human institution, She is a sacrament, or rather, *the* sacrament. Protestant missionaries couldtoday, but they will be hungry tomorrow. Only the Church feeds people with the Bread that came down from Heaven, and the Living Water that springs up unto life everlasting. So long as the Church accomplishes these things, we shouldn’t presume to say that She has failed. So long as She continues to offer the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world upon Her altars, She continues to be triumphant, accomplishing in Her Divine Head the re-creation and renewal of the universe and the redemption of the fallen human race. So long as there are saints, the Church has not failed.

To which I can only say, “Amen.”

Orthodoxy in Indonesia

October 11, 2007

I found an interesting article through WordPress on the Orthodox Church in Indonesia. Excellent thoughts on dealing with the culture at hand. The artile may be found here.

Why I Am Not Concerned about the Church as Failure

October 11, 2007

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I suspected that having written about the “Church as Failure,” today’s post would be a required follow-up. I am not concerned about the Church as failure – because I believe the Church was meant to fail – if you’ll allow me explain. I have chosen the word “failure” to translate St. Paul’s description of Christ on the Cross as “weakness” and “foolishness.” I think those words were powerful when he was speaking to the Judeao-Hellenistic world of his time – but that those translations are not particularly powerful or scandalous to modern folk. American modern folk are far more scandalized by the notion of failure. We hate failure. Which is why I think it is such a good translation.

There are two ways for the Church to “fail.” The first is that the Church fails because it has embraced the cross and the Divine Failure of God (which saves us). It is the Church living utterly vulnerable to the Cross and knowing that it will only be as we fail and God succeeds that the Church will do what it is called to do.

A Christian standing in confession (as we do it in the Orthodox Church) and admitting that they have failed, is a Christian now ready for the Grace of God to work in them the righteousness of Christ.

The other way for the Church to fail (and this one does tend to dominate) is when it tries to succeed and be the thing it imagines God has called it to be, but by its own efforts. The result of such madness is failure of a catastrophic sort, with the Church being nothing of what Christ has called it to be.

The great good news in all of this is that even the second failure – if it is recognized as such – can become the first kind of failure, and thus the place where Grace begins the work of healing. The Good God has so established things that we cannot fail other than when we refuse to admit our failures.

I am not in the least saddened or dismayed by the failure I see across the Christian landscape – even the failures within the Orthodox Church. Or I should say that the only sadness I have is the sadness at human sin. But where sin did abound, Grace did more abound, as St. Paul tells us in Romans. Thus we stand at a landscape that could also be the place where an abundance of Grace begins to work.

For Orthodoxy in America, I pray that Grace will abound. We have our failures, which I choose not to ennumerate. It’s not my job. But for those whose job it is – I pray that they will call things by their right names and pray that Grace will abound (which it most assuredly will).

As an Orthodox Christian I cannot say what Grace abounding outside the bounds of Orthodoxy would look like. It is mysterious territory to me but it could only be a good thing because Grace does not work us harm.

In individual lives our failures can and should be moments that the Cross of Christ is triumphant. For what we cannot do (and we cannot do anything), Christ in us can do abundantly well. Thus to fail is to come to the Cross of Christ, if only we will.

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace, help me in all things to rely upon Thy holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Thy will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with the firm conviction that Thy will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by Thee. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray. And pray Thou, Thyself, in me. Amen.

The morning Prayer of St. Philaret of Moscow