Archive for January 13th, 2008

All the Fullness of God

January 13, 2008


A good Biblical word, used frequently in Orthodox writing and liturgy, is the word “fullness.” I think I have long preferred to say that the Orthodox Church is the “fullness” of the Christian faith, rather than say, “This is the one, true Church.” I believe it is the one, true Church, but how I understand that as an Orthodox Christian is quite different from how such a statement might be understood by a non-Orthodox Christian. Thus, I prefer the term “fullness.” It says the same thing (in a way) but also says it in a way that allows someone to ask questions and not just have an argument. The Scriptures (Eph. 1:23) describe the Church as “the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” Thus it is a Scriptural description of the Church.

By the same token, fullness is also a good term for what salvation itself is about, particularly if you are trying to help someone have a larger vision than simply “going to heaven.” We are created as human beings – created in the image of God – but there is a fullness that is lacking in each of us. None of us are fully what we were created to be. And the word is helpful here, because fullness is not a word that carries a lot of moral baggage – and moral baggage is simply not at all the issue of salvation. It is far more helpful to speak of living more and more into the fullness of our being, than it is to use some phrase that is the equivalent of moral perfection.

I recall some years ago, when I was a graduate student at Duke, having an acquaintance, a fellow grad student, who came from some kind of Holiness (Pentecostal) background. He told me that he had been without sin for three years. I remember both being completely taken aback by the statement as well as thinking that his understanding of sin and my understanding were obviously miles apart. Whatever “sinless perfection” meant to him, it certainly is not the same thing as fullness in an Orthodox context. I have encountered Orthodox individuals whom I would describe as manifesting more completely the fullness for which we were created than others I have met. I have no idea how that might relate to “sinless perfection.” Oddly, I know that I would rather meet someone in the fullness of their beingthan someone who had acheived some version of “sinless perfection.”

There are several things that fullness means to me.

1. Fullness means being truly what you were meant to be. Thus a person is more truly human only as they live into the fullness of their being.

2. Fullness means more than being correct. It is possible to be correct about something, and yet be empty and lifeless. Fullness is correct because it is a true reflection of God and not because it can be measured against the law or a set of rules (or the canons, etc.).

3. Fullness implies an abundance. Christ promised us an “abundant life,” though that phrase has been denigrated by teachers of “prosperity” to simply mean we will have lots of “stuff.” The abundant life promised to us is nothing other than the Life of God dwelling in us. Christ is the abundance – not cars, houses, flat-screen televisions, or vacations in Aruba. To be in the presence of a person who manifests the fullness promised to us is to be in the presence of something larger than the life we know. In such a presence I am always aware that the “inside is larger than the outside.”

4. Fullness implies a completeness. One famous 20th century Orthodox theologian described Orthodoxy as the “absence of one-sidedness.” I like that. Part of my experience as an Orthodox priest is the constant unfolding of Scripture and the mystery of salvation. Nothing ever seems to be superfluous. Everything fits. Indeed I never knew until I was Orthodox (and then not for a while) how thoroughly and completely every doctrine, feast, and even custom, fits with the whole of the faith. Nothing is lacking.

5. Fullness is related to the idea of a “one-storey” universe. It is not the case that heavenly and spiritual realities are located elsewhere, but rather that there is a depth and a fullness to life all around us that we either ignore or refuse to acknowledge. We do not see all that there is – and we do not even see the little that is apparent to us as it truly is. We do not see the fullness of creation. To embrace creation in its fullness is thus to embrace it in a manner and in an intention that goes far beyond what we are accustomed to.

6. Fullnessfinds its roots in love. Christ makes known to us the fullness of God and reveals this most clearly in His sacrifice on the Cross. The complete giving of ourselves to others and for others – the sacrifice of love – is the true fullness for which we were created. Thus envy, malice, hatred, bitterness, are opposed to fullness – they lessen what we are and threaten to draw us into their ever lessening spire. The act of forgiveness – which in love is a great sacrifice – is an expansion – a going forth from ourselves that allows us to be even more than we are – to reach forth into a fullness. This is the life of God– a fullness that knows no envy, malice, hatred or bitterness – a love that is kind even to its enemies for there can be no lessening of God. His is the “fullness which filleth all in all.”

Christ seems to have constantly seen things to which others were oblivious. He sees fields that are “white for the harvest.” He sees that those whom others thought to be religious experts were little more than “white-washed sepulchres.” He sees the work of His Father around Him while others have no knowledge of His Father whatsoever. His vision of the world was truly of its fullness as well as where it failed to meet that fullness.

There is within the human heart a God-given hunger for the fullness. Many people have an intuition that their lives or the version of the world they have been given is somehow not quite right. There is an instinct that there is or should be something more. This is an important hunger and one not to be ignored. We must not settle for less than what God has called us to be or the fullness He has promised as our inheritance. To give up on the reality of that fullness is to yield to the lie that life is largely empty and futile. There is something more and we should pursue it with all our heart.

I could probably continue to add to this posting. Your own experience of fullness may be something you’d like to share within our comments section. I do know, and have said elsewhere, “Why would anyone want something less than the fullness of the faith?” Indeed.