Saturday, March 3, 2012

Greater than all

For Christ, Orthodoxy doesn’t exist. There is absolutely nothing that He says or does in the gospels that we can jump on and say we are following Him when we extol the perfections of Orthodoxy as against the defects of other religions, especially ‘other Christianities.’

Now I realise what it was that always made me so uncomfortable to be around new converts to Orthodoxy, and why after a couple of years of being one myself, I began to distance myself out from them, and get closer to the cradle believers, who didn’t seem to understand what a great treasure they had in Orthodoxy. I used to think they were that way because they took the faith for granted. It might be that, but I’ve known too many who were merely Christians, willing to help you, console you, witness to you, on the spot and without self-consciousness or fanfare, and then quietly return to what they were doing. Sometimes with their lips they couldn’t belt out a prayer on the spot, but they prayed with their hands and hearts and with the love in their eyes. God answered their unspoken prayer even as they were offering it. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).

What sparked the thoughts I just expressed?

I had been reading an essay by archimandrite Fr Raphael Karelin, titled Differences in the Religious Thinking Between the East and the West. Very well-written, very eloquently written, the author carefully locates the temporal source of what became a growing and finally irreversible divergence between not only ideas but attitudes in the Christian West and East. In the essay I could not find a single appreciation of anything that the Christian West believed, practiced or accomplished, except for some hollow exaltation of Saint Augustine, only to bring him back down to earth by comparing his spiritual feats to the prowess of the Eastern fathers, who were incomparably superior.

There is so much about other Christians that we are unwilling or unable to face. We have defined so rigidly and infallibly our own positions on just about everything, that it isn’t even a matter of disagreement on doctrines or practices—we already know we’re right—but simply an issue of “they don’t belong to us, because they’re not part of us, and so they can’t possibly be what we are, that is, Christ’s.” We don’t talk ourselves out of it, we forget as easily as if we never knew, that others besides ourselves have the Bible, believe in Jesus Christ according to what they’ve received from the apostles, and even from the first councils. We treat them, if we recognize them at all, as less than ourselves, and even as non-Christians, justifying this by saying, “we don’t know what they believe,” and, “outside the Church, the Bible is a closed book.”

What if it were true, that in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, we were joined in real communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, and with all those who ever looked to Him with faith, and followed Him, some even to the extent of dying for Him, in other words, with all saints of all times and places… and creeds, or lack of them? Whose anathema could be raised against that mighty host who lived so completely for the Lord that they did not see anything and anyone ahead of them but Him, and who followed Him wherever He went? Do we think that anything we could do, anything we could demand from them to conform to us, could keep them from the communion of the saints? Never fear, they are there, and it is we who, hoarding as our own what belongs to all, might do well to fear being cast out.

Not in contradiction, but plainly beyond the reach of all that human wisdom devises as a safeguard for the deposit of faith, the word of Jesus lays the only foundation that none can replace,

“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;
no one can snatch them out of My hand.
My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all;
no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
I and the Father are one.”
John 10:27-30

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