Monday, October 21, 2013

The weakness of Orthodoxy

I hope you know I am not your average Orthodox zealot out looking for converts. I'd rather have anyone go to his or her own church of choice or heritage, if coming to Orthodoxy in any way would muddy or prevent their relationship to Jesus. But for those who are already Orthodox but can't see ‘over the wall’ or ‘find the door’ I am Johnny-on-the-spot to provide a ladder or be a friendly door-keeper. In fact, that's what I've thought my place in the Body of Christ to be almost from the first moment of my conversion: I'm just a humble porter, here to carry your luggage (and you) to a place of safety—one meaning of ‘porter’—or here to guard the doors from enemies and open the doors for friends—the other meaning. Yes, ‘the doors! the doors! tas thíras! tas thíras!’ Another favorite moment of mine in the Liturgy. Deacons can call out the words; I try to obey them.

Coming upon a very long but excellent article by Fr Stephen at Glory to God for All Things blog, I wanted to quote an excerpt from it, words that ring absolutely true to me. A sister in Christ, having read his post The Church and the Cross of Christ, remarked to me that ‘this is possibly the best thing that Fr Stephen has ever written, at least in the top ten.’ I think I agree with her. Here follow some of the testimonies in that post that speak deeply to me…

Being Orthodox means living with words like “pillar and ground of truth.” Or singing gleefully in a liturgy, “We have seen the True Light, we have found the true faith.” In the wrong hands such words can be dangerous indeed. They are true enough, but such truth can be uttered well only as praise to the Living God, rarely as apologetics or as “war words” in our confused scene of Christianity. Uttered in “battle” (if the little dust-ups that occur hither and yon can be called such) these words take on the fearful character of “that by which we will be judged” (Matthew 12:36).

The insanity of modern American Christianity is the product of sola scriptura, poor or no ecclesiology, and the entrepreneurship of the American spirit. Thus almost every Christian group that exists has something excellent to say about itself (like so many car dealerships). The perfect ratiocination of Reform theology, an Infallible Pope with a Magisterium, or the perfections of an invisible Church (really, how can you discuss an invisible Church?) Even Anglicans, born of divorce and compromise (I know they don’t like to say it like that in Anglican seminaries, but it’s history), can brag about Via Media, or today, “Inclusivity.”

Into this playing field of discussion come the Orthodox. We are familiar with Pillar and Ground of Truth, True Light, True Faith, Fullness, etc., words of excellence and perfection. Of course, as soon as they are uttered, gainsayers will point to everything about us that appears less – and there is so much at which to point (our messy jurisdictionalism, internal arguments, etc.) People who have mastered cut-and-paste functions on their computer can quote concatenations of the fathers proving that our Pillar and Ground of Truth was always sitting in Rome.
What’s an Orthodox boy (or girl) to do?

I do not think we give up conversation, but we have to be aware of the nature of our conversation. We utter “Pillar and Ground of Truth,” etc. “in a sacred mystery.” Pulled out of its context (that is the living Church) and placed in argument, the phrase becomes words weakened by every other word we have ever spoken, and particularly the actions we have performed or failed to perform. Such phrases are no less true, but they were never meant as offensive weapons (except perhaps in spiritual warfare).

I would start, as an Orthodox boy, with the fact that everyone who is Orthodox has agreed to “deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ.” The ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, is found precisely in its weakness and is found there because God wants it that way. If salvation means loving my enemies like God loves His enemies, then I am far better served by my weakness than my excellence. If humility draws the Holy Spirit, then my weakness is far more useful than any excellence I may possess.

The Orthodox Church has perhaps the weakest ecclesiology of all, because it depends, moment by moment, on the love and forgiveness of each by all and of all by each. Either the Bishops of the Church love and forgive each other or the whole thing falls apart. “Brethren, let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” These are the words that introduce the Creed each Sunday, and they are the words that are the bedrock of our ecclesiology…

Read the whole article here.
All the italics and colorization and bold-facing in the quoted excerpt above are mine, and I would do even worse things if God allowed it.

No comments: