‘Dýnamis! More fervently! With strength!’ I have always loved this exclamation, this exhortation in the divine liturgy. The deacon, hidden from our view inside the altar comes momentarily to the beautiful gate in the center of the ikonostasis, as we pause after singing the thrice-holy hymn of the Trisaghion, to exhort us, ‘Again, but with greater fervor! Dýnamis!’ And we take up the song one more time, ‘Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us!’
Fervor is much misunderstood by all classes and creeds of people. For Christians, fervor ranges from being religious, or ‘Goddy’ as some Baptists I once knew defined it, all the way to being positively hateful of the ‘unsaved’ because ‘God hates these sins and those who commit them.’ Recently I was appalled when I read a tract published by Westboro Baptist Church that asserted in the most unequivocal terms the hatred of God, that is, not that men hate Him, but that He hates them!
Lord, have mercy! It’s no wonder that the man in the street has little use for God or His Christ. Look at what has been made of Him by those who say they serve Him! This is not going to be an accusation or even criticism of any denomination or fellowship. Misguided fervor afflicts us all. Believers make themselves easily offended, and justify their retaliation by declaring that it is God who is offended, and they are only His defenders. Don’t we realize how absurd this is?
Yes, we, not just they. As I just wrote, misguided fervor afflicts us all. I wonder, is this what St Basil means when he writes, ‘We are all deceived’? Yet fervor itself, far from being a bad thing, is a very good thing, perhaps even an indispensable one. ‘Dýnamis!’ cries the deacon, and I can hear the echo of Christ’s own words, ‘I have come to bring fire to earth: how I wish it were ablaze already!’ Prometheus was only the mythic longing for Him who really does bring fire to earth, the Christ.
So what can fervor be, if not the acceptance of the fire from Him, of whom holy and divine scripture says, ‘our God is a consuming fire’? We must first, of course, decide for ourselves, who or what this God is. Yes, we know He is almighty, that He is creator and Lord of all. We have been told that ‘the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,’ but what exactly this fear consists of, we cannot know until we experience that God for ourselves. Until we do, we can only be afraid. That is not fear.
Fear is akin to awe but surpasses it, for awe is engendered by our love and appreciation of beauty, but fear draws us to worship and serve beauty. It is active, not passive. Yet, fear is only the beginning of wisdom, of which the end is love, as the apostle writes, ‘Perfect love drives out all fear.’ Like everything else that pertains to the living God, the passage from fear to love is an exodus and a transfiguration.
I wrote, ‘we must decide for ourselves who or what this God is.’ For most, this decision is made for them: they merely accept what they have been told without question. This kind of decision is found in every form of religion, Christian or not. It is this kind that can deaden sensibility to humanity and, if followed to its logical conclusion, results in a self-justifying fanaticism. Fortunately, most people who believe in God this way never reach the final stages of the delusion. Spinning their wheels satisfies them.
If we are brave and adventurous, not just curious, we will seek God and soon enough find ourselves in the situation where our decision is also made for us, but in a completely different and unforeseen way. It becomes easy to decide who God is because He fills our vision to the exclusion of all else, yet He allows us to see the world around us, especially our fellow humans, in a new light. From this proceeds what spells the end of religion, because it is swallowed up in relationship, with Him, and with all through Him.
‘Through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit…’ I remember this phrase from my childhood in the Catholic Church. I was raised by a fervent mother, yet her fervor was not for religion, and she lived her life in Christ as a penitent outside the walls of the Church. Her fervor, as I remember it, was for God’s love. Acknowledging her sins before Him, she relied on His love to forgive and cure her, even when His cure seemed worse than the disease.
She knew better.
‘God is love.’ The Lord Jesus Christ reveals in the parable of the prodigal son that the Father is more willing to receive us than we are to go to Him, yet to Him we must go. Again, Christ Himself declares that if we see Him we see the Father, that is, the Divine Nature is revealed to us, both who and what God is, according to our capacity and desire, when we come to Christ. This is not an ‘altar call’ but a humble acceptance of God’s will for us.
Fervor is not defending God and His righteousness against the unbelieving world, but seeking God and His righteousness before everything else. Fervor is not withholding grace, that is, mercy, from those we judge unworthy, but returning grace for grace, loving others as we have been loved. Fervor does not wreak depredation, it works miracles. It does not tear down, it builds up. It does not complain, it encourages. In short, fervor, because it is essentially love, covers all offenses, ours and our neighbor’s.
A fervent man is a quiet man. Of course, I include women in this, and it is often women who are more fervent than men, who sometimes mistake zeal for fervor out of manly pride. A fervent man is a strong man, not to defend but to save. His protection is for the weak, and the most potent weapons in his arsenal are peace and love. He knows he can trust His God to command his every move, come what may, and he fears not the judgment of man any more than Christ did.
Even losing, he wins. Why? Because he is Christ’s.