Thursday, September 3, 2015
Not to say that Orthodox Christians have a corner on poverty and humility, but they do. At least you would think so by looking at what gets posted by them on social networking platforms like Google+. Poverty, yes, not of material goods maybe, but of independent thought. Humility, well, what can I say? If anything else is true about them, I don’t know, but if they ever tire of mining the depths of the fathers for tidbits of elusive but illumined wisdom, I’ll eat your prayer rope.
Mining, yes, not for earthly gold, not for the wisdom of this world, but for God’s holy wisdom where it can be found. And generous. Have I forgotten to mention how generous they are? I mean, how generous we are? Because although myself, I only go mining from time to time, instead usually just airing out my mental linens, I too am an Orthodox whatever. I used to call myself an Orthodox muzhik. I don’t know where I got that word. I’m a Slav with a little bit of Yid mixed in, maybe that’s it.
One of my favorite, ultra-mystical bible verses comes from the book of Job in the Jerusalem Bible version—I have to mention this, because Job is one of those books that is often messed with by bible scholars and rearranged versewise by different translators, and my version may not match yours, jot for tittle—‘Man makes an end of darkness when he pierces to the uttermost depths the black and lightless rock’ (Job 28:3). When I go mining, this bible verse is my guide.
Not to take it out of context, perhaps I should quote the entire passage. The odd thing about random quotations from the bible—or from the Church fathers—is that they often seem more mystic, mysterious, illuminating and ultra-spiritual in isolation than when their original context is shown. This is true of my bible verse as well. Here is the passage:
Silver has its mines, and gold a place for refining. Iron is extracted from the earth, the smelted rocks yield copper. Man makes an end of darkness when he pierces to the uttermost depths the black and lightless rock. Mines the lamp-folk dig in places where there is no foothold, and hang suspended far from mankind.
Job 28:1-4 Jerusalem Bible
‘Mines the lamp-folk dig’? and ‘hang suspended far from mankind’? What gives? Yes, in this case, I think scalping the passage and keeping just the verse that’s my favorite, dangerous though it may be, preserves the biblical illiterate from even worse heresies than the occasional mining expedition. Years ago when I was one of those ‘all who wander are not lost’ kind of people, I picked up a book on the hollow earth hypothesis in which these weird verses were used to support it.
But back to mining. We Orthodox Christians are always on the lookout for treasure. Maybe that’s why I feel so at home here. Like the others, I too am a treasure-hunter. No, we’re not like that fellow from upstate New York who wanted to find treasure so badly that he fadged up a tall tale about angels and golden plates. No, we don’t fadge up anything, we want real treasure. Dark angels don’t guide us. Our guides are shaggy beards and shroud-capped elders hidden from the world.
The treasures we find, as you can read anywhere we Orthodox dump our jewels, are bona fide, authentic, soul-saving gems of hoary wisdom—I mean, holy wisdom—that miners before us have dug up on the holy mountain and other places we can’t go ourselves. Their generosity is simply mind-boggling, and their hospitality is—what can I say?—so massive, that we can no more escape it than we could crawl out of a black hole. Once even light comes near, it’s never seen again.
Well, I’m no different, I suppose, even though I don’t shrink from airing out my ‘mental linens,’ as I call them. Generosity and hospitality are the Orthodox trademark, even though they’re often concealed behind a windscreen of hyper-scrutiny, nano-triumphalism, cosmic costumery, and pathogenic piety. That’s a mouthful, and half the words aren’t even in the dictionary. Another trademark of Orthodoxy. Our language is suitably obscure, an ‘ornament and a safeguard.’
Again, back to mining. Since we’re never satisfied with anything merely ‘on the surface’ we’ve got to dig deep. I do it all the time, except in my case it’s not into a thick pile of books, but into my own flesh. I too use the same treasure maps that other Orthodox use, but somehow—perhaps because I think that the old is in the new, not the other way round—I’m not afraid to look for the treasure in places ‘where there is no foothold’ instead of only where beards and bones abound.
Mining for wisdom, the only treasure worth digging for, we go down, down below the flow of daily life, like divers into the sea, but a sea so thick, so hard, so rocky, so dark, yes, even so cold, that none but the tough-minded dare to delve its depths. What we come up with when we ‘pierce to the uttermost depths the black and lightless rock’ is, in fact, ‘the end of darkness.’ Once we have found it, what do we do with it? Do we keep it, share it, peddle it, or shave it?
But as for the world, that shallow, paltry thing, we miners know better than to waste our hard-won treasures there. ‘Death to the world’ is our message, as we take another plunge.
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.)
2 Corinthians 11:23
at 10:23 AM