Friday, July 24, 2009

Ye Shall Know the Truth (Part 2 of 3)

Why is it that if anybody claims to know The Truth, that is, the Secret of the Universe, the Mystery of the Ages, this claim sounds both ludicrous and arrogant in modern ears?

Jesus promised that if we live His teachings, “then you are my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” (That’s a big “if” that usually is ignored when people quote the rest of the verse.)

The Apostles were not ashamed when they claimed to be preaching The Truth. St. Paul speaks of

“the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Colossians 1:26-28)

"Christ in you, the hope of glory." That is the Mystery, the Meaning of it All.

St. Paul also wrote:

We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written:

"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him."

But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (I Cor. 2:7-12)

And St. John says, “For the law was given by Moses, [but] grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

The Apostles knew that they knew The Truth, and were not bashful about saying so. Yet today it begins to seem downright arrogant in and of itself for any person to suppose he knows Truth; it allegedly exhibits an alarming degree of confidence in himself.

For Protestants and liberal Catholics (who’ve given up belief in the infallibility of the pope), this would indeed be true, since it's by their own efforts they arrive at their convictions. They get out their Bibles, together with whatever other writings they consider relevant, and figure out what they believe. They check it against their creeds or confessions to see if those creeds or confessions match their own convictions, or if not, whether these creeds, confessions, or arguments can persuade them to change their convictions.

In that context, yes, to say one has found The Truth is tantamount to claiming to be smarter than others, and/or holier, and/or (as in the case of the pope) specially privileged. And yes, any of these positions does smack of arrogance.

An Orthodox Christian, however, does not assume he can know anything by his own effort alone, or that he is competent to interpret the Scriptures or is worthy to judge anything. He consults his brothers and sisters, especially his spiritual father and those in whom the Life of Christ is most manifest, the saints (including, via their writings, those who have already gone to their rest). No one person in the Church knows everything there is to know of Christ, but there are always some among us who know the answer for which we are searching.

If an Orthodox Christian has trouble accepting any teaching, he assumes that his sin-clouded reason is at fault, not the teaching of the Church. He keeps searching for enlightenment. He knows from experience that God will show him the answer in due course, and the answer will satisfy his whole being, spirit, soul, mind and heart. He knows the answer will bring peace, release, joy, and an infusion of new life. He knows he will come to understand where he had gone wrong, and why. He keeps praying, reading the Scriptures and other writings, and keeps asking those who are holier than himself until this happens, until the revelation given the whole Church from the beginning is revealed also to him. Truth is more revealed than discovered.

If an Orthodox Christian seems to hear God speaking to him in his heart during prayer, he does not assume it really is God. He considers that he is unworthy to receive direct revelation from God. Therefore, the "revelation" is more likely to be from the devil, who can masquerade as an angel of light. Even if it came from God, the Orthodox Christian considers it likely he may have misinterpreted it in his sin-scarred mind. Thus, instead of saying, "Jesus told me…", he runs to his spiritual father, confesses what has happened, and seeks guidance.

In short, for the Orthodox Christian, his confession of The Truth is not arrogance, but the simple acknowledgment of a miracle: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)

For the Orthodox Christian, his confidence is precisely not in himself.

Or if it is, or if we are proud in any other way, then, Orthodox or not, we have not yet found the Truth, either.

P.S.) I’m not sure how this ties in with the above, but somehow Fr. Stephen’s recent post does. Here’s a snippet from it to whet your appetite; please go read the whole thing.

…the existence of the Orthodox Church stands as a stark witness to the True and Living God - not the idea of a God – but God. In my own conversion, I was utterly shocked by this fact. I had read about Orthodoxy for years. I agreed with it for years. I would have even readily agreed for years to everything the Orthodox Church said of itself, and yet I remained outside. When, at last, my family and I were actually received into the Church, I was staggered by the reality of God. I know that sounds strange (since I had been an ordained Anglican priest for 18 years prior to that) but such was the case. There was no longer any question about discussing God, or refining the tradition, or even debating how all of it was to be applied. I was now in the thick of things and God was raining down in canon, text, Bishop, sacrament, penance, sight, sound, rubrics (which I could not begin to fathom at first) – everything!

Thus, I surprised friends constantly in my first year or so of Orthodoxy when they asked me what was the most important thing about my conversion. My constant reply (to this day) was: the existence of God.


DebD said...

I'm not sure others will buy your reasoning and honestly I'm not sure I agree totally either. To the outsider (just as I am now an outsider to Protestantism), it looks like I have come to this conclusion on my own. Just because I have seen this by looking at the lives of the saints doesn't seem much different than seeing it by reading the life and works of Calvin or Luther.

I see this as a faith issue. Either one believes it or not (just like the Resurrection). Unlike historical and doctrinal facts, I don't think it can be argued.

I absolutely agree with Fr. Stephen's last two sentences (although people never ask me and I don't usually tell). When I first read it my heart leapt that someone understood.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Good points. I think you are talking more about how one becomes Orthodox in the first place, while I'm talking about how it is when one is already Orthodox.

Yes, becoming Orthodox is by grace and faith, and ultimately faith doesn't come by argumentation. Agreed. Faith is a gift and, as you say, one accepts or rejects it.

And yes, there is is an aspect of it that involves ones own judgment, but perhaps you'll agree there is this difference. It is only if we decide to remain in error that we exercise our own, private judgment. If we decide to embrace Truth, we do so in community, together with our spiritual father, our godparent(s), the Holy Spirit, and with the prayers of the whole Church. In fact, the judgment we make, ironically, is that henceforth, we will no longer trust our own, private judgment. We will no longer judge the Church, but let her judge us. We will no longer judge the Scriptures, but let them judge us. And so forth. We defer to the opinion of the rest of the Church; isn't it so?

The decision we make is to take to heart St. Paul's counsel to "submit to one another in the fear of God." (Eph. 5:21) and St. Peter's exhortation: "All of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (I Peter 5:5)

What do you say?