Entering Orthodoxy

Chrismation of PaulYesterday I was sealed with the Holy Spirit and became an Orthodox Christian. What does this mean? As Father Deacon and I were making our way down to the church I told him that one thing that bothered me about so much Theology in the West is the continual insistence on trying to figure things out. With that said, he reminded me that the East has a problem with over-speculation which is why most of the heresies come from the East. To be sure, I know I am new to this way and need to be careful lest I’m a little over-zealous or just a blabbering romantic.

Yesterday in so many Western churches it was Trinity Sunday or the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Today I no longer call this a “doctrine” as much as the discovery of the nature of God as Three persons who are yet co-eternal in one substance and therefore in One God. I am no longer in the business of debating what it means as much as accepting that the way I have chosen is about experiencing the Trinity in worship. I can only describe God in my experience and through the experiences of the saints.

Have you ever tried to explain the Trinity so it makes sense? Good luck. The truth is that it makes no sense to any capability of human reason we can muster up. It is a mystery. It is no doubt the greatest mystery of the Christian faith and at the same time the most fundamental. Yet the nature of God is the most debated and discussed issue in all of Christianity. It’s why we have theology or “reasoning out God.” Here’s a little secret about the Eastern Orthodox tradition though: there aren’t many saints who are called “theologian.”

Theology isn’t so much about debating and reasoning out God as it is bearing witness to one’s experience with God. There are three saints recognized as theologian in the East: St. John the Evangelist, St. Gregory Nazianus, and St. Symeon the New Theologian. Why? The reason is that these three are recognized as having the authentic experience of union with God and it is from this union and mystical experience that their understanding of God emerges. Theology is the creative process of God working within us. It is a giving and receiving of the presence of God that we share with each other. Through the Eucharist, God literally communicates God’s very being with us.

As Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh writes:

What counts when speaking about God is not how much we can understand of His Mystery and how much we can say; what counts is the mystical experience itself as we encounter God beyond concepts and ideas. Such experience cannot be fully conceptualized. However, something has to be said about our mystical experience of God in God’s communion and Presence, as God communicates Himself to us in His “energies.” That “something” is our share in “theologizing,” and our poor way of speaking about God’s Mystery, always inadequate and always imperfect.

Yesterday I took my first communion. The Holy Spirit was sealed in me with the anointing of the oil. It was a confirmation of my baptism and recognition that I have chosen a new way of relating to God. Father said before I partook of the mystery that as a long student trained in Reformed theology, as he once was, I had to unlearn a lot. This has been very true. But for every thing I have unlearned I have learned that those questions that didn’t have answers no longer need rational explanations. Those questions require participation in the very being of God.

  • http://nateduffy.blogspot.com Nathan Duffy

    I’m not exactly an expert, but even with my limited expertise, you seem to be way downplaying the rational and philosophical elements of the Eastern tradition, especially the Cappadocian fathers and especially as it relates to Trinitarian dogmatics.

    “Have you ever tried to explain the Trinity so it makes sense? Good luck. The truth is that it makes no sense to any capability of human reason we can muster up. It is a mystery.” — As I say, I’m not quite sure thisline of thinking comports closely w/ the Eastern tradition. The infinite Triune God is of course not ultimately, wholly subdue-able, and therefore mysterious to some degree, but not entirely. If it were wholly, utterly mystery we wouldn’t know that subordinationism, modalism, tritheism etc. are in fact heresies, but we do know that and one of the main reasons we know that is because of the speculative-theological contributions of your new tradition.

    • http://notes-from-off-center.com drewtatusko

      Nathan,

      Thank you for your comment. I think continuing to read offers a partial answer to your issue with the post. To wit, Metr. Maximos’ quote here: “That “something” is our share in “theologizing,” and our poor way of speaking about God’s Mystery, always inadequate and always imperfect.” I did not say the Trinity is entirely unknowable and the mysteries are not entirely unknowable. The point is that reason alone cannot make sense of it because it is a paradox. Hence the necessity of experience through the Liturgy. Heresies rose up when the question of union with God was at stake. This is a point emphasized by Lossky among others. The life of the theology flows from the Liturgy itself which contains the theology of the church unto that end. Hope this helps clarify a bit.

      • http://nateduffy.blogspot.com Nathan Duffy

        I agree that partaking of the sacraments and the life of the Church can’t be properly separated from one’s “theologizing”, and that the latter is fed by the former etc. The thrust of the post seemed to be eschewing rational theology altogether, or at least overly so, and favoring ‘mystery’ over-against theology.

        • http://notes-from-off-center.com drewtatusko

          “The West” is an over-simplification too. What I have seen over a long stretch of time is that, as you point out, post-Enlightenment (and arguably before that in the rise of Calvinism or even before) there seems to be a trend of seeking other resources to work out the fundamental issue of the relationship of reason to mystery. That wasn’t the aim of this post however. Only the start here :-) The Fathers didn’t eschew rational thought either. But they understood its limits and then were wise to leave it be. That’s not limited to the Fathers and Mothers either. It plays out in many others through the East and West. It’s really a redefinition of what we mean by “theology” that is at stake in my judgment rather than favoring an idea of what reason is and how it functions in what we can say about about God.

  • http://nateduffy.blogspot.com Nathan Duffy

    The difference between East and West isn’t between mystery and unreason on one hand and dogma and doctrine on the other. The West has perhaps adopted too much of Enlightenment’s categories, language, and concepts, while the East wisely avoided them, but the extreme dichotomy being sketched between ‘reason’ and ‘mystery’ seems to be false, or — minimally — exaggerated.

    • http://nateduffy.blogspot.com Nathan Duffy

      ^^ Not a reply to your reply, just an addendum to initial comment I thought of

  • Scott Cairns

    I think the difference the author speaks to is not so much one of less theological inquiry in the East, but has more to do with the disposition most often privileged within that inquiry, a nearly rabbinic modesty, as if the theologian prefaced his speculation with “and another interpretation might be….”

    • isaaccrabtree

      Dear Mr. Cairns, every time I listen to you speak I hear about Judaism, midrashic interpretation, PaRDeS, etc.

      “This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth… They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.” – Apostle Paul’s Epistle to Titus 1:13,14, 16.

      “Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.” The Lord Jesus Christ, in the Book of Apostle John’s Revelation, 3:9.

      “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Romans 2:28, 29

  • isaaccrabtree

    The consciousness of this [me-- that God exists, maintains everything, and is the Rewarder] gives rise to a feeling of complete dependence on God, and enkindles the fear of God. These and other things are stirred up by the conscience, that witness and judge of our affairs and feelings, among which is rarely to be found anything which God would look upon with kindness. The conscience, alarmed by both the fear of God and the feeling of complete dependence upon God, furnishes the person with a feeling of the hopelessness of his situation: “Where shall I go? Where shall I run to?” But there is nowhere to run; he has been caught and is in the hands of God– the Judge and Requiter. He feels the wrath of God from Heaven against all unrighteousness. Then comes the good news of the Gospel and a way out of misfortune. Without the Gospel, the awakening of our spirit would be ruinous, or would unavoidably plunge us into despair. But the goodness of God makes it so that the true awakening of the spirit is brought about and accompanied by the Gospel. To the person who inwardly asks as a result of the awakening of the spirit, “Where shall I go? Where shall I run to?” the Gospel proclaims, “Why run anywhere? Come beneath the protection of the Cross and be saved. The Son of God, Who was incarnate, died on the Cross to cleanse our sins. Believe this, and you will receive remission of sins and encounter the grace of God.” The Apostles, in preaching the Gospel, always did this very thing. They would arouse anxiety, then they would say, “Believe in the crucified Lord, and you will be saved.” That is what St. Peter did in his first sermon, on the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit. He alarmed and frightened the Jews until they began to cry out: “What shall we do then? Where can we go?” At that point, he proclaimed to them, Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. (Acts 2:38) St. Paul in his letter to the Romans also contrived so that at the beginning he would frighten everyone, saying, The wrath of God is revealed (Romans 1:18), and only then did he indicate to everyone the refuge through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22, etc.)… God does not desire the death of a sinner, but He does present a choice, and only he who chooses salvation will be saved. If our consent were not required, God could save everyone in a single instant, for He wants everyone to be saved. In that case, no one at all would perish. But our free will does not always act wisely; it becomes stubborn and does not obey even God. That is how we perish.

    … To summarize: Repent, desire salvation in the Lord, and acquire good cheer in it. These actions are calming; they occur inwardly and give contentment through their local manifestation. The final action- the willingness to do everything which is required– is the real active force in salvation, insofar as it depends upon us; it is the source of saving activity and the life that is saved. This willingness, while it is expressed by us alone, is weak; but when Divine grace establishes itself within us, then it becomes all-powerful, knows no impediment, and overcomes everything. It is the unquenchable zeal for pleasing God and complete sincerity in fulfillment of the Divine will, in the presence of complete faith in the Lord and trust in salvation in Him Alone. It fulfills the Divine eternal purpose; we should be holy and without blame before Him in love (Ephesians 1:4), for which the Lord makes us zealous of good works (Titus 2:14).

    - St. Theophan the Recluse, from The Spiritual Life and How to Be Attuned to It


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