Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Depth of our Faith and the Experience of God


Dear Parish Faithful,

The book we are currently reading in our Adult Education Class, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh - Essential Writings, was edited by Gillian Crow, who also wrote an excellent introduction about the metropolitan’s life and spiritual development. She was his diocesan secretary for the last ten years of Metropolitan Anthony’s life. She has also written a full-scale biography of the metropolitan, entitled This Holy Man, published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press in 2005. As the book of his Essential Writings was compiled for both Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians, she has included some passages that provide some good background into the Orthodox ethos. Here are three such paragraphs from her Introduction that may say something that we already know, but in a manner that neatly and clearly summarizes the living faith and practice of the Church. Such reminders are good for those of us who are Orthodox, so that we do not lose sight of the depth of our Faith and the experience of God in the routine of conventional church-going:

In fact, the timelessness of Orthodoxy refers to the Kingdom of God, a realm outside time, a realm where earthly considerations – whether those of the fourth or twenty-first centuries – do not hold sway. When we partake of one of our services we are in the eternal “now,” we share in an experience, however veiled, of heaven on earth. At the Incarnation God became man; he came down to us and to our level – in order to draw us up to him; and our faith, our worship, our Christian life, are a participation in God’s eternal life, in the wondrous “now” of the Kingdom, rather than in the world and its secular culture.

Thus the incense, the myriads of candles, the singing, the colorful icons and frescoes are not optional ornamentation. They are ways of using all our human senses to glorify God and to become aware that we are in his presence. Our worship exemplifies a sense of wholeness that runs through Orthodoxy. We do not like dividing worship from belief, body from soul, prayer from fasting, faith from works. Indeed, the word “Orthodoxy” is often described as meaning right faith and worship – not one or the other but both together. Our worship expresses our faith.

We experience how the lightness of fasting is an aid to prayer (conversely everyone knows the sluggishness produced by overeating). We understand how the body as well as the soul responds to God and will share in the Resurrection. We do not see the body as a temporary suit of clothes, defiled by sin, that becomes redundant at death. We remember that we are unique creatures of body and soul together, both destined for Eternity, and that Christ cared for the whole human person, and healed bodies as well as souls. We are vividly aware that all our sins are committed with our bodies, but are moved by the desires of the soul; so they cannot be separated. Similarly, Orthodoxy has never been faced with the opposition of faith to works that caused such division in Western Christianity. We see faith and works as two sides of the same coin that cannot be separated.”

From Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh – Essential Writings, Introduction, p. 20-21.

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