In October of 2006 I wrote the first article for this blog. The second article written is the short set of paragraphs offered in italics below. It was a sober beginning – written mostly for myself – stating what matters.
Time has passed. The blog now has about a million views a year. It has produced a book and even occasionally been quoted. And it’s easy to forget what matters.
My life has had many ups and downs and a variety of changes over the seven years I’ve been writing. Last week that included surviving a heart attack. For a man of 59 it was a surprise. It means changes in my life, generally for the better. It does not, for now, effect the blog. It does effect me. Everything does. My interior life has more bearing on my writing than I would like (most of the time). I recently found kind words in a blog review:
Fr. Stephen is a priest in the Orthodox Church in America, and his writings are examples of the best of contemporary Orthodoxy. There are no punches pulled — he will leave you with no doubt about where he stands on the state of modern Christianity — but none of those switchblade-stab asides either, where the critique gets you when you aren’t looking. Fr. Stephen can be equally dismissive about the blind side of his fellow Orthodox (e.g. here: “Contrary to modern Orthodox conspiracy theories, ecumenism was not invented in the Vatican. It was invented on the frontiers of 19th century America”). There is no nostalgia for Byzantium or the “Third Rome,” and no rallies for social or political “agendas.” The theme here, repeated through a thousand nuanced variations but constant and gentle, the only one that matters, is addressed to each human being:metanoia. Repentance. Conversion of heart.
I had to ponder the “no punches pulled.” There are many times I wish that I refrained from punches – times when the pain inflicted easily outweighs any intended benefit. “Truth,” we are told, “is a two-edged sword.” It is far better that someone come to their own difficult conclusions than to have them intelligently hammered into their heads (I am here being arrogant and assuming my hammering is always intelligent). Thus, I ask forgiveness of those who have to struggle past the hammer to get to whatever knowledge they may seek. I’m not a saint – just an educated priest.
Though many things have changed over the past seven years, I am pleased that this second piece of my writing has not. Had I not written it, I would wish that I had. It still expresses my hearts desire and judges my work. I reprint occasionally as a reminder for myself. It seemed to today to offer it yet again. Blessings!
God matters and what matters to God matters. I know that sounds very redundant, but I’m not sure how else I want to say it. There are many things that do not matter – because they do not matter to God. Knowing the difference between the two – what matters to God and what does not requires that we know God.
And this is theology – to know God. If I have a commitment in theology, it is to insist that we never forget that it is to know God. Many of the arguments (unending) and debates (interminable) are not about what we know, but about what we think.
Thinking is not bad, nor is it wrong, but thinking is not the same thing as theology. It is, of course, possible to think about theology, but this is not to be confused with theology itself.
Knowing God is not in itself an intellectual activity for God is not an idea, nor a thought. God may be known because He is person. Indeed, He is only made known to us as person (we do not know His essence). We cannot know God objectively – that is He is not the object of our knowledge. He is known as we know a person. This is always a free gift, given to us in love. Thus knowledge of God is always a revelation, always a matter of grace, never a matter of achievement or attainment.
It matters that we know God because knowledge of God is life itself. “This is eternal life,” Jesus said, “to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”
The Orthodox way of life is only about knowing God. Everything we do, whether it is prayer, communion, confession, forgiveness, fasting – all of it is about knowing God. If it is about something else, then it is delusion and a distraction from our life’s only purpose.
Knowing God is not a distraction from knowing other persons, nor is knowing other persons a distraction from knowing God. But, like God, knowing other persons is not the same thing as thinking about them, much less is it objectifying them.
Knowing others is so far from being a distraction from knowing God, that it is actually essential to knowing God. We cannot say we love God, whom we have not seen, and hate our brother whom we do see, St. John tells us. We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies (1 John 4:7-8).
And this matters.
This blog does not matter – except that I may share something that makes it possible for someone to know God or someone may share something that allows themselves to be known. This matters.