Finding the Problems at Home – Its All in Your Mind

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If you like history (as I do) then there is always a temptation to look to history for answers. It is certainly the case that the present has much of its situation from the givens it inherited in its history. But we are none us completely explained by our forebears. I certainly have aspects inherited from my parents, but my personal world is still not the sole result of long historical forces at work.

We can see this in individuals – the interplay between the givenness of history and the freedom of the present – and we are not usually so thickheaded or prejudiced as to completely write-off another individual because of his history (racial, cultural or otherwise).

By the same token it is never accurate to describe the present situation of Christianity solely by its previous historical moments. It is certainly impossible to describe the present without a great deal of historical knowledge (particularly if your Church happens to be 2,000 years old and not started last Wednesday in a shopping center). Nevertheless, having described what happened in the filioque controversy or the Photian Schism is to describe a moment, or a century in the life of the Church and not everything that has happened since, much less its present situation.

Thus, although it is useful to describe East and West (as was done by the quote from Kireevsky in my previous posting), it is increasingly not descriptive of the present. The world is becoming a very small place indeed. Modes of thought in one place are easily transferred to another. Knowledge is becoming quite universal. For some strange reason I sat with my wife and watched part of a program last night on rhinoplasty (“nose jobs”) in modern day Iran. It was obvious that the influences were not the result of some critical moment in Iranian history, but from the global culture that reaches everywhere. The magazines and pictures the young women (and men) were admiring and using for describing their ideal noses, were all Western glamour magazines. Apparently a Western nose is to be preferred to a “Roman” nose (that was their term) even in Iran. Go figure.

There is certainly a set of doctrines that are unique to Orthodoxy, or certain doctrines that are absent from Orthodoxy. The services of the Church, in their congregant form, offer an understanding of God, salvation, and our relationship with Him that bears only occasional similarity to Western Christianity. The more modern the Christian form, the less it is likely to bear resemblance to this rich inheritance of the faith. Some look at this inheritance and write of the “mind” or “phronema” of the Church. Such a world-view can be cultivated – but only with a certain artificiality. What exists as truly the “mind” of the Church is described quite clearly in Philippians 2:5-11:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This mind of the Church has existed from the beginning and is our gift in Christ Jesus. It is to this mind that the writings of the Fathers bear witness and it is to this mind that the lives of the martyrs bear witness. It is not a particular Byzantine or Russian mind with which Orthodoxy should concern itself. To recover a particular historical mind is of no use. But the kenotic (emptying) mind of Christ is the true phronema of the Church. It is the love of God in action in the world. It is the mind that saves us because it makes us like God.

Every saint of the Church, to some degree, gave evidence of this very mind. Every sin within the membership of the Church betrays the absence of this mind. Every murder, every adultery, every theft, every idle word of gossip bears witness that the mind of Christ is not present, or, if present, is being spurned for a darker, and deviant mind.

I have no ecumenical axe to grind, no agenda that I must see accomplished. But I know that the stated purpose of God will not be brought about without the mind which is ours in Christ Jesus:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him… (Ephesians 1:2-10).

Such a mind will not come about as a result of mastering historical argument or spiritual one-upsmanship. It comes through the slow work of prayer, repentance, fasting – in short – the full ascestical tradition of the Church.

8 comments:

  1. I had no particular person in mind as I wrote this piece, other than most Orthodox apologists in general (including myself), who frequently take refuge in historical argument. I write as a reminder that it is only in the mind of Christ that the argument will be resolved. We finally have no weapon other than the Weapon of Peace, the Trophy of the Cross, which is the fullest display of the mind of Christ.

  2. I agree that the world is smaller and that this has implications on the Church (of which I include Protestants, sorry). It is interesting to me that a Russian Orthodox Parish (or whatever they’re called) can be found at the end of my street here in my small part of America. Because of this closer proximity, I have become a bit more interested in the Eastern form of the Church, and I’ve enjoyed reading bits and pieces about the Church.

    You wrote: The more modern the Christian form, the less it is likely to bear resemblance to this rich inheritance of the faith.

    But I wonder if the more “modern” the form of the Church the more it is able to answer the questions of the day? You have spoken well of the mystery(ies) of the Faith, but does speaking of mystery(ies) in an age where mystery is replaced with knowledge of the world answer anything? In other words, this age is very much interested in discovery, not mystery. So the danger I see is in using the term mystery the Church cannot speak to those who are interested in discovery. I hope this makes some sense.

    Thanks.

  3. Sorry, Mysteries in interchangeable with Sacrament in Orthodoxy, I meant the Sacraments. They don’t speak, they actually confer grace. It’s not sense that we need from Christianity, it’s the power to change people from sinners into saints. Modern forms do not do a better job of that – statistically speaking. Nothing has made the Orthodox faith “out of date.” Instead, modern forms have continued to reduce Christianity to a caricature, jettisoning the larger part of Christian teaching for a mess of pottage. I remain unconvinced.

  4. Father Stephen:

    This line of thought is like one of the first meditations I read on your site. It began as a quotation, perhaps from Fr. Sophrony. You ended with some commentary, remarking that the work of God’s people is not to rebuild some long-lost Byzantium, as “too many Normans have flowed under that bridge.” Rather, Orthodoxy brings God’s word to bear on the present, so we are not born in a time out of joint, but for just such a time as this.

    Those thoughts struck a deep chord in me, and I have kept and re-read that post (though a copy is not handy here now). Some of us can imagine we could handle the lions of Rome or other past oppressions (we most likely wouldn’t), but we find ourselves reduced to tears by the acids of popular thought and the cold fires of our society. Your response, as I gather it, is that we are sent into the world in this time to declare Christ crucified and to forgive our enemies, and that in doing these things we will witness to the power of God.

    It is convicting to see how your core message returns again and again, with such depth. Then again, you say you are a simple man, and your congregation thinks you only give a single sermon . . .

  5. I should point out that it isn’t Orthodox apologia that have brought me to consider whether I should change my definition of “home”. Those works might quiet my doubts about certain practices and ideas where my prejudices corrupt any potential union, but the spirit of Orthodoxy (this mind you speak of) as lived by those I’ve “met” online or in reading is the better testimony.

    I read a Russian priest who said the greatest argument was metalogical. He said he would give a candy to a Buddhist in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Forgive me if I misrepresent his words here, but it seems that the priest views this as giving the non-believer contact with the Divine which is more potent than human reason.

  6. Regarding the “questions of the day” I will venture that this was the issue at hand when Pilate asked “what is truth?” The question is the same today, and so is the answer.

  7. Pingback: Spera In Deo

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