I remember a talk given by Fr. Thomas Hopko last year in Dallas. In the course of some side remarks, he said that his son, Fr. John Hopko, had been asked what his dad was doing now that he was retired and no longer Dean of St. Vladimir’s. As reported by Fr. Tom, young Fr. Hopko said, “He’s going around the country talking to whomever will listen and telling them to remember that it’s really all about God.”
I liked the statement then and I like it now. It is all too easy to become occupied with one or another part of our life in the Church and without intention, discover that we’ve forgotten God. I think this happens all the time. Any other activity will do – even theology (or writing a blog). It is in light of such forgetfulness that I think it is important to remember that we are ignorant (of God) and that knowing God is really what everything is about. If we do not know God – then we know almost nothing.
Several years ago I had lunch with a friend and his son. His son was newly graduated from Law School – which has to be something like newly graduated from seminary. I was wearing my cassock, thus my identity as priest was obvious. My friend and his son were Roman Catholic. I can only assume that his son was a somewhat “progressive” Roman Catholic based on the conversation we had.
His first statement to me following introductions was: “Why doesn’t your Church ordain women to the priesthood?”
I was certainly caught off guard. It’s not that the question surprises me – it just surprises me when it’s the first thing someone asks me. I think my answer caught him off guard.
“You don’t know God,” I said. “Your question is actually a very deep question but I can’t begin to answer it if you don’t know God. If you want to know God, then we can talk about that.”
The conversation stopped shortly thereafter. He made no defense of himself (to his credit). I’m not sure why I said what I said (and I bore no animosity in saying it). But as I searched my heart for a proper answer, I realized that everything I wanted to say presumed a knowledge that I did not think the young man had (not book knowledge – but true knowledge of God). I still think this is required for a proper answer to that question.
Indeed, true knowledge of God, which we have in such little measure, is required before all things. Every other spiritual conversation must flow from that knowledge or it is a waste of breath. Orthodox theology utterly requires such experiential knowledge (this is pretty much the entire point of St. Gregory Palamas).
Not only does every conversation require this knowledge – our own salvation itself requires, even consists of this knowledge (John 17:3). Thus the importance of being ignorant. We cannot know what we need to know until we know and confess what we don’t know. And we will not know what we must know until we pursue it (Him) with all our heart.
God save us from all forms of false theology (which is every form of theology that is pursued apart from the knowledge of God, whether by Orthodox Christian, or his Pagan Counterpart).
The recognition of such ignorance should drive us to prayer – to every action the Church has given us with which to pursue such knowledge. It may even drive us to silence.