Reading more on the life and teaching of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, I found it interesting that what he thought of as “true faith” was the manifestation of the love of God in us towards all the world. It would have been certainly the case that as an Orthodox monk, St. Silouan would have believed all of the Church’s teaching without question. And yet when he spoke of the true faith it was the state of the heart that he considered rather than running a doctrine check on somebody.
True doctrine is of great importance because it reveals the nature and truth of God and the world to us. But such knowledge is not the final goal of the Christian life. Our final goal is indeed the true faith – that is – the love of God towards all the world dwelling within our hearts. From Father Sophrony’s book on St. Silouan:
The Staretz [St. Silouan] interpreted both the incarnation of God-the-Word and Christ’s whole earthly life as love towards the whole world, though the world is totally hostile to God. Similarly, he knew the Holy Spirit in the love which with its advent drives away all hatred, like light cancelling darkness; in the love which likens man to Christ in the inmost impulses of his soul. And this, according to the Staretz’ teaching, is true faith.
There is no opposition to rationality in any of this and certainly no opposition to true doctrine. But there is a recognition that the very simplist of all things – available to children and the weak minded (perhaps more truly available to them than the rest of us) – is the love of God dwelling in our hearts. Without this there is no true faith, no true salvation, no theosis, no true conformity to the image of God.
It is for this reason (at least) that the Church sets aside entire seasons of the year (such as Great Lent) so that we may pray and fast and give ourselves over to God in such a way as to acquire His love for the world in our hearts. And though true doctrine is found in every service, and there are feast days on the calendar to celebrate the great Ecumenical Councils – there is not anything like a season of the year set aside for the people of God to acquire “true doctrine.” It is simply the case that if we do not know the love of God for the whole world in our heart – then we would never be able to know true doctrine. The words spoken by the Deacon at every liturgy when he summons us to repeat the Nicene Creed say everything: “Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.” We may say the words for the rest of eternity – but unless and until we love one another we will not truly know or believe a word of it.
And thus we are called to love.