I posted yesterday on the “texture of life,” noting that there is a richness to our lives that cannot be reduced and which seems to have an inherent tendency to reach towards wholeness – for life itself. I concluded with the observation that this texture is an echo of Pascha sounding its way through all creation.
I want to turn the same observations towards the Kingdom of God – which Christ taught us was already among us, or “within us.” He Himself brought that very Kingdom into our midst. Wherever He went the signs of the Kingdom followed: the blind received their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the dead were received back to life, and the poor had good news preached to them. How do you measure the gift of sight to a blind man, or the joy of a family who receives back into its midst one whom they thought dead?
The Orthodox Tradition, which is often described by many as “mystical,” is not “mystical” in any sense of “esoteric” or “strange.” Such adjectives for the faith are simply a reaching for words to describe a reality that is richer than any merely rational scheme or metaphysical explanation. It is the largeness of a Kingdom that cannot be described or circumscribed, and yet is found in the very heart of the believer. What words do we use to describe something which dwarfs the universe and yet dwells within us?
It is the texture of depth – or to use St. Paul’s expression: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). This is not merely a statement that nothing has the power to separate us from God, but that nothing has such height or depth as the love of God. It is a rich mixture of images – from the measurement of space, to the angels of heaven, to the elements of time – nothing reaches to the end of the love of God – the very stuff of His Kingdom.
It is for such reasons that I always find myself repelled by efforts to reduce doctrine to simplified formulas. Doctrine – the teaching of the faith should not reduce our understanding but enlarge it – to the very point of silence – and beyond. It is why it is so frustrating to try and explain icons. No one has an argument with the presence of words in the Church – the icons do the same things words do – only with color and in the language of silence. I can enter the Church, remain in silence and yet see (and hear!) something other than the incessant chatter of my own mind. The icons speak with the texture of the Kingdom – opening windows and doors that transcend every height and depth, things present and things to come.
Strangely, they open windows and doors into the heart, as do the words of Scripture and the rhythms of the Liturgy, all of them echoing the texture of the Kingdom, which, finally, is the very texture of our existence.
Hi there……I found your blog using the tag surfer feature of wordpress.
I because a Christian in September of 2006, and was baptized into the Greek Orthodox tradition. It’s true that Orthodoxy is very dynamic, but at the same time it is constant. I love that, about it. It doesn’t allow the addition of item after confusing item. It just keeps what was there at the beginning, no more and no less.
Athena of athenivanidx
oops………forgot to edit my comment. I meant “I became a Christian” not I because……..oops, sorry!
Sorry if the frustration you mention about explaining icons was brought on by my questions recently. I realize it must be a common question that gets annoying trying to answer over and over… I just tend to prefer conversations with real people to research with books when it comes to understand and finding answers about things like that, but maybe that’s partly because I’m too lazy. Again, sorry for frustrating you. I can assure you that was not my intention.
I continue to read your blog, and the posts continue to be enlightening: spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, etc. Thank you for providing such great reading material and a pleasant break from the business of my day.
I just found this blog a few weeks ago. Beautiful thoughts. Fr. Stephen, how do you find the time to write so much?
Not frustrated with you – an Orthodox priest is always explaining icons. It’s the frustration with explaining something that is so wonderful that it’s hard to explain. It’s frustration with me, not someone else. Indeed, questions can be a very helpful way to find the words.
Yes, indeed. It is changeless but without end – thus we never master it, we can only proceed as disciples. Many years on your Baptism!
Thank you for the kind words. Actually the writing just seems to flow out quickly – it’s not a time thing.
I wonder…..what would Scriptures say about people with multiple personalities? I’ve been wondering about this for a long time. I have heard from other denominations of Christianity that people believe anyone with multiple personalities or claiming to have them, are really inhabited by demons. I have a lot of trouble believing that at all. There are many different reasons people can be like that…..trauma, or being born into chaos and confusion, and needing some way on Earth to figure it all out.
Prayer is first and foremost of course, but for some people, having more than one persona is the best earthly construct they can come up with.
There are many possible explanations – demons being the rarest.
definitely comforting news. But the question I didn’t know how to ask before is: Is it an abomination to God to have multiple personalities?
I have about a zillion questions about it, that never managed to come out in words coherently until now.
God Bless and thanks for taking the time to respond.
I’m interested in learning to experience more of what you describe in your experience with icons. I’ve started praying with them, but not sure “how to,” if there is a “how”. I have an icon of Christ the Pantocrator and one of Christ at a young age — not sure what to make of that one at all, but I like it. I look forward to learning to see or realize or experience the Kingdom of Heaven, as well, the reality and presence of which is a new thing to me. Until recently it has been just a confusing phrase that I didn’t think too much about.
Peace and strength to you in this busy time.
athenivandx – I cannot think of why it would be an abomination to God. God wants us to be whole, but he does not treat our illnesses as abominations.
In some ways there’s not so much a “how,” other than learning to recognize that with an icon there is a presence, an opening to more, and that the more is with you (the saint, Theotokos, etc.). With time, that presence becomes more and more real and we learn more about where we truly are (not by imagination) but truly where we are. We are in paradise. You don’t have to pray staring at them, just be with them as you pray and know you do not pray alone.
Thanks, Father Stephen. That’s nice. That may sound trite, but I don’t mean it so. It’s nice, because it’s something that I can do; just pray being with them. And you nailed my unspoken questions on the head (do I stare at them? do I use my imagination?).
One more thought. This makes more sense of my Christ at a Young Age icon for me, as well. I’ve always agreed with your thoughts that Christ is outside of time (and you have illuminated this concept so much further for me), and as such, He can be with me as a youth struggling to maintain the right path (which, of course, He did so perfectly). I’m no longer a youth, but He can in a sense — a real sense, not imagined — minister to the youth that I was when I started to really go my own way. Beautiful. And necessary. For some reason that makes repentance a little bit easier to grasp. Glory to God!
Hello Fr. Stephen……….
just stopping by to say hi. I’m exhausted….I fell asleep watching Keith Olbermann……….gosh I love that man……..no that’s not why I fell asleep……I was exhausted….slept for almost 2 hours.
Which is a good thing, considering that it’s 2:15 am now and I need to be up by 7:30 so I can have breakfast and catch the shuttle to the train station…….to get to work. I was so out of it when I woke up from my unexpected nap…….I forgot I today is Friday and I have to go to work.
I am going to take the Sacrament of Holy Confession this Palm Sunday, and I’m wondering if you’ve written any posts on that topic that you could point me to………..
Thanks, and God Bless
in His Vineyard,