How much do you need to know to become a catechumen in the Orthodox Church? That was the question put to me by an inquirer at St. Herman’s one Sunday several months ago. The young lady in question was drawn to Orthodoxy and her heart yearned to serve Jesus in the fulness of the Faith she had recently discovered, but she felt unsure if she should take this step. There was so much to learn, so much she felt she didn’t know. Perhaps she wasn’t ready? Maybe she should wait until she knew more–all that depth of theology, and history, and tradition, and liturgy! Should she perhaps wait until she knew more before she took the step of entering the Church as a catechumen?
That, of course, is the question: how much do we need to know to serve God, how much mastery of the theological material available does God require of us? Will there be a quiz on the Last Day? Will we need to have read the Philokalia to become acceptable to the Lord, and become adept in the Jesus Prayer? Will He ask us to list the Seven Ecumenical Councils? The Twelve Great Feasts of the Church? God help us: will we need to master the Typikon?
It was when I was pondering this basic question of Christian discipleship that I heard the beautifully haunting duet sung by Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt, “Don’t Know Much”. One of the lines of the ballad says, “So many questions still left unanswered, so much I’ve never broken through. I don’t know much, but I know I love you. And that may be all I need to know.” That it seems to me is the Orthodox answer to the inquirer’s question. You don’t have to know much. All you have to know is that you love Jesus, and that He is your truth. Orthodoxy is about loving Him, and wrapping your life around Him until your dying breath. Everything else follows from this. And without this, everything else in your religious life will ultimately prove futile and failing.
Head knowledge, of course, is not to be disdained. Especially for clergy and for teachers in the Church, a knowledge and familiarity with history, theology, and liturgy is essential. If this were not so, God in His providence would not have given us the Scriptures. The sixty-six plus volumes in that sacred library all unite in telling us that there is much to be learned, many lessons in sanctity to be absorbed. The road through the world into the Kingdom is a long, winding, and dangerous one, and we need all the help we can get. As Chrysostom famously taught, ignorance of the Scriptures is a great abyss, and refusing to learn from the Scriptures places us in great danger of falling into it. We are called to love the Lord our God not only with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength, but with all our mind as well (Mk. 12:30), and thus we have no excuse for deliberately spurning the spiritual resources given to us out of laziness. But a merely cerebral approach to the Faith, one devoid of love for Jesus, is not sufficient. Love for Christ is foundational, and our intellectual and theological pursuits are meant to serve and further this love.
If you know a lot, that is wonderful. But it still remains true that the Lord of heaven and earth revealed His salvation to babes, to those who approach Him in trust and simplicity of heart (Lk. 10:21). Pure hearts are what is needed in order to be saved and to see God, not big brains. You may not know much. You only need to know that you love Jesus. And on the Last Day, that may be all you need to know.