Recently I had a conversation with a catechumen who told me that a relative of hers was offended that the Orthodox Church taught that he and other devout Christians outside the Orthodox Church were not saved. She explained to her relative that, on the contrary, that was not what the Orthodox Church teaches. However, the relative said that if the Orthodox Church claims to be the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and all who are saved are in the Church, then those who are not in the Orthodox Church are not saved. No words to the contrary could dislodge the relative’s firm faith in his syllogism.
My catechumen didn’t know what to do with this. After reflecting on the matter, I suggested that the next time she has a similar conversation with her relative, she might suggest that he consider the possibility that what he would mean if he (or his church group) were to say these words may not be what the Orthodox Church means when it says them.
Words, especially theological words, have different meanings in different contexts. This is why argument is futile.
The Desert Fathers very seldom argued. True, some great hierarchs and apologists did argue. It seems that whenever words will be used, a certain amount of argument is unavoidable. However, very few of us are great hierarchs or real Christian philosophers (the category of “apologist” is not generally used in the Orthodox Church–the second century apologist Justin is known in the Orthodox Church as Justin the Philosopher and Martyr). Most of us argue not because we must, but because we are disturbed.
It is a disturbed heart and mind that compels us to argue. When we are not at peace, when the other speaks words that disturb our peace, we feel compelled to defend our position, our faith, our barely-held-together construct that lets us feel as though we finally have things pretty much figured out. And herein lies our problem.
Our Christian peace cannot lie in a construct or idea or rational understanding. If anything that can be said can disturb our peace, it is because our peace is not rooted in the knowledge of Christ in our hearts. Attending to our hearts is no easy task in the world. We have been trained to encounter everything with a rational mind, to form mental constructs of reality, to dissect, to analyze and to categorize. Learning to encounter the world with the heart is a life-long discipleship. Learning to attend to the peace “that passes all understanding” is the very Christian labor of our lives.
I must confess that I only experience brief moments of attention in my heart. Most of the time, like most of you, my mind is scattered and my heart is left to be the dwelling place of whatever happens to be passing through my mind–thoughts, feelings, emotions. However, I have come to know that attention in the heart is both a skill that one acquires and a gift of Grace (mostly a gift of Grace).
When I am at peace in my heart, my mind attending to the Jesus Prayer or some beautiful reflection or just feeling the piercing pain of love, then words do not bother me. I am aware of the weakness of words, my own and those used by the other. When I am at peace, there is no need to argue; for my confidence is in the God of peace whose presence dissolves all intellectual knots, personal problems and apparent contradictions.
“In peace, let us pray to the Lord.” This is the continual advice, command really, of the Church. It is good to spend our life learning how to do it.