There are facts and there are opinions. There is the truth and there are things that aren’t the truth.
Everyone holds to opinions. And everyone has access to facts. No one would argue with someone who thinks the earth is still flat. Why? Because they know that it is indeed round. We know the truth about the shape of the earth and do not need someone’s opinion about it, an opinion that is wrong.
This past Sunday Father Stephen preached about these very things: truth and opinion. He inspired me to ponder this further and to write up a blog about this.
We often treat the Orthodox Faith as a set of opinions do we not? We argue and debate the Faith as if it was just another set of opinions among many sets. I know reverts/converts may indeed have trouble with this. I did not come to the Orthodox Catholic Church because I found it to be the best set of opinions about God, Jesus, and the redemption story. I came to the Church because I found that it is indeed the “pillar and ground of truth” not a bed of opinions.
Although in my egotistical passions, I often treat the Faith as just another set of opinions to argue, debate, and a tool with which to beat people over the head. I am guilty of holding the Faith as mere opinion rather than KNOWING it as the Truth.
We argue opinions because of our egoism and passion-filled lives. We tend towards this even with the Faith, with Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy does not pretend to present another pretty set of opinions in a nice little box tied off with a big bow. This is what gets us in trouble with those pushing for ecumenism. We are seen as sectarians who are willfully stubborn and unwilling to cooperate. This could not be further from reality. We hold to the Faith as it was delivered to the Saints, given to the Apostles, by Jesus Christ, who handed it down in word and letter to their successors. It has been preserved for 2,000 years.
Now, that does mean there are not things with Orthodoxy that are opinion. There are such things. This was not Father’s point. When it comes to faith and practice the Faith has been given. We do need to argue about what we know and have experienced as the Truth.
The Orthodox Faith need not be argued about as just another set of opinions among many viable options. Just as you wouldn’t argue with someone who thinks the world is flat. It is real. It is true. It is the Church. We must come to know it to avoid such pointless, endless debates. This is not to say we do not speak of the Faith, preach the Gospel, share Orthodoxy, or answer questions about the Church. It means we avoid the argumentative spirit that comes along with things that are held as opinion. It means we know the truth and do not have to argue it as opinion.
Father mentioned in his sermon a young couple who use to come to St. Anne’s a few years ago. The man, I believe, was an atheist, but came at the beckoning of his wife. He was skeptical and such, but one day he was looking at the icon of Christ, pondering it, and asked Christ, “Why don’t I know You?” Father said it was at this moment that this man began to know God and to know Jesus. He revealed Himself to this man through the icon of Christ. He came and he saw. It was experiential for this man.
I am becoming more and more convinced that we cannot argue people into the Faith. We cannot treat the Faith as a set of opinions we hold or like a set of beliefs/presuppositions to which we have ascended. We must treat the Faith for what it is, the Truth. We can share Church teaching, belief, and doctrine with others, and I think we should and must, but we must refrain from the argumentative egoism of the world of opinions.
We KNOW the Faith, EXPERIENCE the Faith, and LIVE the Faith! We must invite others who are skeptical to come investigate with the Eye of Contemplation. We must invite others to come and see the Truth and seek it. Those who do so will find that He who is Real, He who is the Truth.
In the Liturgy we sing, “We have seen the true light! We have received the heavenly Spirit! We have found the true Faith! Worshipping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us!”
True knowledge, and true theology at that, is rooted in the experiential knowledge and knowing of God. No system of thought or rationale can substitute the experience. They can only point to the Truth. This is what we invite people to. St. John nails this down in his first epistle:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship [koinonia: communion] with us; and our fellowship [koinonia: communion] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).
Father Stephen writes, “All of these share in common a similar theme – our witness of Christ is not a testimony to an idea or to a theory about an idea or story. The witness of the Church is rooted in our experiential knowledge of God.
All theology finds its proper root in this true knowledge of God. It should never be mere speculation based on a rational system of thought – but rather the unfolding of the mystery made known to us in the risen Christ.
The safeguarding of saving knowledge (true participation in the life of God) is the purpose of all doctrine. Every dogmatic statement of the Church has as its sole purpose the safeguarding of true participation in the life of God. Dogma is not an argument over ideas, but a statement that guards the Apostolic witness (which is living and true).”
Those who doubt must come and see. Come and investigate with the proper means for such a quest like the quest to know God. We must live to know the Faith and never treat it as a set of dogmatic opinions that are lifeless and dead. As we continue on the path towards deification, we continue to know and experience God. We invite others to come and see what the Lord has done for us. “Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man,” writes the Psalmist, who realized that to know God is to experience Him.
This is a beautiful knowing. We discover the beautiful depths of God who is good and loves mankind and seeks to heal us so that we may commune with Him. He has given us the means to which to come to this beautiful place of knowing. We who already know must live from this place of beauty and continue to know Him and the Faith as truth refraining from egotistical arguing and opioning giving.
Those who do not yet know of this beautiful place of knowing I say this:
COME AND SEE….