Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | September 8, 2008

Within the Octave of St. Gregory the Great

Fr. Nicholas shared with us last week a compelling sermon on St. Gregory the Great. If only it weren’t off the cuff or I’d had a recorder, I could offer better in sharing it with you. As it is, I’m afraid the best I can offer are my own subsequent reflections with the proviso that if there is anything of merit here, certainly credit lies elsewhere.

“We must, must remember that faith that is real is always active – our faith shapes the way we live. Most often we find God, not in the words of theology – which may help us to understand things, but in life itself – or as St. Gregory said, “It is not by faith that you will come to know [God] but by love; not by mere conviction, but by action.”

Fr. Nicholas Alford on the Feast of St. Gregory the Great

One of the compelling things of the Orthodox Church is the emphasis on remembrance of God through action rather than words or ideas. As St. Gregory reminds us, the crucible of experience is our best teacher, and rather than pray to be spared it’s agonies, we should learn to appreciate how this “science” of hard trials disciplines our otherwise foolish tendency to claim more than what lies within our grasp. For the limits of hard won knowledge differ materially not just in kind, but in authenticity from whatever we think we manage from theory or speculation. Few claim the latter as equal to the former.. but it’s tempting.

This seems hard indeed, and strikes against our inclination toward an ecstatic erudition of mind or heart as the path to experience of the divine. For in this we can safely leave divining sensibility to those few  chosen or self-appointed oracles and demigods who’ll wrestle on our behalf and for our benefit. In return, we offer them a place of honor and privilege in some fashion, and in return gain a God who mostly leaves us to ourselves, free to move about untroubled by the order of the heavens.

And yet this is not our faith. Our faith seeks a far more profound and challenging basis, a more universal suffrage on which to found an individual relationship with God… and certainly we all deem ourselves worthy of the blessings of the Almighty… or at least worthy to select from the Cornucopia of riches and blessings we would bestow upon ourselves. And yet this, too, is not our God… nor do we believe God is found in oracles or prophets alone. For in truth, these same have testified more readily that He is found precisely in the ordinary experience of our lives, and in our freely following His Word and commandments. This is such a simple, obvious option utterly open to all of us that it is unsurprising that we wholly and completely reject it… if we are even aware of making a choice, for this is simply our culture’s path of least resistance. It is just far too humbling that belief in the Incarnation should lead to humility rather than something more worthy, more suitably ennobling… something we would choose for ourselves… and so we come to this only gradually, with resistance, and with the help of the Church… and the wearing down of life.

But having come to this insight, it is another thing to find more than surrender and resignation, for that is what the world prefers to sees in us – and for much the same reason. And yet through the mercy and grace of God, we instead come to find joy, liberation and celebration in being allowed to love and give thanks to God in such an everyday way. And as we do so, at last we find our experience of faith beginning to live beyond our imagination, and bleed it’s way into the actions that comprise our lives. And then maybe we will model ourselves after St. Gregory’s, and our actions bespeak more readily what we profess.

In the meantime, on this, the Octave of the Feast of St. Gregory the Great, I give thanks to the patron saint of our parish.. a humble monk, a great saint, and a challenging example. Holy St. Gregory the Great, pray for us.


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