Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | December 3, 2008

Experiencing God – Part 2: Mysteries of the Church

This continues the second part of excerpt promised from the lecture series: “Life as a Mystery” by Archimandrite Meletios Webber (full attribution follows). From a discussion of “Called and Gifted” Workshop” over at Koinonia effectively cautions on the meaning we give to experience… but I think that in the examples offered here in this excerpt there is little confusion of this sort. Rather, at least to me it seems rather clear, and consistent with the notion that the “theologian is one who prays”… where prayer depends less on our own emotions and will, but engaging in union with God in the whole of our person… not just our emotions, not just our passionate desires, but the whole… the Nous… that annoying Noia thing the good Archimandrite goes on to discuss immediately after this excerpt… but you’ll have to grab that one on your own. As you’ll see at the end… I’m at my limit when we hit Greek words… and it’s not just the inadequate keyboard! either.  So I’m quitting with the first two Greeky kind of words, phrases and the rest to go off to work. But at anyrate… this excerpt seems to offer an engaging viewpoint.

In Orthodoxy there is very little said about thinking about God. Now other churches may do things differently, but in Orthodoxy, thinking about God, if we’re in fact thinking about anything, isn’t given any great kudos. What matters in Orthodoxy is the experience of God. This sort of (claps hands) immediate encounter between you and God that is very, very specific to… very personal to your situation… but in which God actually chooses to enter into your life in order that you can transform your life in the direction of his life.

And that’s true in baptism; it’s true in confession; it’s true, most, most true, because it happens most often, in the Holy Eucharist. We can think about Jesus all that we like during the week, but when we come on Sunday morning and stand here and actually receive him within our own bodies, we are experiencing a level of intimacy that the world can only guess at. This is an intimacy so profound that it is difficult to say where you stop and where He starts. This is a meeting which is so personal that your entire being is for a few seconds completely filled with the presence of God. And of course by the time we turn round and come away, (and) we go, we gently lose that. But for that one moment, for that eternal moment when there is a definite here and a definite now… and it is experienced in this very specific and particular way… you are experiencing nothing less than the Kingdom of Heaven… right there, and right then.

He comes to us in the marriage service… Now I have to say I’ve been a marriage counselor all of my life, and goodness knows why anyone would come to a monk to ask about marriage guidance, but it does happen, I’m afraid it does. And my wisdom about marriage is all from books. I can only guess at what it is like. I have a great feeling that if God isn’t present in the marriage it isn’t going to work very well. I sort of get that hint… and that it is tough sometimes. The monastic profession is also tough sometimes, but I think marriage is probably tougher

God has chosen specific natural ways in which to encounter us in this immediate… I want to say eyeball to eyeball… that sounds a little… impious… but I don’t… but I … it’s really… it’s when God stares us in the face… He’s right there…

And He comes to us in water; He comes to us in wine; He comes to us in bread… just ordinary things. And He says to us, “I’m going to be there; I’m going to be in that bread on Sunday morning. All you have to do is to show up.” The invitation is always there.

Most of us can’t remember our own baptisms because they took place in childhood, but at that point God said to you, “I’m going to be there in the water, meet me there.” And you went, and something… indelible… indelible change occurred in you at that point. Not necessarily something which is obvious to the rest of the world… because it obviously isn’t… but somehow you’re… even at the anatomic level your encounter with God changed something within you, so that it lifted your relationship with Him from being that of simply creature… which is true and marvelous anyway… to that of person…. with a name.

“We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

If our relationship with God is nothing more than an idea or a thought, then we might as well give up and go home. It’s not something we have to prove to the rest of the world. It’s not something we can demonstrate. And it’s certainly isn’t something we have to defend. If we have to defend something we’re in our egos. That’s by definition; that’s almost a maxim. I can’t philosophically explain how that works; but if you’re defending something, the chances are you’re in your ego. And you don’t need to be in your ego when you’re in the presence of God. You can put your ego down; you’re safe.

So you don’t need to defend God – ever. Nor do you need to defend your faith in God – ever.

Sometimes I get the feeling in the West in particular, and I think this is a Western… not a fault exactly, but a tendency in the west which makes life difficult… is where people believe… especially here in the United States… I hear the expression I believe in something.. And then I believe in whatever. And what they actually mean is that I have a very strong opinion about something… it’s as if God… I believe in God means I have a very strong opinion about God and I’m going to defend it to the death. Well, I’d say you’re back in your ego again. I doubt if that’s very much to do with faith at all.

In Greek we say, you know in the Creed, “I believe in one God.” In Greek it’s _______ {Greek Phrase (sounds like: “Pisteboenisthebion”)}. I only use Greek because its the original language. Not that there’s anything particularly fancy about Greek, but it was the way it was first written down. And the word _______ {Greek Word (sounds like “Pistebe”)} and _______ {Greek Word (sounds like “Pistebes”)} – faith – is the same. And so it means not “I believe in one God” but “I have faith in one God”. And I think that’s a little nearer what we actually say in terms of what it means to have faith. Belief looks like a mind thing to me; Faith belongs to another part. And that’s the part I’m going to talk about next.

Please forgive my mistranscription here – especially the Greek – from Fr. Meletios Webber’s lectures on “Life As A Mystery” from a seminar given at Sts. Constantine and Elena Orthodox Church in Indianapolis, Indiana in May of 2008, and available on Ancient Faith Radio.


  1. Thanks, Skip. I’ll definitely give this one a listen!

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