Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | September 15, 2009

Fr. Stephen on Fr. Mel

Fr. Stephen Freeman, one of the more prolific and excellent Orthodox bloggers wrote on an excerpt from Fr. Mel’s “Bread and Water, Wine and Oil”. As a fan of both authors, I recommend the post though I would add that often Fr. Mel makes the distinction between “being right” and “being righteous” more clear to those of us slow on the uptake by emphasizing the call “to be good, rather than right”. In this, Fr. Stephen’s insight lies not just in the selected text, but also in the response to a reader’s comment where he differentiates nicely some of the characteristics of Orthodox conversion:

My experience, particularly with mature, Orthodox Christians, including a fair number of hierarchs, is of a profound humility in the face of the truth. From outside, it is easy to misjudge Orthodoxy as being about “being right.” Instead, it is about confronting truth and discovering how far short we fall of that truth. In a sense, the “received” quality of Orthodox dogma, frees the believer from constantly trying to find out what is right or make it up or argue about it – and instead asks of the heart to live it.

Arguments and judgments don’t disappear any more than sin disappears – but they keep getting revealed (it seems to me) as something that misses the mark.

When I converted to Orthodoxy, the arguments (which had been endless) stopped. But only then did the reality of conversion begin. The instability of truth – the rejection of revelation on the part of many Christian groups – postpones the encounter with God. Its also possible to keep the arguments and judgments going as an Orthodox Christian (as we distract ourselves) and postpone the encounter as well. We’ve been good at finding hiding places ever since Adam.

As Fr. Thomas Hopko told me (when I said that the more I write the less I know): “Keep writing. Some day you’ll know nothing. Then you’ll be holy.”


Responses

  1. Indeed “being right” about…which archdiocese is best, worst, what it will take to get unity in America, the canons, liturgics, etc etc. seem to be a passion laden distraction from “being righteous” for the most part. sigh

  2. Oh, yes, this is very helpful. They both put into words some aspects of my own conversion experience. Thank you for sharing.

    • Gretchen – thanks for stopping by. Yeah he hit this one outta the park. Seemed so succinct, I was surprised to see it only as a comment… and it was too good to lose.

  3. In a sense, the “received” quality of Orthodox dogma, frees the believer from constantly trying to find out what is right or make it up or argue about it – and instead asks of the heart to live it.

    Yes! That has been my experience as well. The issue of “right” has been put to bed for me. BUT…I have this heartfelt desire for others to know this freedom and that seems to bring me to a place not so far from where I started. Perhaps that is “hiding”…have to mull that over a bit.

    • Hey Dixie… thanks for stopping by. Understand and share the dilemma. For me, the “Come to me all ye who labor and I will give you rest” is literally true. And the more time passes, I think the more it is true. There’s an inner stillness in Orthodoxy that most people don’t know they want. And it’s that latter bit… that they don’t know they want it… that makes me think the sharing that matters most doesn’t have words.

      So for now I blog… not because I’ve got much to say in truth, but because I haven’t found the extent of stillness and rest I pray for. There’s always a new book to read, a service to attend…. always something. As they say in Zen and so many of the Fathers say, too… these are fingers pointing to the moon. Sooner or later we’ll turn and actually look at it face to face. And then as Fr. Stephen likes to say, “Then I think we’ll truly be Orthodox.” Fr. Mel means the same thing when he says, ‘We’re always wanting to meet God some other time, some other place… when I’ve done X, Y, or Z… then I’ll be ready.” Maybe not you… but for me, I know all this “equipping the saints” as they used to call it is really entertainment, appeals to my vanity of wanting to “know something” rather than know someone or do something together with someone.

      This too will pass… and it won’t seem that our love for God will be any less. And I wonder if in truth, our finding Orthodoxy through active engagement doesn’t actually stand in the way at some point… and we’re afraid to leave it off and stand as if naked before God… without all these “things” we’ve learned. Do we really fear the ardor will cool? Do we really think the engagement won’t mature into something more constructive? Possibly we just don’t know… or just aren’t ready.

  4. For a thickheaded guy you are doing pretty well, it seems, at absorbing the wisdom of the fathers and of the (church) ages, and using bits and pieces of it to create new sentences that speak to us moderns. I know my problem isn’t so much a thick head as a hard heart, but Truth has a softening effect there, too.

  5. James, you wrote: There’s an inner stillness in Orthodoxy that most people don’t know they want. And it’s that latter bit… that they don’t know they want it… that makes me think the sharing that matters most doesn’t have words.

    Indeed. I think people know it when they see it in someone’s life and “spirit”, and it is attractive on some gut level to folks.

  6. picking up on Dixie’s comment here. I agree that there are so many less questions for myself, however, there is a lot of what I can only classify as grieving for those whom I love but are not interested in Orthodoxy. Many of them seem to be looking for and longing for Orthodoxy, without knowing it, but there is a barrier. I am so saddened to see that it is very rare for Orthodox converts to bring other adult family members or friends into the faith. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with “a prophet is not welcome in his own country” (or however that goes). For myself I know it is my own terrible witness to the faith too. I either say too much or don’t say anything.

    Lent was particularly sad for me on this front. I had 3-4 friends say they wanted to visit my church. To date, none have come.

  7. Deb:

    As you know: “I feel your pain.” I wonder that the barriers aren’t far more than a matter of salesmanship… I think desire has to be pretty strong to overcome compatibility between atheism and contemporary christianity, comfort in the protestant cafeteria, or comfort with a more casual engagement in general. My guess is a lot of folks want to come and borrow what they think fits, and stay where they are. But for some, there is a sense that understanding is also needing to belong. Frank Schaeffer’s notion of it as joining the Marines (“The few…”) … is a strong statement… but maybe there’s something to it.


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