Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | February 10, 2010

Met. Anthony on the Truth in Christianity

My reading has of late focused on Met. Anthony of Sourzoh. I find myself turning down the ears of page after page, and re-reading. A theme he comes back to time and again is the Truth of Christianity. It sticks in my brain as beautifully expressed. I offer it here both for your benefit, and mine. I don’t imagine Met. Anthony is seeking to be original here, or that indeed he is, but simply that this experience is at hand. It unfolded in an series of talks given to the Moscow Theological Academy in December of 1966 and was subsequently published in Church and Time by the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Is it possible to find some criterion or standard, by which one could define the truth of religion?

I cannot give you either an exhaustive answer or even a reasonably deep on to this question, because I have never thought in these terms, and I have never been called upon to think this theme through. But I will point out two things: firstly an image of that God of whom a given religion speaks; and secondly what this God accomplishes for people. The second I define in this way. The Church is a society of love. If those around us were to see in us people transformed by love, they would not ask which is the right God, and is there a God, and which religion is best. As the Apostle Paul said a long time ago, ‘For in the Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you’ (Rom. 2:14). The answer does not lie in good works but in love, because there are many kind people who are dry as sticks, in spite of doing everything that should be done – nobody will be drawn to God by this. But the God of love, the God who teaches us that the other is more important than oneself, that my neighbor is the person who needs me and not the one who happens to live near me – that is one of the criteria. In this sense, of course, we make many people question the Christian faith.

The image of that God of whom we are speaking: I want to return to the quotation from Voltaire, that if there was no God, Man would invent Him. Every invented God is a human being multiplied to infinity. It is everything that man delights in, blown up to huge proportions. In this sense, various cultures provide us with various gods, more or less attractive to other cultures. But any god who appears only to be an idealised man should be questioned. What is characteristic of Christianity, which convinces me more and more, is that Man would have never invented such a God as ours.

For example, people say that Christ appears as a sort of image of the Egyptian god Osiris, who also died and was resurrected. The point is not that he died and was resurrected – that would have been easy. The point is that Osiris never became a man, never experienced the profanation of fallen mankind. The God that is revealed to us in Christ – powerless, vulnerable, defenceless, cursed, defeated – such a God will never be invented by Man, because that is the very opposite of what he needs in a God and that he seeks in God. Such a God cannot be imagined.

I cannot go into details now, but I want to underline two things: this God is in a certain sense absolutely incomprehensible, and arouses the deepest perplexity: ‘How can this be?’ And that is exactly how we could understand God, who became Man and endured everything, and would be in sympathy to the end with everybody who is capable of knowing God, who is capable of being saved. But what is characteristic of Christ is that He remains in sympathy – once and for ever, through the inalienability of His Incarnation – not with the person who is saved but with the fallen one, not with him who is already beginning to improve, but with him who is sitting deep in the ditch; and this solidarity of His goes much further than we can imagine. He links His fate specifically with the sinner, with the rejected one, with the disenfranchised, with the fallen Man: and not only outwardly – and here I think is where the criterion of the love of God is sharpest – but inwardly.

Think about it. In the garden of Gethsemane, Christ goes through everything which surrounds approaching death, but according to Maximus the Confessor, even in His body He is not, in fact, subject to death, because death is the result of separation from God; whereas the absolute authenticity of the combination in Him of Divine and human nature makes Him an immortal Man. We bear witness to this when we speak of the fact that the Body of Christ was imperishable in the tomb, and he descends to hell in God’s glory. He accepts an impossible death: ‘O Life, how canst Thou die?’ This death would only be possible as a result of some totally incomprehensible rift with God, what one of our Western Orthodox theologians called ‘metaphysical unconsciousness’.

Christ on the cross cried out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34). This is not a mere repetition of the prophetic psalm. It is a real experience of the loss of God, which alone makes the death of the Immortal one possible. And when we think about it, we see that Christ experienced more deeply than any unbeliever the experience of godlessness, the deprivation of God, and here there is not a single person who can stand outside the mystery of the Man who is Christ. If you think about these two or three points, you will see that in this respect in Christianity there is something absolutely unique, which can be found nowhere else. We have an unknowable God with all the wealth that Man can only imagine and which he cannot attain, but there is also an historic God, who makes history comprehensible and incorporates it in Himself, right up to the very limits of Man’s fall and the utmost tragedy.

This is what convinces me, if I need to be convinced, because I came to faith a different way, simply, not philosophically, because I ran into God, and there was nowhere for me to go from Him. I simply, well, bumped into Him.
From: Encounter: “Chapter 4: Certain Categories of Our Existence in Creation” pp. 108 – 110.

Responses

  1. SVS Press has a great biography of Met. Anthony that at once paints a wonderful, but true picture of the man – good and bad. It isn’t hagiography, but neither is it an expose that somehow undermines him. Highly recommended.

    • Chris: Thanks for stopping by and the suggestion. Will have to add that to the ever expanding pile. Not surprised at your summation, given that he himself is rather frank and admits he holds opinions which may be just his own.

      Let me add that I’m amused with the whole ebook thing… and the incongruous thought that Orthodox books should show up in this form. It’s like the lightbulb thing.

    • I am so glad you liked the biography!

      Gillian Crow, author, ‘This Holy Man’ – Impressions of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

  2. This is very, very beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  3. […] More here: Met. Anthony on the… […]


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