Thursday, June 12, 2008

Holiness Not Programs

Reflecting on the possibility of reconciliation between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches one of the most faithful commentators on this blog, Chrys, sent me the following in a private email (which I am quoting here with his permission):

On that subject [of the reconciliation between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches], I am not sanguine. There are significant current differences between how the Orthodox approach faith and how Catholics approach faith. In addition to differing assumptions and particular expressions that form the theological understanding of the faith, the approach itself seems fairly different. It seems to me that the list of differences is pretty extensive—though I am not sure which are truly important and which are not. Leaving that for a different day, I would only note that I still firmly believe that IF we are able to raise up truly saintly folks, they will attract others - both inside the Orthodox church and outside - to reconsider how they live and what they believe. My assumption here is rooted in my own experience that living contact with a saint can move us to want to be like him—in a way that all the argumentation in the world cannot—and this desire will necessarily lead us to question who we are, what we are doing and how we are living. In my experience—and I think Scripture gives witness to this—nothing is as powerful as an authentic, living example, someone who shows us what God is like and what life can be like. Historically, these people carry the greatest moral authority to be found. (In fact, I am convinced that some of the respect that we have for the clergy is the result of the trust and respect earned by the saints. This assumes good faith on the part of the parishioner, of course. We hear and see in the saints what can be, what ought to be, and see the priest as the representative of that legacy—if he does nothing to betray that conferred trust. Once someone experiences a betrayal of that trust, however, all clergy thereafter pay for that betrayal.) The authority is so strong that even stories (second-hand experience) can have a significant effect. From what I have read, however, truly transformative power requires living contact. (Makes sense: ours is an incarnational faith, not a propositional one.) As I have often said: transformation is ultimately the result of people not programs. (Programs can only organize and direct the people and their gifts; they can never substitute for them.) In short, though such people may be few, their effect would likely be enough to BEGIN to make a difference (leaven in the bread, as it were) that can eventually lead to reconciliation.

Reading what he says, I find myself in fundamental with Chrys' observations. While we have our part to play certainly, reconciliation (whether between Churches, or between the person and God, the members of a community) is a work of the Holy Spirit. We are called therefore to wait upon His initiative.

Thinking about this I am reminded of the word of the Prophet Isaiah (40.27-31):

Why do you say, O Jacob,

And speak, O Israel:

"My way is hidden from the LORD,

And my just claim is passed over by my God"?

Have you not known?

Have you not heard?

The everlasting God, the LORD,

The Creator of the ends of the earth,

Neither faints nor is weary.

His understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the weak,

And to those who have no might He increases strength.

Even the youths shall faint and be weary,

And the young men shall utterly fall,

But those who wait on the LORD

Shall renew their strength;

They shall mount up with wings like eagles,

They shall run and not be weary,

They shall walk and not faint.

As always, you comments are not only welcome, but actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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