In our last vignette, I tried to outline what a “theologian” means in the original Christian understanding of the word, a person whose spiritual condition make it possible for him/her to “experience the reality/radiance of God but without seeing His face/radiance” (very bad choice of words, but for our purposes, I hope that it will do). I also mentioned this metaphor used by Christ:
The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light. (Luke 11:33-36)
I need to repeat am important caveat here: there is absolutely no way anything I write here should be seen as any type of “shortcut” or “summary” of anything we are discussing. What follows is, at best, a clumsy attempt outline the very complex is simple terms and my hope is that these vignettes will encourage at least ONE reader to go do the true sources of Christianity, that is the Scripture, the Fathers and the Church. With this in mind, let me offer you my best effort and hope that I don’t miserably fail!
How does one acquire a “clear eye”?
The short answer is through the following sequence:
I will now try to offer a simple laymen’s (which I am) understanding of what this sequence means.
Catechization: in other words, instruction. The truth is that Christianity is an extremely complex religion to study, especially in our modern times when most people would recoil in horror at the thought of having to read several hundred, if not thousand, pages of (often complicated) text. Yes, I know, there are “Orthodox” jurisdictions out there which hand out Chrismations (anointment) or Baptisms to anybody asking for it (there are several ways one can be received in the Church, but let’s leave this topic aside for today). Worse, the clergy doing so simply does not want to take the time to ascertain whether the candidate has even received any instructions at all. I have seen, many times, people getting Christmated without any catechisation at all! Again, this often happens in jurisdictions which are deeply infected with the “bacteria” of modernism, ecumenism and who have departed from the the faith “which the Lord gave, was preached by the Apostles, and was preserved by the Fathers. On this was the Church founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian” (I will repeat this quote of Saint Athanasios very often in our vignettes).
The truth is that, as one priest put it, you have to do your own footwork. And yes, this is hard work and you cannot become Orthodox “on the cheap” or in any “quicky” way. Look at this Beatitude:
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (Matt 5:6)
And notice that the words “hunger and thirst” are what we would call powerful “gut feelings”, they refer to our core survival instincts, not to some highbrowed academic “interest in” or something which is relevant only on Sunday mornings. Another example:
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Matt 22:37)
Again, these are very powerful words! And how about this one:
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matt 10:37)
And I could add many, many more quotes, from both the Old and New Testament. The point here is simple, Christ and His Church should be approached the same way as a person dying from thirst is a desert would approach a oasis filled with fresh, clean water and plenty of fruits to eat. In other words, we are dealing here not with a philosophy, or any kind of scholastic curiosity, but what ought to be a desperate struggle for spiritual survival. That, in turn, means that the person being received in the Church should place his/her education/instruction as the absolute number one priority in his/her life.
Would you be willing to read, say, 2000 pages to avoid being executed?
My guess is that yes, at least if you value your life.
If Christ, the God Incarnate, came back and invited you, personally, to share a meal with Him, but in a location which would require you to drive for, say, five days one way by car – would you accept or would you turn down His invitation?
Again, my guess is that you accept, right?
Well, you can think of your instruction into the Church as those 2000 pages which can save your life, or the Eucharist in any truly Orthodox Church as in invitation by Christ Himself! In other words, becoming part of the Church, the Theandric Body of Christ and one of His Incarnations, is a A LOT of work, especially in our post-Christian times when people like fast-“spiritually” for the same reason they like fast foods: cheap, nearby and comfy.
It is only AFTER you do that hard study work that you can be received in the Church.
Baptism (under that heading I include the other modes of reception too which I don’t want to discuss now).
First, unless there is a major impediment (medical, emergency situation, and others) a Christian baptism must be performed full triple immersion, that is also true for babies, adults and even the elderly (which the the Greek noun βάπτισμα means, immersion). Again, those “Orthodox” which have departed from this principle are, at the very least, infected with modernism, secularism or ecumenism. This is important not just for some “abstract theological fine point with no real relevance to modern life” , and not just out of respect and reverence for the original Christianity, but also because the “old you” “drowns” and disappears in the baptismal waters and then comes back as a “new you” “clothed in Christ”.
Baptism is a Mystery (a sacrament), and discussing it like I did above is actually not a good approach. Mysteries are not something which should be logically discussed or analyzed. So I will stop here and encourage everybody to read the Fathers or to get in touch with a true, traditionalist, Orthodox clergyman. My only goal here is to stress that the reception of a candidate into the Church is not “just” a “ritual”, but as much a Mystery as any other Mystery of the Church. I did my best here, but I apologize for not having the wisdom and words to accurately and fully convey the importance and sacred seriousness of this Mystery.
As I tell all my friends who converted to Orthodoxy: welcome to the battlefield, now things will only get harder. And that is true, if you thought that reading 2000 pages and driving 5 days by car was hard, then you are about to discover that far from having “made it”, you just entered the very first and initial stage of a spiritual battle you will have to fight until your last breath!
The next three steps (purification, illumination and theosis) are too complex for me to summarize here. So I will try to at least give you a general idea in a roundabout, but hopefully truthful and accurate way.
The original, Christian Church believed that our nature, at birth, is already a fallen, corrupted one. No, they did not believe that we personally and directed shared in the Original Sin (which I won’t discuss today), but they all did believe that both our nature and even the entire universe were directly affected by that Original Sin, that we are living in suffering and eventually dying as a direct consequence of that Original Sin. So when Rousseau wrote that the “noble savage” was born innocent and pure and that society corrupted him, the Fathers would categorically disagree; in fact, such a notion contradicts everything Christ taught and did, including His Incarnation and Resurrection. But let’s just say that the source of evil in the world is not in God’s Creation, but comes from our fallen nature. God’s creation was perfect, it is our forefather’s misuse of the freedom God granted them which “created” (wrong word, but I will use it for convenience sake) evil.
Again, I will use a metaphor next. The Church is not a club of saints, or a theological debate society, but a hospital for sinners in which the spiritual pathologies resulting from our fallen nature are treated. So when we speak of “purification” what is meant is a lifelong process of struggle to heal ourselves and that process continues for all our lives. This is why those who believe that baptism is truly an illumination (they are right!) but then confuse that illumination with the illumination which comes in the process of purification are simply wrong. They conflate two very different meanings of the same word (and need to re-read Saint Maximos on that topic).
Which leaves theosis. That is the most complex and what follows is an EXTREMELY inadequate attempt to put in a few words that this means. One corect answer would be “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God (Saint Athanasios), but that raises even more questions and needs to have every single word explained and discussed. There is, however, a very good text discussing this on the Internet which you can find here:
http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/theosis.aspx in TEN different languages!
In my own inadequate words I will say that the catechization->baptism->purification->illumination->theosis sequence heals our fallen nature, brings us to our full spiritual potential/calling and unites us to God, at least as much as a person can be united with Him. If correctly understood, you could say that it is our calling to become “Christ-like” saints. Again, this is one of the highest of Mysteries and I really don’t feel comfortable discussing it here, even with all my caveats.
Now (finally!) back to theologians in original Christianity:
From the above you can say that theologians are those who, at least, have successfully completed catechization->baptism->purification->illumination sequence. Not all those so illuminated achieve the last stage, theosis, as the latter is a Grace granted by God (again, not a topic needed for our very modest purposes). Speaking of which, one more disclaimer:
Christianity is not magic, nor is it a mechanism. Nothing is conferred or given automatically or formally. “Just” being baptized or, as some in the West say, “establishing a personal relationship with God” will not somehow automatically “save” you. So those who say, “I was saved on that day of that year” and who think that they “made it” are deceived and deluded. In truth, not a single soul truly and finally will “make it” until the Last Judgement Day (again, not our topic today). Even saints and bishops can fall, like “stars falling down from the heavens” (Rev 6:13). A Christian life is a life of a never ending spiritual struggles.
Lastly, for the sake of (at least an attempt at) completeness, I have to add that martyrdom is a “baptism though blood“, but only if the person dies for Christ and/or (same thing, really) His One Single True Church and not for any other reason. Remember the word of Christ to the malefactor “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Like 23:43). I feel that I have to mention this here, but this is another topic which deserves at least one, if not more, vignettes. So for today, let’s please leave it at that.
Unless I get specific requests to discuss another topic (and I feel like this request is appropriate for our format), my next vignette will be about two aspects of Orthodoxy which mostly overlooked in our times: asceticism and experimentalism (careful, I am not sure if that is the correct English word for this! see the small note below about my lack of adequate English language skills).
Now I open the floor for comments, criticism and further information (some of our 96 current commentators made some very good and useful points in the last vignette, so thank you to them all for helping me here!).
PS: I read the Scripture in Church Slavonic and much of my instruction was in Russian (and I still think in Russian), hence please be very careful with my choice of words, English is my 3rd or 4th language, and I am a terrible writer to begin with. I am sure that there are all sorts of mistakes above and I ask you to focus my intention to put the complex in simple words rather than on my the frequently poor choice if words!
PPS: we now have 96 registered members, and you still can sign up (here) if you want!
I, Andrei Raevsky, aka The Saker, have absolutely no authority whatsoever to teach anything to anyone. None. Zero. Ziltch. Nada! The “Christian Vignettes” are NOT a catechism, or a course in dogmatics or anything else formal. These vignettes are only one guy’s strictly personal musings on various topics. Nothing more.