Monday, October 29, 2012


Mystery in the Orthodox Church does not refer to something unknown that could be known through study or sleuthing.  Mystery refers to the interaction with or knowledge of that which defies human language or logic or categories because it transcends them.  For example, liturgical encounters with God that in the western Church are referred to as sacraments, in the Orthodox Church are referred to as Mysteries.  They are Mysteries because God is encountered.  There is no human speech, nor human logic, nor human conceptualization that can capsulize or circumscribe the divine, or the divine-human encounter. 

This is one of the reasons why I am not very good at the theology game.  I believe it was St. Gregory of Nyssa who said of his contemplation of the Holy Trinity that as soon as he began to see the Three-ness of God, the One-ness of God over came him.  And as he contemplated the One-ness of God, the Three persons pressed in upon him.  I have a similar problem on a much smaller scale.  Having nothing like the great mind or the holiness of St. Gregory, I never contemplate God: I don't even know where to begin.  I do, however, contemplate more mundane aspects of the Christian experience and find myself struggling with Mystery in matters that many find straight forward.  

Wealth and poverty, for example.  There are as many easy answers calling for voluntary poverty as there are easy arguments for the godly stewardship of wealth.  Violence and nonviolence: just about everyone who cares about this matter has their own slam-dunk argument to justify their position.  Then there are the theories of heaven and hell, the Second Coming of Christ, and the limits of the Church (that is, to what extent does the Church of Christ extend beyond the boundaries of the visible Orthodox Church?)

Every argument is full of truths, and yet does not encompass all of the truth.  When I think about the limits of the Church, I remember "The Wind blows where it will."  And as my vision opens to embrace widely, I remember "he who is not with Me scatters abroad."  When I consider the apparent necessity of violence in the world, I remember, "love your enemies" and "turn the other cheek."  And when I resolve to reject all violence, I remember, "[the civil authority] does not bear the sword in vain," and "all discipline is painful."  What I have grabbed in my left hand slips away as I attend to my right hand.

I have found peace in accepting that the ends do not necessarily meet--at least not in a way my mind can grasp.  I have found peace in accepting the Mystery that most of the Christian life is not about having the correct argument, the right concept, or the neat conceptual package.  Christian life is mostly about life.  It is not about what one ought to do if....  It is about what one is doing right now.  It is about learning to attend to the Grace of God in each moment, the Holy Spirit giving us words to speak, or silence to keep; strength to act or patience to endure.

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