Monday, 16 April 2007

Good Friday

(We originally wrote this on Good Friday, but we were dissatisfied with it and did not post it. We are now posting it.)

The reading from the Apostle for the Third Hour of Good Friday is this:

Brothers, while we were yet weak Christ died at the right time on behalf of impious men. For barely will someone die on behalf of a just man. For perhaps someone even dares to die on behalf of the Good. God recommends his own love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died on our behalf. Very much more, then, justified now in his blood, we will be saved by means of him from the wrath. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by means of the death of his Son, very much more, having been reconciled, we will be saved in his life. (Romans 5, 6–10.)

We have been discussing the rather authoritarian approach to the sinner of the Pentecostalist—and indeed of the Right Wing Evangelical. How does the Evangelical understand this passage?

Let us suppose that we are sinners walking down the street who encounter an Evangelical who is witnessing. What the Evangelical wants us to do is to be ‘born again’. This is a very complex affair which requires that we ‘repent’, get down on our knees and pray publicly to be reconciled to God in Jesus Christ (perhaps not on the street—later in a chapel). We are thus ‘born again’. From discussions with persons who have passed through Evangelicalism, we have the impression that sometimes there is a genuine experience involved, but more often than not there is not. Moreover, there is a rather high ‘lapse rate’—higher than one might at first think—of those who are born again.

The next thing is that the ‘born again’ has to accept an ideology. We use that word advisedly. The ideology is ‘sola Scriptura’: the inerrant literal truth of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

Next there is the need to be integrated into the community of believers. This is rather complicated, because it largely entails internalizing the Evangelical ideology and interpretation of Scripture.

If you don’t believe that Evangelicals have an interpretation of Scripture, you are very na├»ve. Part of the ideology, however, is that they have no interpretation, only the literal text. If you study Evangelical translations of the New Testament against the Greek text—especially the received text of the Patriarch of Constantinople, but even Nestle-Aland—you will see that there is far more interpretation of the text going on than is admitted, the interpretation being hidden in what purports to be a literal translation of Scripture.

However, here is where the whole issue of the rigid superstructure that we discussed in the previous post comes in. We have a person who is walking down the street, a sinner of some kind since all men are sinners. He encounters a witnessing Evangelical. He is persuaded to accept an ideology. He is pressured to accept the ideology as it is being taught by the group to which the person witnessing belongs. Woe to him if he does not. Part of the ideology is the private interpretation of Scripture—so long as it agrees with the group’s interpretation.

Moreover, the legacy of Luther, there is a doctrine of justification by faith, not by works. So there is no effort to cure the passions that are roiling the sea of the sinner’s unconscious. The belief superstructure—the Evangelical ideology—is imposed on this roiling sea of passion. This sets up a deep tension in the person’s personality: he has these drives (passions) that he can’t get rid of but that he’s not supposed to have; he is trying to internalize the group ideology. Enter Ted Haggard. That’s where we came in. Now add to this ‘ecstatic’ Pentecostal prayer meetings. The ‘ecstatic’ prayer meeting relieves the deep tension in the person’s psyche by allowing him to channel his unconscious passions into worship.

This is all very tedious.

Let us now look at how an Orthodox understands this passage. Orthodoxy is person-oriented. Persons meet persons. The first thing that an Orthodox person who practises his religion projects is himself: who he is. If he has love in his heart for others, God will manifest him to the other. The other will understand. This is a matter of deep speaking to deep.

Now the main thing in the case of an Orthodox conversion is for the sinner to meet God in the other, the Orthodox. God is love. As St Paul says, ‘God recommends his own love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died on our behalf.’ The sinner can only be converted to Orthodoxy if he meets love in the person of an Orthodox—even if that person doesn’t say a word of overt preaching.

Now in the case of lonely people, an unscrupulous man might manipulate this need for love by good interpersonal skills the same way that an encyclopaedia salesman manipulates lonely housewives and househusbands to buy needlessly expensive encyclopaedias.

However, most Orthodox don’t have such a militant, manipulative approach to witnessing their faith. They simply go about their business and who they are is manifest to the persons they meet.

Now the thing that a person who has met God in another Orthodox and who wishes to become Orthodox must do is meet God in a more direct way in the Orthodox Church. This is very difficult, especially in cases of Christians who belong to other denominations.

In our experience, Orthodoxy is a closed book to Westerners. They just don’t see anything in it. Anything spiritual, that is. The Orthodox seem to be hung up. Ritual. Dressing like the peasants. All that Tolstoy stuff. Whereas we Westerners have the truth…

The Westerner has the truth with his head. The Orthodox have the truth with their soul and body.

Now the norm in a conversion is to be baptized. It is baptism that gives us the Holy Spirit. It is baptism that gives us the reconciliation to God that St Paul is speaking of. Even St Paul believed that. It is in Orthodox baptism that we finally meet God in a definitive way, that meeting being consummated in our first Holy Communion after our baptism. We thus enter into life: ‘For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by means of the death of his Son, very much more, having been reconciled, we will be saved in his life.’

May all men have a good Easter season!
Orthodox Monk

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