Reflections from Fr. Lawrence
August 16, 2020
Weekly Reflection: My apologies for not sending this out last week. Our host domain was down for construction. By the way, you’re all doing so well and being very patient in the restrictions of wearing a mask and safe distancing at the Liturgy. Thank you! Please don’t forget that these rules also apply to the welcomed and needed mingling we do after the Divine Liturgy.
Erudition and Spirituality as Combined in the True Christian Scholar
I am told that Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan, the eminent scholar of Yale University- who converted to the Orthodox Faith a few years before he reposed- had two photos of famous scholars hanging side by side on a wall in his home: one of the German scholar Adolph Von Harnack and another of the Russian Orthodox scholar Archpriest George Florovsky. Explaining, Pelikan quipped: “Harnack showed me what it was to be a scholar. Florovsky showed me what it was to be a scholar and a Christian at the same time.”
Life moves forward through learning. Right? Faith does the same. Just as we learn language, skills to grow and be fruitful in the world into which we are placed by God, we are forcefully commanded to mature in our Faith and in our appetite for strong teaching from God’s Word. St. Paul exhorted the Hebrew Christians with apostolic zeal: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature…” (Heb. 5:12-14). Nearly two millennia later, St. Innocent of Alaska wrote to his fledgling American flock: “it is the binding duty of every Christian, when he reaches maturity, to know his faith thoroughly; because anyone who does not have a solid knowledge of his faith is cold and indifferent to it and frequently falls either into superstition or unbelief.” All of us, “every Christian,” should be studying “to show ourselves approved.” (2Tim. 2:15)
When we speak of a Christian scholar, we do not have in mind a person locked away in the proverbial ivory tower. A true Christian scholar, like Florovsky, knows the limits and temptations of knowledge turned in on itself. In a telling line left to us in an article on the Cross of Christ, he reminded all those who “seek wisdom” (1Cor. 1:22) that the “Tree of Knowledge is not the Tree of Life.” The Tree of Life is the Cross! And all that enters Paradise enters by way of the “foolishness of God”- the preaching of the Cross, which is “wiser than the wisdom of men.” (1Cor.1:25).
Through my many years as your pastor, I have seen the incredible impact that reading good Orthodox literature can have on readers with no formal training in Orthodox Theology. Just ask Tsige Gobezie what comes of it! Read, ask questions and, most importantly, seek to humbly apply what you learn. Yes, it takes effort to learn the vocabulary of our spiritual lexicon- and, especially, to dive ever more deeply into the God-breathed Scriptures. But this kind of learning creates wonder in our hearts and fills our minds with the Light of Truth reflected in the sparkle of the physical eye when one touches the hem of Christ’s Garment through the inspiration of God’s Truth.
Launch out to deeper waters! Let me give you a poignant, personal example. Years ago, I sat mesmerized by a lecture Professor Pelikan was giving at the 12th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America (in Pittsburgh, 1999). The theme of the council was an important line taken from the Divine Liturgy: “On behalf of all and for all.” The phrase is largely composed of those small, generally assumed particles of speech called prepositions. Jaroslav’s lecture was brilliantly titled “Praying the Prepositions.” In it, he aimed to help his hearers gain the insight that it is not just the weighty verbs and nouns that we easily associate with the grand moments of the Liturgy that are doing the work of God and God’s people in our Orthodox worship, but it is also the small unassuming words and phrases that move the Divine Liturgy to its incredible and majestic end. His words were not just a lesson in liturgical theology; they were, for at least one young priest among his hearers, a lesson in life.
There is so much out there through which we can deepen our personal faith and make our parish stronger through our choice of the nutrients of our spiritual diet. I will be happy to recommend literature and to take the time to discuss it with you after you have read it. There is little that pleases me more as your priest than the joy arising (mine and yours) from your growing in your knowledge of the Faith. I invariably learn a great deal in speaking with you about our Orthodox Faith. It is time so well spent!
Paternally yours in Christ, Fr. Lawrence