Precious in the Sight of the Lord

Precious in the Sight of the Lord

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My eight-year-old son and his best friend debated whether God chooses “us” or we choose Him. My son was adamant with a simple yet meaningful point: God wouldn’t just kick us down, he continued to say to his friend, drawing me in with, Right, Mom? I left the dishes in the sink and joined their conversation, which had paused their Minecraft video-game. You are both right, I began, explaining that God chooses each of His creations when He allows life. It is each one’s choice to accept God or to reject Him. Acceptance of God relates one’s entire life to God, and in the course of a lifetime, all things are understood as being in relationship to God. If a person does not wish to see his life in relationship to God, God allows for that. In such cases, when faced with God, one would not desire the burning Love. Each one’s reception of God is what Scripture means by “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” We choose to grow in a personal relationship with God, or we choose not to. Depending on a relationship we’ve developed, we uniquely experience “heaven” or “hell.”

Those who perceive the Body of Christ are great encouragements to humanity, in life and in death. In the General Moleben, we hymn: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Unlike the radical Islamic notion of death for the sake of one’s own heavenly reward by murder of the “infidels” and sometimes even suicide, the saving power of Christ is always preservation of life. Life is eternal in Christ, and even one’s personal experience of illness and death is meant to edify the body of Christ.

All experiences in life are to show us Truth, even illness and death. The Holy Spirit teaches people what events mean through individuals, particularly those who seek God as the Body of Christ, the Church. In March, 2015, 37-year-old Fr. Matthew Baker of Connecticut was killed in an auto accident while driving home from vespers. His five small children, who were also in the car, were unharmed. His wife was at home, recovering from having recently delivered their still-born child. In the midst of death, this family encouraged the world to have faith in God. In his lifetime, Fr. Baker had been compared to Georges Florovsky, a 20th century Russian Orthodox priest, theologian, and ecumenist.[1] Florovsky said there are two aspects of religious knowledge: revelation and experience. Philip Dorroll (2013, Scripture and Dissent: Engaging with the Neo-Patristic Paradigm of Modern Orthodox Theology) explains, “Religious truth is discursively expressed in terms of human doctrines and the concepts that structure them, but insofar as religious truth refers to the ineffable, it cannot be confined by human mental formulations and is experienced through the grace of the divine itself” (137). Florovsky and Baker were concerned with inspiring Christians through lively intellectual debates on the early Church Fathers’ teachings. Rather than intellectual debates on Scholasticism or Reformation, the patristic traditions of the undivided Church inspire critical thought.[2] Fr. Baker argued that most of the seminal works of Orthodox dogma and theology throughout the centuries had actually not been ruminations on established texts and practices, but theological and philosophical challenges offered by the non-Orthodox.

It is important to know others, to listen to what they think and feel and why, and care deeply for the world. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one must agree with others, but we better understand our selves in relationship with other people. For example, the more I reflect on the world’s many ways of spiritualizing the body’s emotional and physical needs through yoga, secular meditation, and Prozac, the more I realize the central place of prayer. Life in Christ is the fulfillment of an in-born need and life-long desire for cosmic order, goodness, and beauty. When life is becoming prayer, purple flowers are not just beautiful, they are also meaningful and purposeful—beyond their place in an ecosystem, as also an expression of life and truth given to us by our Creator.

God reveals Himself to each person who chooses to have faith in God. Patristic Tradition frames one’s understanding with a depth of wisdom that exceeds individuals’ interpretations outside of the Church and also limits the falsehoods by which we may get trapped, unwittingly deceived and dangerously counter-productive for the Lord’s purposes in our lives. Some may argue against having to interpret their own understandings of experiences with God by anyone else’s teachings, but Dorroll writes:

[T]he working of the Holy Spirit in the Church guarantees the infallibility of the doctrinal decisions of the fathers and the councils, and it is only through our participation in the life of the Church that truth can be fully accessed. Religious truth, the truth of revelation and scripture, is then experiential, but can only take place in the context of unbroken continuity with the interpreters of this truth. (137)

It is equally important to apply the Faith to one’s life and reflect on one’s own experiences with faith in the day-to-day:

Experience can be the only way of access to truth due to truth’s ineffable character as a reference to the Ineffable; yet, truth must be experienced within the very community that refers properly to truth in the first place, and this is the Church. Tradition is the content of the Church that refers to the Church’s own ultimate reason for being, which is truth as such. (137)

The Church is alive through the very particular life experiences of everyday people who will for God and have accepted the unbroken ancient line of Orthodox Christianity. Each one’s life is meant to tell a rich anecdote in the global tale of Love spanning across time. The stories of our lives show us the Truth, and we will to believe in God and so pray. St. Nicholas of Serbia says, “Truth is not a thought, not a word, not a relationship between things, not a law. Truth is a Person. It is a Being which exceeds all beings and gives life to all. If you seek truth with love and for the sake of love, she will reveal the light of His face to you inasmuch as you are able to bear it without being burned” (Thoughts on Good and Evil). It is possible to know God, and we know Him in Spirit and Truth by life becoming prayer.

Life is becoming prayer until the day one dies. When my aunt was passing away with breast cancer, I visited her in the hospital and read her a prayer for the dying. She asked me to repeat it to her, “It gives me comfort,” she whispered. I nestled close to her shallow breath and spoke softly. I felt her warm hand as the sound of life rose and fell between us. In the end, others may be blessed by the passing of one whose love for God is shared in those final moments.

 

[1]One aimed at uniting the Christian Church throughout the world.

[2]Georges Florovsky uses the term “Neo-Patristic Synthesis” to mean application of the teachings of the Church in current times with life experiences (Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, blog, March 1, 2015).


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Lea Povozhaev

Lea Povozhaev earned a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from Kent State University in 2014 and an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Akron in 2007. She spent a semester abroad in Russia studying at Nizhni Novgorod State University in 1999, where she was first introduced to Orthodox Christianity. Lea teaches writing part-time as she focuses on writing and presenting her current research on wholeness of body and soul. Two of her recent works reflect the culmination of her writing pursuits as a creative non-fiction writer who believes in merging reflection on one's personal life with current social events. She recently (June 3, 2016) had an interview with Ancient Faith Radio on her memoir: check it out! Lea aims to continue writing, researching, and presenting and invites inquiries from the audience to share her work ranging from academic (Medical Rhetoric—arguments in current health care and their implications for those who value the sanctity of life), creative and personal (focusing on family life and Orthodoxy). She lives in Ohio with her husband and their five children. Read more about Lea and her work here.