Rod Dreher greeted me Monday morning with a blog on my favorite topic. I suppose I could write this as an update to Is Orthodoxy a Cult?, but I think it works better here, as it has nothing to do with some list of “cult markers.”
Rod remarks in his own voice on something that I’ve noted and commented on frequently:
[O]ne thing about Orthodoxy is that it makes a lot of room for mystery. Orthodoxy has dogmatic theology, and doctrine, but it is remarkably (for such a conservative church) comfortable saying, “We’re not entirely sure,” or “We just don’t know.” I have found that to be both comforting and challenging, even though I have a reflexive bias against too much doctrinal liberty in this anything-goes era. It’s comforting, because it reminds me that God wants more than anything else a relationship with us; we worship a God-man who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” — the Truth is a person, not a proposition. I think you can see why this is both comforting and challenging.
Then in short order, after a brief segue through this territory again, he surprised me with a story unprecedented in my experience (though I think I can see foreshadowings).
BBC Journalist Peter France, has written of his retirement to Patmos:
France’s wife, Felicia, was a convert to Orthodoxy, but she did not pressure him to join her. They were old friends of Metropolitan Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, who had something to do with their retiring to Patmos. After some time living on the island, France felt moved to embrace Orthodoxy, but he simply couldn’t affirm the Creed, not fully. What to do? Met. Kallistos told France that it was time for him to come into the Church. If you can’t say the Creed yourself, the bishop told France, then if you trust me, I’ll say it for you.
What?! France was shocked by this. How could he trust someone else to say on his behalf words he didn’t believe? Yet he thought about how much he had come to love and to trust the Greek people on the island, and their piety. The nuns of Evangelismos had gotten to know him pretty well, and would tell his wife not to worry about Peter, because he’s already Orthodox, and just doesn’t know it. Met. Kallistos, France conceded, knew him pretty well, and probably knew more about his spiritual condition than he did.
And then I remembered the words of Robert Runcie, archbishop of Canterbury, that “Christianity is an experiment which leads to an experience which is verifiable as you go along.” I decided to start the experiment.
France begins the book describing his baptism into Orthodoxy. Later, he says that he had no shattering revelations when he arose from the water as an Orthodox Christian. In fact:
I emerged still agnostic, but with a difference. A part of me was opened that had been shut. I heard no messages, but felt ready to receive them. If I had received grace, it had come in the form of an increase not in conviction, but in awareness, in receptivity.
Aside: I’m not sure how one is received into the Church without saying the Creed; it is part of the Baptismal service. Maybe France said it with his fingers crossed, or with an asterisk, presumably known to the Priest who baptized him. Perhaps only his sponsor/Godfather said it, as is done when baptizing infants.
I am not scandalized. I have described the Nicene Creed as a fence set up by Ecumenical Councils when people were falling off particular cliffs. As Rod put it, “‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ — the Truth is a person, not a proposition.” Christ’s Church believes the Creed. France believes Christ’s Church.
I don’t think anyone would be received into the Church who denies that Creed, nor do I expect to see a rush of catechumens received despite doubts about the creed. But to say “I trust the Church but have a mental block about parts of the Creed” is not different in kind from saying “I trust the Church but have a mental block about the Virgin Mary” — which has been how a lot of us converts from Protestantism entered the Church, for example.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)