Observations on Orthodoxy

The Eastern Orthodox Church might be called a little stingy in its acknowledging of anyone as a theologian. Strictly speaking, our church recognizes but three—just three saints whose names include that epithet. They are Saint John the Theologian (also called John the Evangelist), Saint Gregory the Theologian (also called Gregory of Nazianzus, and one of the Cappadocian Fathers), and Saint Symeon the New Theologian. As it happens, each of these men wrote their theologies in poetry, highlighting to some degree the rabbinic understanding that true theology is always parabolic, as the One of whom we speak extends beyond comprehension, irreducible.

One of the discoveries that led me finally to embrace the eastern church was its disposition toward biblical scripture. The church of my youth approached the scriptures as if they were both knowable and reducible to proposition; each verse was approached as a fixed utterance, dictated, word by word, by God to certain men; the scriptures were understood to be God’s words precisely, and they were understood to be the revelation, as such. On the other hand, Orthodoxy observes that what God revealed to these men was but a glimpse of himself, and that those men thereafter employed their own words to offer up what might be better understood as a witness to the revelation. That is to say, these writers beheld a mystical vision, and sought to share it by whatever means they could muster. What we make of their textual witness is, of course, another matter.

Poet Scott Cairns, in Image Journal.

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