Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On Worship and Veneration

I first stepped foot into an Orthodox Church my freshmen year. I was an eager armchair theologian and was intensely curious, although I think I had already decided before I arrived that Orthodoxy was wrong. This is because I am an ass, and I struggle against the impulse to argue for the sake of proving others wrong. I walked away even more curious, but it took me another two or so years of floundering around before I realized that I couldn't be a Protestant anymore. Originally, however, one of my biggest issues with Orthodoxy,  more than Mary or the saints, was icons.

To those not introduced to the subject icons are images (I think the word icon is just a translation of the Greek word for image) that depict either holy persons or else events of great spiritual importance. Orthodoxy is big on them, and their churches and homes and cars and offices are filled with them. We (they?) pray before them, prostrate ourselves before them, kiss them, and venerate them. There have been times in Orthodox history when there have been major internal strife over the role of icons in worship, and those who sought to cast down iconography from its place have been called iconoclasts, the origin of that term. 

Originally, the whole thing looked too much like worshiping icons to me, too much like idolatry. A great many casual observers probably think much the same. Years later I think I've come to understand where part of the problem stems from: we have lost a proper sense of what worship is, and so we confuse worship and veneration. We've made worship to mean: too say nice things about x, and to act as if x is important. In a sense, if that is what worship means, I could see how people would think the Orthodox worship icons. Then and again, if that is what worship means then a good many Protestants worship C.S. Lewis. The secret here is not that the Orthodox Christians solve the problem by devaluing veneration, but by meaning something by "worship" that is so very lofty that, properly understood, it could never be confused with veneration. Orthodox Christians honor icons, but they (we? WHAT AM I?) seek to be united to God. Of course I am still not completely sure what worship is, but I accept that it is something profoundly different from what Orthodox Christians offer to icons.

 As I just said, I still have a lot to learn, but I've come to understand, mostly, the importance of icons. It has been said that they are "windows to heaven", that they do with color what Scripture does with word. We venerate them not in their own right, but because of what they depict, and because of the greater spiritual reality revealed by them. In the Orthodox church, surrounded by icons of the saints, we know that we are, truly, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The whole of the gospel is before me at once. Immersion is the experience that one feels in an Orthodox Church. We are not supposed to examine our theology from a distance, but to be plunged into it. And it's only there that we can really know it. That is why icons are so important.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What I'm up to

So I just moved into an apartment. It's a really nice apartment actually, nice setup all around. All though there are fees and such popping up that I had not anticipated ($150 just to get the electricity transferred to my name, because I've never had electricity under my name before, which I get I get, but still.) 

Anyway, stressing out about that. But hey, life goes on.

Btw, I've taken to writing a series of martial arts guides. I should get photos on them soon. Only two up so far, but there will be more. If you know someone who is interesting in martial arts, pass them along.

Peace, Corey.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

We Know Nothing of God's Justice

I am always terribly unimpressed whenever arguments are proffered to me using God's justice as a premise. Justice doesn't change men's hearts, only love. And, lo and behold, we see, eventually, that God in fact is love.There is nothing just about the Crucifixion, no justice to be found in Christ's actions. Justice is unimpressive. Justice demands repayment, love accepts persecution. We hope never in God's justice, only His love. St. Isaac said it better than I ever could. It was sort of his thing.

"Mercy and justice in the same soul is like the man who worships God and idols in the same temple. Mercy is in contradiction with justice. Justice is the return of the equal. Because it returns to man that which he deserves and it does not bend to one side neither is it partial in the retaliation. But mercy is sorrow that is moved by grace and bends to all with sympathy and it does not return the harm to him who deserves it although it overfills him who deserves good. … And as it is not possible for hay and fire to be able to exist in the same house, the same way it is not possible for justice and mercy to be in the same soul. As the grain of sand cannot be compared with a great amount of gold – the same way God’s need for justice cannot be compared with his mercy. Because man’s sin, in comparison to the providence and the mercy of God, are like a handful of sand that falls in the sea and the Creator’s mercy cannot be defeated by the wickedness of the creatures."

"Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright, His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. 'He is good', He says 'to the evil and to the impious.' How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers?...How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over all his wealth? Where, then, is God's justice, for while we are sinners Christ died for us!"
"We know nothing of God’s justice, only His mercy.”
—St. Isaac of Syria

(Note: I am criticizing a distinctly Western defined concept of justice. The term sometimes used in such a way that I have no qualm with it.)