Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Doctrine is a Verbal Icon of Christ

Fr. Stephen strikes again.



From the Desert Fathers:

Malicious sceptics visited Abba Agathon to see if they could annoy him. They had heard that Agathon possessed great discretion and self-control. They spoke directly to him, "Agathon, we heard that you are an adulterer and full of pride."

He answered, "Yes, that's true."

"Are you the same Agathon who gossips and slanders?"

"I am."

"Are you Agathon the heretic?"

"No, I am not a heretic."

"Why did you patiently endure it when we slandered you, but refuse to be called a heretic?"

Agathon answered, "Your first accusations were good for my soul, but to be a heretic is to be separated from God. I do not want to be apart from God."

Christianity inhabits a confused and confusing world of religious belief. There are those among us (including the Orthodox) who use the label "heretic" too easily. There are others for whom the word has no meaning – they are indifferent to doctrinal belief.

One reason for this particular confusion is that, for many, doctrine inhabits a space called "opinion" and they are right not to give much weight to opinion. My opinion in doctrine does not matter. Others recognize that doctrine matters (the history of the Christian faith bears witness to this) but still do not make a proper distinction between opinion and doctrine.

Fr. Georges Florovsky, of blessed memory, once wrote that doctrine is "a verbal icon of Christ." That statement may not carry much weight with the non-Orthodox – but should come as a profound revelation for contemporary Orthodox believers. What we find in the teaching of the Church is not a collection of "right opinions" but a verbal representation of Christ, similar to the representation found in the holy icons. Again, the non-Orthodox may not perceive the power in this statement – but it is an important way for Orthodox Christians to remove themselves from the position of valuing opinions and restore them to the position of holding doctrine in its proper veneration.



I perceive the power in this.

And so I encourage you to read it all.

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