St. Stephen's Musings

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:: Friday, November 29, 2002 ::

Freedom within structure--becoming communal selves:

A friend of mine has recently become interested in Orthodoxy with an intensity I find almost shocking.

Considering his lack of experience in liturgical worship as well as the little amount of reading he has done, it is a true work of God that he is where he is at. We have stayed up into the wee hours of the morning on more than one occasion, discussing the spiritual life, Orthodox theology and the desire for authentic worship. I am amazed at God's providence as I find out more about my friend's journey and the truths of the Church he has stumbled upon. I can only attribute his incredible desire for God and his deep hunger for holistic truth to be from God.

One of his deepest struggles at this point is the idea of freedom, specifically in regards to worship. He was raised in a conservative Baptist church and has since found a home in a Foursquare church, where "pushing into the Spirit" and "freedom in the Lord" are heavily emphasized. He feels this has been a good antitode to his past worship experiences at the Baptist church. And yet, he is intriqued and facinated by liturgical worship especially with the communal and reverent aspects of the Liturgy.

As I sat down today to read the December issue of "First Things," I found this section from an article by Ralph Wood entitled "Ivan Karamazov's Mistake" to be pertinent to the issue of how Orthodox view "freedom."

"...we are not made into free persons by becoming autonomous selves who have been immunized from all obligations that we have not independently chosen. Our freedom resides rather in becoming communal selves who freely embrace our moral, religious, and political obligations. These responsibilities come to us less by our own choosing than through a thickly webbed network of shared friendships and familial ties...[and] religious promises. In a very real sense, such "encumbrances" choose us before we choose them. There is no mythical free and autonomous self that exists apart from these ties. There are only gladly or miserably bound persons--namely, persons who find their duties and encumbrances to be either gracious or onerous."

It amazes me to talk with my Protestant friends who really believe worship is something you yourself make up as you go along. Many have no sense of the communal nature of liturgical worship--the "plugging into" the worship of heaven with all of the angels, heavenly hosts and saints. They find it hard to reconcile the ideas of "structure" and "freedom." But what they don't see is that, like so many other things in the Christian life, the paradox of structured, formal, set prayers and total freedom in worship are NOT antithical realites. The freedom we Orthodox find in worship is neccesarily and organically connected to the structure itself. Freedom is found, not by creating "worship," but by choosing, in obedience to the Church and her teachings and Holy Tradition, to FREELY enter into these God-ordained structures.

The Orthodox idea of freedom and the relationship it has with obedience is described beautifully by Bishop Ware in an essay entitled, "Lent and the Consumer Society." He says:

"For freedom, as well as being spotaneous, is also something that has to be learned. If you were to ask me, 'Can you play the violin?', and I replied, 'I'm not sure, I've never tried,' you might feel that there was something odd about my answer. For I am not free to play Back's sonatas on the violin unless I have first learned, through a prolonged and ardous training, how to handle the violin....I am not truly free unless I have first learned how to use my freedom rightly and this process of learning presupposes obedience, discipline and self-denial. Freedom is not only a gift--it is a task."

God, in his love for us, knows we will abuse our free will without his guidance and protection. The structures of the Church, that from the outside look constraining, turn out to be the very avenues we learn to actually become free! It is within the arena of submission and humility that we find true freedom. But it is hard to explain this truth--sometimes it is only by experiencing it directly that we can see the beauty of the freedom of liturgical worship as well as many of the other "structures" of the Church. I pray my friend will continue his search and I am confident he will not stop until he has found the fullness he is looking for.

:: Karl :: 1:40:00 PM [Link] ::

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