St. Stephen's Musings

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:: Monday, December 09, 2002 ::

Can we be Holy?--The Ramifications of the Incarnation

My wife and I hosted a local evangelical church's Gen-X discussion group at our house on Saturday. Most of group members are between the ages of 21-27. Two of the members are good friends of ours from college. Although they know we are Orthodox they have invited us with open arms to participate in their discussion group. (Sadly, there are very few Orthodox in Portland between the ages of 19-30).

The way the group works is each person writes down a question about anything that is on their mind in regards to the spiritual life, Christian doctrine, politics, etc. Then we randomly select a question out of a hat and discuss until the person who wrote it feels we have helped them answer it, or at least gets a better understanding of the issues surrounding the question. Then on to the next question...

The last time we were invited to this group's discussion night, we ended up staying up until 1am talking about the Nicene Creed, church history, and the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. (All stemming from the question, "How can individual Christians, who have the Holy Spirit, come to such radically different interpretations and applications of Scripture?")
That night was powerful and challenging for several people, as many had never before heard anything about church history, the councils, etc...But for this night, my wife and I decided to try and be a bit less vocal and let the group fight through things without our input.

The first questions we drew on Saturday night was, "Can you become holy on earth? If so, what would it look like?"
Now for the Orthodox, this question should like Barry Bonds getting a fat 79 mile an hour fastball....

Interestingly, what started out to be a fairly easy question turned into a full blown philological struggle over what the word "holy" means. The knee jerk reaction for many was "Of course not!". One girl really had problems with it--"Is that even in the Bible?" she asked. When pointed to the verse "Be holy, even as your heavenly Father is holy," she weakly conceded, but said she still didn't want to even hear anyone use the word!

From there the descent into madness continued--the conversation quickly turned to the classic "faith vs. works" debate with people furiously turning to Bible passages, flipping through concordances and dictionaries, trying to reconcile the seemingly contradictory passages and teachings. Some wanted to use the word "fruits" rather than works, while others pointed out that they might be the same thing. Some talked of God "doing all the work that is needed on the cross," while others tried to bring up how we seem to play a part as described in the book of James and 1 John. All the while church history, and the lives of the saints were totally absent from the discussion. I continued to hold my tounge....

At one point I finally made a quick observation. I said reaching a level of holiness where raising the dead, weeping unceasingly for one's sins, and performing other miracles is what is expected in Orthodoxy. One girl looked at me and asked with longing in her voice, "Have you ever met anyone like that? Just once, I wish I could meet someone like that!"

By the end of the night, as people exhaustedly put away their Bibles, someone finally and very quietly asked "If we are to be holy on earth, with God's help and grace, WHAT should we do and HOW should we do it?"

And that was the end of the discussion because no one had an answer for that!.....For those who have no experience or tradition of true holiness as the goal and norm of the Christian life, that humble question seems to be the show stopper!

Someone in the group had brought up 1 John 4:2-3: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,
and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God."

How can one believe that Jesus Christ "came in the flesh" but then turn right around and say that the uniting of the divine with the human is impossible on earth now? St. Symeon the New Theologian and St. Cyprian had VERY harsh things to say about this belief!

How can one "accept Jesus" but turn around and say that His Body, the Church, is only a spiritual reality that has no incarnated, visible, holy body on earth? How can one say they believe Jesus came in the flesh, but be members of churches that don't believe in regular Eucharistic worship and believe the sacraments are only "symbols?" Was Jesus on earth just a symbol?

It was a hard night for my wife, who continues to deal with the loneliness of leaving her Protestant background and the friends who are still there. In many ways the discussion night seemed to highlight how much separates her from them. And what was becoming clear was that they have radically different experiences and beliefs of what it even means to be a Christian (both the process and the telos).

Ok, enough ranting and pontificating for today! I have to study for my Latin final tomorrow!

Factus est Deus homo ut homo fieret Deus gratia!

:: Karl :: 3:37:00 PM [Link] ::

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