James quotes a famous saying from St. Isaac of Syria today that always makes me squirm.
"Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth.
Someone who is considered among men to be zealous for truth has not yet
learned what truth is really like: once he has truly learnt it, he will
cease from zealousness on its behalf."
Over the past few months, I have found myself in many (non-blog) discussions with family and friends about spiritual things. Being an INTJ, and a bit on the intense side, I more often than not tend to come on a bit strong in my defense of Orthodoxy and the Church. I am coming up on my 6 year anniversary of being a member of the Orthodox Church and I still have much farther to go in this particular struggle.
This week I got the most recent issue of "The Orthodox Word," a publication of the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. This issue was devoted to St. Seraphim Rose, an American convert and well-known Orthodox monk. The last section is from a never before published talk that Fr. Seraphim gave in the last year of his life about the search for Orthodoxy that is happening around the world (circa. 1981...wow, how much has changed, even since then!)
In light of the St. Isaac quote, I thought I would post some of Fr. Seraphim's comments about the pitfalls new converts to Orthodoxy usually fall into. The first quote was easy to say "Amen" to...the rest was a bit more difficult!
"One big mistake we can make about our Orthodoxy is being too loose, to "liberal" about it....Some Orthodox people think that the Orthodox Church is nothing more than the Russian or Greek equivalent of the Episcopalian Church; with such an idea, of course, one is not going to try very hard to bring anyone to the Orthodox Faith....With all respect to the views of the non-Orthodox, we are not living our Orthodox Faith rightly if we do not make others somehow aware of the *differentness* of Orthodoxy. This does not need to mean arguments and polemics about aspects of the Faith, although these might arise after others have become interested in Orthodoxy. The very way one leads one's Orthodox life, if one is serious about fulfilling the commitment of being an Orthodox Christian, is already a witness to others.
A related mistake...is weaving fantasies about Orthodoxy and living in them instead of the real world...there are would-be desert dwellers who can't pass through a week of obedience in an ordinary monastic community; there are those who dream of the most exalted states of prayer, and who can't help saying a sharp word at the slightest provocation; there are those who dream of converting whole cities or states when they are barely able to get along with those around them...
One of our Russian bishops, speaking on the basis of his own sometimes bitter experience, has translated the word "converts" into pidgin-Russian as "konverti"--which means "envelopes" in Russian. He says there is nothing wrong with "konverti"--it's just that they come unglued too easily...."
I love this last part. I too, tend to come "unglued" in discussions and debates...and it is because, many times, I am afraid. I don't trust that Truth will win out in the end....and I'm caught between knowing how Orthodoxy is needed by so many people and how at the same time there is no way for me to "convince" anyone of it by sheer mental, logical, or otherwise human means.
A different Seraphim, (St. of Sarov) once said that if we acquire the Holy Spirit and become truly holy, *thousands* around us would be saved....that is a whole different way of doing evangelism it seems. Even after 6 years, I still see myself caught in the western paradigm of how to do evangelism, with its words and polemics and debates and proofs. The only proof of Orthodoxy that will convince anyone *in the long run* is holiness. Let us put that above all else and let us submit our blogs and our debates to this goal and this goal alone.