Not a Formula, but a Path: An Answer to Yesterday's Question
It has been noted by some of my non-commenting evangelical reader friends that I seem to depend too much on a "formula" both in ecclesiastical and more general spiritual practices. In harsher words, they think that Orthodoxy is just a set of rules, rituals, dead works, and "agitprop."
This is a hard charge to defend against. It is also a common one. Perhaps therein lies the difficulty during dialogue. The most difficult part is trying to explain that, right off the bat, the accusation itself betrays how different the Orthodox way of life and Orthodox weltanschauung is compared to the typical western Christian perspective.
"All Protestants are Crypto-Papists," wrote the Russian Orthodox theologian, Alexis Khomiakov. For the western Christian there are two paradigms: A+ and A-...in other words, most things come down to one of two polar opposite positions, which share a common set of presuppositions, histories, and outcomes. The "Either/Or" principle, rather than the "Both/And" or "None of the Above" principles of Orthodoxy....
Here a few examples:
Papal Infallibility vs. Sola Scriptura
"Self-Mortification" style of asceticism vs. no asceticism
Law vs. Grace
Liturgy vs. Spontaneity
Works vs. Faith
Modernism vs. Postmodernism
When I talk about things like needing to have liturgy, or a rule of prayer , or a rule of fasting, or adherence to Tradition, most postmodern evangelicals view those statements through the lens of A+, A-. Whether it is "Romaphobia" or just plain American individualism, the idea that Christianity is not something one gets to invent as they go along, strikes many as dependence on "formulas." They sadly think we are stuck in a modernistic system of rules, regulations, etc....
Of course, in many respects the opposite is true: My uncle recently remarked that Protestants are (and he used this word intentionally) *condemned* to create their own theologies, liturgies, and spiritual practices. For each new generation of Protestants this is becoming more and more true. As hard as it is to believe for some, there is nothing *less* free than being unconnected to the Holy Tradition of the Church.
(See my post on 11/29/02 entitled "Freedom Within Structure: Becoming Communal Selves" for more on this particular issue).
The quote I posted yesterday highlights this point in a striking manner. When I said "think outside the box" what I meant was this: the quote did not come from a Christian! In fact, it did not come from any particular religious publication at all. The quote was part of the instructions for a new medication I am trying! In other words, the same kind of adherence to a tried and true path, the same kind of admonition not to do things one's own way, the same kind of anti-positivist advice was given, not by an Orthodox, and not even by another Christian, but from the medical community!
Here is my question: Why is it that when we read statements (like yesterday's quote) from the Orthodox we immediate put up defensive justifications, but when we read the same philosophical and practical advice from doctors, suddenly it makes perfect sense! Nobody would think they could make up their own medications, decide the dosage levels, operate on themselves and think that was good medicine. If the Church is the Hospital of the Soul (as the saints have born witness throughout the centuries), wouldn't it make sense that 2000 years of God-inspired "medicine" would have corresponding "methods," "rules," and "guidelines?"
And of course, nobody would say that the methods in and of themselves are the things that primarily "save" you....(Although, in certain sense they do: see my post on 2/18/03 for more on this) but the methods and guidelines are part of an *organic* and *holistic* healing experience.
It is not just the medicine that saves, but the way in which you take the medicine.
It is not just the surgery that repairs you, but the method of the surgery.
It is not just by eating good food that one is made healthy, but the portions and discipline of the eating itself.
It is not only exercise that strengthens the body, but the careful and methodical life of training.
The beauty of Orthodoxy is that the life of the Church is, both individually tailored for each yet maintains a strict adherence to the general principles and methods that have *proven* to heal the whole human person. Everyone fasts, but to different degrees. Everyone prays, but each has their own rule. Everyone comes to confession, but it is their own unique sins and sinfulness that they come to be absolved from. Everyone participates in the common liturgy of the Church, yet each experiences it personally...Etc...
The beaten path of Holy Tradition....it's a beautiful gift.