Our Worthless Quotations

I used to teach my catechumens that if anyone speaks against the Fathers, or the monastics, or the Bishop, to cross themselves discreetly, and dismiss themselves as quietly and politely as possible, and go outside or get away. St. John the Small used to do as much whenever anyone was spoken against, and his example is fruitful. Perhaps I should close my ears and run away, as did St. John. But in this case, hospitality and the possibility of giving shape to this place for future visitors seems to invite comment.

Someone stopped by the other day to drop off a blanket potshot (submitted a comment to the site): saying the quotations (the words of the Fathers) are “worthless” without sources. I’m always fascinated for a moment or two by those whose sole mission seems to be scrawling a “what you’re doing is nothing – it’s worthless” on things they don’t like or are unfamiliar with. We don’t usually publish such comments here, because they start needless and fruitless discussions. But I will respond to the general trend.

As Franky Schaeffer once observed, back when he was Protestant, it’s very Protestant to give things a label, even when they don’t need one. Nothing can go without comment. A mountain must have a ‘verse’ scrawled across it. A sunset isn’t commentary enough – it needs a slogan attached. It’s part of the overall mentality that all things must be placed in categories – right/wrong, true/false, correct/incorrect – and our job is to help you do it. A tree is suspect without an appended ‘word’, because all things, in this mentality, are reduced to concepts, to didactic, pedantic propositions. A tree, by itself, might lead  you to the ‘wrong’ conclusion. A tree is therefore ‘worthless’ without a ‘point’ made about the tree in a format that can be categorized, debated, and easily referenced. You gotta be careful – you might end up hugging it, or protecting it from loggers, and that wouldn’t be “Christian”.

Case in point, we do generally attribute any quotations. It might say “St. Seraphim of Sarov” or “Our Father among the Saints, Maximus”. But this is insufficient for the Protestant visitor. Instead, he wants the exact page of some edition of some work, so he can go and look it up and compare it to other ‘sources’. But that’s just the issue, isn’t it? Sources. We already know what the sources of our Faith are – these are not up for debate, are not a matter of conjecture, and do not need to be proven among our people. And we’ve said repeatedly that this is an internal discussion. First, the blog is an interior one turned outward as an act of Confession, and secondly the content of our fathers’ words is for our fathers’ people. It is not really for someone who is attempting religious archaeology to construct their own religion from sources they did not produce in a context they are specifically rejecting and cannot duplicate. As someone once said, ‘If you believe the Apostles’ words, then join the Apostles’ Church!”

In the same way, we’ve pointed out that the Holy Scriptures themselves were written by us, by the Orthodox, for us, for use by us in the context of our community. They are liturgical works, concerning Jesus Christ, written by a people for themselves. For someone else to come along and wish to argue with us about what we meant when we wrote them, or whether our fathers intended them for use as our fathers used them, is silly. Protestantism must ever take other people’s works, revise their meaning for import into an alien context, and then claim that the original authors did not know what they were doing, saying, what they meant, and were using them incorrectly. It’s the equivalent of you telling me that some poem I wrote is not about what I say it is, nor written in the context from which I know I wrote it, but is about the sister who I never had dying in the childhood abroad that I never lived. Or more accurately, is about your sister who I never met, who lived her entire life in a country I never visited, and who rejects everything I thought or believed when I wrote it. It gets that absurd.

We know who St. Seraphim or St. Maximus are, and we know what they said, did, wrote, and what it means (they’re part of our community), and we know what to do with it. The notion that somehow this must be posted on a door in Wittenberg, like Martin Luther’s 95 theses, to try to gain the acceptance of people who have nothing to do with it at all is equally absurd. The Orthodox do not offer our religion as one of many religious philosophies to be held up to the light of something external (and presumably superior) for it to be judged. What would that superior thing be? We deny that there is anything superior to it, or anything outside or alongside it that is the science of determining its efficacy as truth. As C.S. Lewis has said, truth is its own justification – if a thing is really true (if a thing is *reality*), nothing external can be drawn upon to validate or invalidate it. When a thing is true, there is no appeal beyond that. Real is real, even if everyone and everything else said it isn’t. If the “Warren Commission” of religion made a pronouncement on what is and isn’t real, it wouldn’t change anything, would it? What is, is. And we Orthodox do not merely *argue* that our Faith is true, do not *conjecture* that it is so, do not *hypothesize* or offer a theoretical set of “claims” (to use the Protestant parlance – think Josh McDowell); we are not constructing a religious philosophy; we act and live in it as true, as ultimate, as comprehensive of the cosmos and all created things. We have received what we have received from the Incarnate God, in person, in the flesh, and there is no further court of ‘validation’ or appeal. As one witness said, “Whether this (jibes with your religious philosophy or not) I can’t say, I can only tell you what happened to me.”

‘Sources’, as such, are for people trying to *prove* something, trying to argue in favor of something to some *external* party, trying to support a *propositional theory*. Indeed, in that respect, to such a person intending such an endeavour, Holy Orthodoxy is indeed worthless and would remain worthless if we listed chapter and verse, since the intent of the person is not to become Orthodox but to build his own religion as a construct of his mind – something an Orthodox mind can have no interest in.

But to those of us who are Orthodox, and seeking salvation, by which we don’t mean anything like what a Protestant would mean by such a word, we find it very worthwhile and far from worthless to hear the words of one of our fathers saying, “Keep your mind in Hell, and despair not.” This is one of our own, who is glorified, speaking to those of us aiming for that very thing. It isn’t for those who are trying to fabricate a historical context for themselves out of parts of other people’s religion in a religious Piltdownism. Such a revisionism, some might say fraud, can only be perpetrated by those who, for example, have already rejected the notion that God became man, physically, laid physical hands on other men and made them bishops, who themselves repeated this process, until the Church remains gathered around that very succession of bishops to this day. If one accepts that, one goes where the bishops are and discovers their Faith, one does not ignore Christ and create another “Christ” out of concepts that are more conveniently portable, adaptable, and transferable to anyone with a store front and a feeling that God appointed them to “cook their own meth”, so to speak. We’re not trying to “prove” that there’s a succession of bishops, as though historical reality itself must be submitted to another source of validation – but we’re living in that reality. We were there, and our fathers led their children to those men, and they led their children, and so on as it happens to this day. The attempt to come up with a validation for history (that we ourselves are experiencing first hand) is only sensible among those who aren’t, in fact, part of that history at all – and in fact, the result is the fabrication of an alternate history situating people that never were into things that never happened.

The sources of our Faith are those of our Faith. Take this example: the (Greek) Orthodox do not have to have sermons in which they’re constantly saying “in the original Greek it says…” (something prevalent in Protestant settings) – because they never lost Greek as the West did. They never ceased the constant recitation of the actual original in their Churches and monasteries to this day. They aren’t doing religious archaeology, they aren’t trying to piece together a mystery amid the ashes of the Great Schism, at which the West departed Orthodoxy, or among the bones of the Reformation, at which one part of the Schismatics departed another part of the Schismatics, or within the chaos of the Great Awakening and evangelicalism, in which each individual “believer” (of various propositions and doctrinal statements and personal philosophies) departed from each other and created 50,000 denominations of Protestantism and invented quite a few previously unheard of religions, establishing for all those “believers” schism as the basis of faith itself (and therefore the need for constant proofs and references to establish one’s intellectual pedigree). The Orthodox aren’t trying to figure out what piece of a millenia-old puzzle goes where, while operating with a box cover that looks like a 20th century Sunday School painting of ‘Jesus’. They aren’t having a “dialogue” with the saints or an “encounter” with ancient Christianity, and they’re not antiquing for the beauty and splendour of a golden age that somehow no longer exists for them. They are just living their lives, praying, remaining in the same community they always have, as established by Christ, and following in the same well-trodden footsteps of holy men that they always have, leading back and forth to Christ like a ladder to Heaven on which angels ascend and descend.

This is why you don’t see the Orthodox carting around 20lb tomes and looking up and quoting references to one another in lunch rooms, trying to figure out how to solve various problems from whether its right to watch R-rated movies to free will and predestination. That latter, for example, is a Western heterodox problem – a Protestant and Roman Catholic one – it has nothing to do with Orthodoxy. We didn’t invent that construct, it’s not a dilemma that arises in Orthodox thinking as it is for someone whose sole “sources” are a theoretical system of dialectic and requisite proof texts, and we’re not possessed with solving it for someone who’s part of a culture of religious philosophy that necessarily produces  those dilemmas for them. We’re not inventing a religious philosophy; we never were. Why would anyone want to go through that, when the end result is submitting one’s “belief”, one’s intellectual and moral fidelity, and the fidelity of the heart, to something self-created (invented) and fictional?

The god of such a system doesn’t exist – he’s a figment of various imaginations – a gazillion individual schismatic ones – a construct of vocabulary or of concepts, himself merely a super-concept, a ‘pure essence’. For all the evangelical talk of a ‘personal relationship with “Jesus” in one’s heart’, it turns surprisingly quickly to a war of philosophical constructs where whoever has the most presumably authoritative “sources” wins – but even that, any first year logic student can tell you is a running Appeal to Authority, and hence an unreasonable non sequitur. The god of those sources is just a footnote in the imagination, a bibliography in the mind. That god is about as formidable as a big Excel spreadsheet (I’d pit a VAC computer from the 1970s against him any time), and just about as conducive to overcoming the chains in which people live in their hearts – pride, anger, jealousy, rage, accidie, despair, despondency, vainglory, vengeance, dissipation, bitterness, and the other various passions that have produced such agony in the heart of each individual person, visible in phenomenon like the constant need for stimulation (my music, my games, my news, my TV, my movies, my magazines, my friends, my texting, my phone, etc. etc. to try to drown out the cry of the heart in an anguish against which ‘having the right answer’ is no match). There is no peace, and the great spreadsheet of references in the sky just makes it worse, not better – for that god has no power to purify the heart of such diseases of death.

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to elucidate what we are not. For that, the comment is appreciated. For what it recommends, we can only respond that you must do your own research – we’re not here to do it for you, and we certainly can’t be involved in helping you create a personal heterodoxy, since that would be, for us, to commit apostasy. One again, this is merely the blog of an Orthodox Christian who, while failing utterly in all things and at all times, is striving (including by means of this blog) to be united to God in theosis. But he has only just made a beginning, and keeps failing again. So even if you were striving for the same thing, he couldn’t help you. He does, however, find the words of the fathers to be of inestimable worth. By their prayers and yours may he be saved.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top