Sun, 18 March 2018
A Meditation on St. John's “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”
The farmer's wealth is gathered on the threshing floor and in the wine press, but the wealth and knowledge of the monk is gathered during the evenings and the night hours while standing at prayer and engaged in spiritual activity. Step 20 (on vigil), 10.
When the day is over, the vendor sits down and counts his profits; but the acetic does so when the psalmody is over. Step 20 (on vigil), 18.
Stillness of the body is the knowledge and composure of the habits and feelings. And stillness of soul is the knowledge of one's thoughts and an inviolable mind. Step 27 (on stillness), 2.
What is Orthodox Tradition? Why is it important for us to immerse ourselves in the worship and rigors of Orthodoxy?
At the visible level, one that can be observed and studied by scientists, tradition is the accumulation of rituals and ideas that are directed towards a purpose. In the case of Orthodox Tradition, that purpose is the formation of good and strong human beings, good and strong families, and good and strong communities.
We know that, left to their own devices, children will go selfish and feral (spoiled, if you will); that family structures will morph into tyranny or disintegrate altogether, and communities will do the same.
On the other hand, good ideas and useful rituals allow humans, families, and societies a way out of this nasty and brutish life. Through Orthodox ritual and belief, the passions are tamed. The child learns self-control, the family finds grounding, and the community naturally brings safety, healing, and guidance to all its members. Beliefs and rituals that do these things are continually reaffirmed through our participation in them and those that prove counter-productive are adjusted. This is done slowly, and with a recognition that there is a wisdom in tradition that is seldom obvious to the impatient.
But there are other forces at play; there is an invisible level. God continually works through His prophets, His Christ, His Holy Spirit, and His Church to grant discernment to individuals, yes, but mostly to the community as a whole. The rituals and ideas of Orthodoxy are not just useful (although they are), they are inspired and strengthen by grace. Even more importantly, Orthodox Tradition is not directed primarily to the perfection of people, families, and communities, but to their salvation. To put it in theological language, we are not just learning to subdue our baser instincts, we are being saved and drawn deeper into infinite perfection through our life in Christ and Holy Orthodoxy.
If you look around, you cannot help but notice that all reasonably healthy, traditional societies have religious systems that have accumulated ideas and rituals that civilize their adherents. Because there is only one human race and we all have the same line between good and evil dividing our hearts, there is a lot of overlap in their ideas and rituals. Virtue is encouraged; vice is shamed and disciplined; and the unity of the good is proclaimed and celebrated. To the extent that we have become lax in our own devotion, we are encouraged by their witness.
But there is no need to go anywhere else to experience the one thing needful for every person, family, and community. It is found in its fullness in Holy Orthodoxy and its benefits can be enjoyed completely here at St. Mary's (and every other parish that was, is, or ever will be).
Let us immerse ourselves in that fullness now, as we continue our celebration of God's love for us, His people, and His world.