What do I need? There is nothing on earth that I need, except that which is most essential. What do I need, what is most essential? I need the Lord, I need His grace, His kingdom within me. On earth, which is the place of my wanderings, my temporary being, there is nothing that is truly mine, everything belongs to God and is temporal, everything serves my needs temporarily. What do I need? I need true and active Christian love; I need a loving heart which takes compassion on its neighbors; I need joy over their prosperity and well-being, and sorrow over their sorrows and illnesses, their sins, failings, disorders, woes, poverty; I need warm and sincere compassion for all the circumstances of their lives, joy for those who are joyous and tears for those who are in tears. Enough of selfishness, egoism, living only for oneself and acquiring everything only for oneself: riches, pleasures, the glory of this world; enough of spiritual dying instead of living, grieving instead of rejoicing, and carrying within oneself the poison of selfishness, for selfishness is a poison that is continuously poured into our hearts by Satan. O, let me cry out with King David: Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart. Grant me, O Lord, true life, dispel the darkness of my passions, disperse their power with Thy strength, for with Thee all things are possible!
is like living in another world, not a particular ethnic world but rather a world that intersects with what we commonly understand as the “world” and yet at its core is very different and directed towards wholly different ends. I’m not sure that a person could understand Orthodoxy in its best sense and not be a little bit, or sometimes a lot, estranged from the everyday world. You are part of a tribe that ultimately belongs elsewhere and your travels have such a remarkably different destination.
To be Orthodox is to always be ill at ease, in the best sense of that phrase, with what’s around you. As you grow in your faith you begin to see the fallacies, the errors in logic, the terrible consequences of live lived without God. By seeing them you become “peculiar” as St. Paul would like to say it. How you process information. How you see and envision the world. How you actually live in the world. All these things begin to happen on different terms and those terms make you irregular in the usual course of things.
To be Orthodox is to wake up from a bad dream, a night vision of a world broken by its mortalities and subject to the unnatural rules of sin. There is more. There is better. There is truth and reality and it’s not where your old dream told you it was but rather where your new vision leads you. It’s why people left civilization for the deserts. It’s why wealthy people gave their riches to the poor. It’s why you feel best when you’re closest to the Holy. You are being transformed from a citizen of earth to a citizen of heaven. New rules apply. Old patterns lose their charm. A new person is being built inside your existing body and one day you, body and soul, will realize its potential.
For now we have to be here. This is okay. There is beauty and truth and love and many good things, shadows of the perfect that cause us both to mourn for Eden past and to know, in part, what good lies ahead. Yet we, if we are true to our faith, will always be a little unsettled while we’re here, involved but not attached, alive but not totally belonging, present but not completely accounted for. There is a great freedom in this and life abundant as we grasp this truth.
How blessed and wonderful, beloved, are the gifts of God! Life in immortality, splendor in righteousness, truth in boldness, faith in confidence, continence in holiness: and all these things are submitted to our understanding. What, then, are the things which are being prepared for those who wait for Him? The Creator and Father of the ages, the All-holy One, Himself knows their greatness and beauty. Let us then strive to be found among the number of those that wait, that we may receive a share of the promised gifts.
When controversies are ignited and flare up in the Church, which happens and has happened often, alas, we inevitably hear appeals from Church circles to cease these controversies in the name of peace and love. Now, this would be cause for great joy, if only in these appeals there were no unmistakably different overtones: “Your controversy is not important. It is of interest to no one: only ‘specialists’ and ‘scholars’ can understand it, so all this argument leads only to seduction and harm.”
And here we must point out to these accusers something very important which they have apparently forgotten. They have forgotten that peace and concord in the Church are inseparable from the Truth. An outsider who does not believe and is not part of the Church would smile and shrug his shoulders, “What is truth?” That is precisely Pilate’s question to the Savior who stood before him. And the Savior did not respond, because and “outsider” does not believe in the possibility of Truth. For him the truth is always relative and measured according to advantage, improvement or expedience. But for us who know and believe that the Church is founded on the Truth made flesh, that all her life is in Him who said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” for us there is nothing in the Church which is unimportant, because everything is measured by this Truth and is subordinate to it.
Yes, there have been many controversies in the Church, and its earthly history is replete with them. They occurred not only in times of trouble, like ours, but also when Church life flowered, in the golden ages of the Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers of the Church. Only then no one would have dared to acknowledge anything in the Church as unimportant. So for this cause they debated and for this cause they were persecuted and exiled for one word, for one “iota” (an accurate assessment of the Aryan controversy at the time of St. Athanasius the Great), that above all on earth they placed the Truth and fidelity to the Truth. And in these controversies there was more true love for the Church and her people, whom the Lord Himself through His incarnation deemed worthy of the knowledge of the Truth — more ardor, more faith than in the lukewarm “latitude” and “tolerance” of our time, when so much in the Church has become the portion of the clergy alone and the “specialists”. We should not be seduced by controversies about how to plan our Church life in accordance with the Truth, because in these controversies there burns a living anguish for the Church and its destiny, but rather by the sea of indifference among the Church populace itself which surrounds these controversies and by the skepticism with which even religious people treat these “unimportant” matters.
Of course in our controversies there is so much human passionateness, sinfulness and narrowness. They should and must be enlightened by prayer, love and patience. No one person embodies the Truth in its fullness, but each one is required to aspire to it, to call upon his spiritual intellect, his will and his heart to come to “the knowledge of the Truth.” “Put everything to the test; hold fast what is good,” says Paul the Apostle. And if in humility we attempt always to obey the Truth, if we try unceasingly to overcome all which is sinful and narrow for the sake of the Truth, then our controversies born of human weakness may lead to the glory of the Church, “for the strength of Christ is made perfect in weakness.”
Priest Alexander Schmemann
The Word of the Church, Paris, December, 1949
Translated from Russian by Robert Parent and first published in English in the Holy Trinity Cathedral LIFE, Vol.1. No. 6, February 1994″