Mother Maria's Introduction to the Realism of the Orthodox Faith.


Over the past years, I have become more and more acutely conscious of the realism inherent in all aspects of the Orthodox interpretation of our common Christian faith, and it has struck me that, what may seem at times quite an insuperable barrier between the Orthodox and other Christians, is this very realism. Of this realism, analytically, the Orthodox themselves are frequently unaware, because they live inside it spontaneously, and without the stimulation of questionings which the antithesis of other approaches might offer.

            I should, therefore, like to trace what seem to me the basic outlines of this realism, and I shall concentrate solely on this one aspect of Orthodoxy: that is, in effect, the eschatological emphasis, which, inevitably, brings with it the realism, even as the realism must bring with it, and be rooted in, the eschatological simplicity. For, underlying all else, is the inexorable adherence to the Gospel. Truth is a Person. The Person is Christ. We are unbelievably simple.

            Because we believe Christ to be God and Man, and, without the assumption of this inalienable foundation of our attitude of faith and of thought, we can go no further, it follows that there can be no event in the Gospel, and no event in relation to Christ, which can ever be merely in the past tense, and, equally, no event can merely be foreseen as in the future tense. Our eschatology is based on this relationship between time and eternity, the event and the Mystery. Past and future, related to Christ, are in eternity, as well as in history, and, thereby are within the Mystery.

            The Mystery we can only grasp as today. This is why the prayers of the Church, in relation to all the events of the life of Christ on earth, again and again repeat the emphatic today. For example, the whole prayer of the Blessing of the Waters at Epiphany begins each sentence describing the event with, today:

            Today the hour of our festival has come, and the choir of the Saints assists with us, and Angels celebrate together with men. Today the grace of the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, has descended upon the waters. Today the Sun, which knows no setting, has arisen, and the world is illuminated with the light of the Lord . . . Today He who is uncreated endures the laying on of hands from him whom he had formed...

            And, so the prayer continues. This is no dramatic trick, but a sober reminder to the Faithful that they should adhere, with total concentration, to the theology of the Church, to the acceptance of the Mystery, and thence the eschatological reality.

            If we are once caught into the gravitation of this realism, then, we cannot avoid being drawn into the awareness of the Last Judgment; and so, we are sharply challenged at the very source of our faith.

            What, then, is the realism of our faith, in the unrelieved presence of Christ, Judge and Saviour?