I’m in the middle of a book on Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s a rather odd experience. It’s a lot like going to a new destination, a new place, a far off place. Rather like my first trip to visit Guatemala, my wife’s native country. I flew a red eye flight from LA to Guatemala city. It was 1992 and I deboarded the airplane down one of those stairways out of a 1950’s movie. Right onto the tarmac and then walked inside the building. It was still rather dark. When I arrived at the office to purchase a tourist visa, it was closed. We all had to stand around waiting for this little Guatemalan man to show up at 6 am. After paying my $10 he issued me what looked like a telephone message 4×4 inch piece of paper. It was almost comical if it weren’t for how exhausted I was. The airport itself felt tired. One part gritty, one part age and two parts just small. Leaving the airport I was hit with the scene of many small children asking for money. They were a pitiful sight: small, unwashed and obviously poor. The smell was of unwashed bodies and a tinge of smoke (I would learn later that all poor families use wood stoves to cook). The car ride to my, soon to be, wife’s parents house was full of sights, smells and sounds I was very unfamiliar with. It’s barely a 30 minute drive. Seemed much longer at the time. My wife has told me she wasn’t sure if I was about to just turn around and get on the next flight back to the states. I didn’t, in fact about 5 years later we would move there and make a home for 5 years. I learned a great deal about my wife and her culture and all its attendant facets. And I’m the richer for it.
The book (my apologies for no book name, it’s sitting on my nightstand at home whilst I type away here in a coffee shop) on Eastern Orthodoxy is written by a fellow who spent a number of years in Russia. He went over when it was still the Soviet state, but it collapsed about a year into his stay. He was there as the Russian Orthodox Church made its roaring comeback. I can nearly taste his experience. They not only speak another language, they think about things in a completely distinct way. The ways of Eastern Orthodoxy is also similarly distinct, odd and strange to the Western trained mind.
It’s a little like getting to know a long lost relative. They talk about some similar things, but with a very different twist. Those of the Eastern Orthodox faith have an amazing reverence for both the Mystery of GOD and the spiritual life, a looking to the Holy Spirit that makes Pentecostals look like babbling kindergarteners. The theological debates they engage in are related to this desire to be united to the Holy Spirit and the merging with the Divine. They are much more comfortable with the Transcendent nature of God. An infinite God is only understandable as He reveals Himself to us. All we know about Him is what He has chosen to reveal, leaving an Infinite amount of knowledge yet unknown to us, a mystery then. That our very frame and structure lack the wherewithal to grasp Him, that language and human thought are insufficient to the task of describing His magnificence. And, they are not very big fans of Logic. He recounted his students rather dismissive treatment of C.S. Lewis. He was “too logical” they said. The reliance on logic is an argument against it’s use for things of GOD.
Now, I will admit I find the western church’s obsession with logic a tad frustrating at times. As if we could logically argue someone into Faith. God’s Love for us is so intense that He would send His only Begotten Son to live among us puny creations and then Die as a propitiation for our sins, our wrongs against a perfectly Holy and Righteous God is not logical. It’s an intense, burning love for us that defies clear explanation, seeming completely out of proportion. And yet He did. Because we bear His image.
He made us, women and men, in His image. Women, have men ever seemed mysterious (odd, strange, not right in the head) to you? Men, have women ever seemed mysterious to you? We are each made in the image of a mysterious, glorious and living GOD. Our Eastern Orthodox cousins tend to swim in the mysterious nature of God, not wanting or trying to understand it but to experience it. I humbly submit that our “Western Church” could use a healthy dose of this transcendent Truth.