I have spent the vast majority of my adulthood with my nose in a book. Honestly. I am not really even exaggerating. As an English teacher, I have to pass on knowledge of hyberbole, which is basically serious exaggeration to make a point. But the reality is that I am reading books all the time. I have books in my office, in the living room, near the bed, in the car – I even carry one in my pocket at all times. I love to read.
Of course, my love of reading is not just because of the pleasure that is derived. I also appreciate the enhancement I receive intellectually. I like to learn new things. I like to be corrected if my prior understanding was mistaken. These things are important to me.
One of the reasons that I am always working diligently to learn and develop intellectually is because of my heritage. My previous religious group is BIG on “head knowledge.” Actions are only important as they relate to knowledge. Whether one’s baptism is “acceptable” or not depends upon what that person “knew” or “understood” at the time of baptism. If they did not do it for the “right reasons” then they must rebaptized for the correct ones.
In fact, their entire religious experience is focused upon the advancement of knowledge, both individually and collectively. As children, we were taught the “correct” method of interpreting scriptures so that we could “defend the faith” when the time came. Many stories were told of times that these “facts” saved the day in a debate.
The problem was that little emphasis was made on true Christian living. Oh sure, there were admonitions to “do the right thing” and “live the Christian life.” But those encouragements were really short on substance. I mean, did living right matter if you didn’t do it for the right reasons? Was there really a connection between the two?
But imagine my surprise, when I encountered Orthodoxy, and not everyone was walking around quoting Acts 2:38 (that is a biggie in my former group). Occasionally, even priests might not be able to recall off the top of their heads where certain scriptures were to be found. The “book” knowledge was less than I was used to. I admit, it took me aback a little.
As I got to know each of these people, however, (even the priests) I came to see their wonderful Christian spirit and lifestyle. They might not have swelled heads, but they have swelled hearts – full of love and Godly devotion.
This made me wonder: what was really important? Did it matter if I knew who all the kings of ancient Judah and Israel were, in order, and who they were married to? What if I didn’t have the lineage of Christ committed to memory? What if I didn’t know that Methuselah lived to be 969 and was the son of Enoch, who at age 365 was taken to be with God?
But what if I did know each of those things, but didn’t have a Christian attitude and physical devotion? Did the knowledge help me? No, not really. But even if I don’t have that knowledge, but I do have the Christian Spirit, things are moving in the right direction.
It reminds me of the Roman Catholic devotional classic, The Practice of the Presence of God, where a simple man became the encouragement to Bishops and generations of Christians over the past four centuries. Who can remember the bishops of that day? Few, but many can remember Brother Lawrence.
So, why do I bring this up? I have been accepted into the St. Stephen’s Program with the Antiochian Archdiocese. I have no idea if it will lead to ordination at some point in the future, though I admit that I hope it does. However, whether it does or not, it will give me opportunities to learn and work out my “brain.” What I must remember to do is to work out my “brawn” – that other part of living the Christian life, where I actually DO it. As St. Paul tells the Philippians in Philippians 2:12-13: Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. We must work out our salvation. Work it out. Not just study it and read about it. Work it out.
Pray for me that I will remember to do that with my daily prayers. Pray to St. Juvenaly that he will continue to intercede for me. Pray for my family as they deal with my extra time devoted to studies. Most of all, pray for our Orthodox Church worldwide. For one thing I have learned: none of us are in this alone. We are neither saved alone, nor lost alone. We are all part of one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.