“I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things . . . Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light” — C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity (excerpt, page 49).
The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church convened after celebration of the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of Pentecost (June 19th) and will close this Sunday, the Feast of All Saints (June 26th). Orthodox believers should be fervently praying and humbly invoking the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit to inspire and direct the participants of the Council to “rightly divide the word of truth.”
The Orthodox Church professes there is such a thing as absolute Truth. At the same time, Orthodoxy acknowledges that traditions, customs and practices change and are expressed differently in each cultural location and epoch in which the Church finds itself. Ideally what should be important for Orthodoxy is that the essential and absolute Truth (Holy Tradition) never changes, but the way in which the gospel message is communicated and made relevant is what changes by means of theological contextualization. In other words, the Truth is everlasting, not suspect to change. What changes, based on context and progressive revelation, is how that Truth is expressed and applied within different cultures and ages. The Truth which Orthodox Christianity proclaims is Jesus Christ. Truth, no matter where it is found, belongs to Christ—not the Church, as the Church also belongs to Christ and not Christ to the Church.
An imperative of the participants of the Great and Holy Council is to reevaluate and clearly define the terms Tradition and traditions. There needs to be a more thorough clarification as to what tradition really implies, being something active and evolving rather than stagnant and passive. There are connotations in the contemporary scene that would indicate that traditions are simply followed because “that’s how things have always been done.” Holy Tradition (dogma) itself does not change; the way in which traditions are expressed and lived is what changes based on context. The point in doing theological contextualization is to discern the underlying truth(s) behind the traditions and learn to express those in new ways in light of modern science and culture.
In the discussion of theological opinion, authentic Orthodoxy allows and even encourages different views on issues which the Church has not made a doctrinal teaching. A significant difference between East and West that differentiates our theology is the understanding of sin, because this premise profoundly impacts how each views human nature and subsequently, reality, as we experience it. For the West, the legalistic notion of sin has resulted in the “what” of sin, emphasizing “do not do;” in the East, the emphasis is on the “why.” It is not simply a “do not do” this, but a “why we do not do this.” Rather than a legalistic observance of rules, the East professes that it is through loving God and neighbor that we are in communion with God and with our fellow human beings
Eastern Orthodoxy suggests that it is in living ethically in the world in pursuit of union (theosis) with God that a Christian fulfills one’s calling, as opposed to strict observance of absolutist juridical moral codes. Our salvation begins in this life, as our daily participation in the world is sacramental. Christians are considered a universal race, a universal people that do not uphold social constructs that are used to divide humanity. Unfortunately, a large segment of Orthodoxy has become trapped and frozen in a ‘fundamentalism of tradition’ and in an archaic “patristic fundamentalism.” Too much authority has been vested in “the way we have always done things,” hindering contextualized theology and praxis.
Patristic theologians contextualized theology to the cultural context and age in which they found themselves. The Church today must once again find its creative and dynamic synergy to authentically and contextually convey to the contemporary world the good news of the gospel message while being faithful to the Truth that was, the Truth that is, and the Truth that will be—the revelation of Jesus Christ.