Thursday, January 27, 2005

Humble, yet bold

I have been having a hard time keeping up with the Orthodox Convert list-serv that I subscribe to, but I'm loathe to delete the digests that have piled up in my e-mail inbox. Every time I finally open up one and start scrolling down, it's filled with goodies like this one.

An inquirer asked, "How can a saint like Paul expect to go to heaven and receive the crown of justice, while monk Ephraim of Philotheou says he expects to go to hell? Isn't this a conflict?"

I think this is a really good question. One of the shockers about Orthodoxy to most American Christians is the emphasis on podvig -- spiritual struggle. The language in some of the services -- especially the Lenten ones -- as well as much that you could read from monastics can easily confuse folks raised with comfy hymns like "Blessed Assurance" and "What a Friend We Have in Jesus". In truth, after living Orthodox for over 20 years, I think I know roughly how I would answer something like this, but I couldn't have put it as well as Reader Timothy Copple, who replied:
The paradox of the Faith is that we on one hand see our sins and know they have the power to drag us down and condemn us to hell, but we have the confidence in God's mercy that we can be saved. So both concepts are indeed compatable and often mentioned side by side.

After listing an example or two from liturgies and contrasting them with psalms, he continues:
St. Paul is emphasizing that his and everyone's hope is on the mercy of God in Jesus Christ (everyone who loves His appearing) while Ephraim is speaking of what his own works can accomplish. Based on us, all we can expect is hell. Based on God's mercy, if we humbly rely upon that and guide our lives by it, all we can hope for is salvation. What the good monk is actually doing is proclaiming his reliance on the great mercy of God. He is just coming at it from the other direction.


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