Once a very educated man asked Abba Simeon, “What is truth?“ He replied, “It is a beautiful thing, and it would be really simple if people didn’t try to constantly explain what it is.“
It is with some irony that Pontius Pilate had once asked Jesus that very same question. After all, Christ didn’t come to reveal the truth to us but to be the very personification of it. In other words, all aspects of truth knowable in this life are nothing but a reflection not of what but who is truth. If that is a staple of our faith then how are we to witness the Truth to others? St. Isaac the Syrian instructs us, “Walk before God in simplicity, and not in subtleties of the mind. Simplicity brings faith; but subtle and intricate speculations bring conceit; and conceit brings withdrawal from God.“
I remember vividly visiting a family for their Slava in my first parish. While I was warmly greeted and welcomed by all, it was their old baka that left a lasting impression on me. She didn’t speak much, she was clad in black, her head covered, face worn and tired but warm and joyful. I was fresh out of seminary and ready to share all my knowledge with my new flock. Yet it was the faith of this old baka who said nothing as she piously engaged in the service that left me speechless.
It is no wonder that St. Theophan the Recluse tells us to “explain truth in a simple way“, reminding us that for St. Paul “his preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in the simple telling of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was crucified on the Cross (cf. 1 Cor. 2:2–4).“
I found an article online that listed the top things we do to complicate our lives. On top of the list was: confusing means with goals. Archimandrite Aimilianos writes in his book The Church at Prayer, “we know all the breeds of dogs and horses, the species of plants, makes of motor cars and radios, but we often fail to know those things which have a direct bearing on our life.“ We all seek meaning and purpose – the truth – about our life and where its going, but doesn’t our Lord tell us that He is all of these things (John 14:16)? Subsequently, He is all we need, the One who is with us at every Divine Liturgy throughout all of our churches.
I have a weekly Discussion about our Faith class in my parish. Ironically, though they attend religiously (pardon the pun) and engage in lively discussions – they’re not regular church goers. (Glory be to God, that’s changing.) What’s interesting, however, is that whenever we begin talking about how taking part in the Divine Liturgy and taking communion is very important we inevitabley end up talking about: when one should sit or stand (or sit at all), or light candles, or wear casual or dress clothes, etc. While each of these things has its place and meaning that’s not the reason why we’re there.
Don’t get me wrong, by simplicity of faith I’m not referring to some reformation-inspired sola fide approach. On the contrary, the idea is that we realize that we simply need the Church as “the body of Christ. More specifically, we need the Holy Eucharist in our lives without which, according to our Lord’s words, “we have no life in us“ (John 6:53). “In the same way one wears an engagement ring as a promise of marriage, so too my presence at the Liturgy means that I am linked with Christ, who promises me that, if I remain faithful, He will, without fail, bring me into the kingdom of heaven,“ writes Fr. Aimilianos at another place.
Our parishes can be complicated places: we have arguments and disagreements; get offended – or worse – offend others, and so on. But the simple answer to all of this is Christ. In the Gospels Christ often refers us as “sheep“. Sheep need a shepard and sheepfold, somewhere the shepard can lead them to. Every day the Lord invites us to His Holy Church, to that banquet feast in which we mystically partake of His Body and Blood wherein we become “partakers of the divine nature“ (2 Peter 1:4).