In Eastern Orthodoxy, our theology is based on experience of God rather than philosophizing about God. Our dogmas are based on the incarnation of Christ and the revelations that God has given mankind through His patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and saints.
We appeal to the authority of these figures because we trust that they have obtained illumination and theosis. They not only know about God, but they know God through experience.
Now, when we say “they experienced God” we don’t mean a really warm, fuzzy feeling when they prayed. Nor are we referring to an exuberant joy or even tears when they were worshiping. Not even a deep peace that guided their words and actions throughout their entire lives.
Most of those things are commendable and should be a part of our own lives; however, the holy fathers and mothers of the Church experienced God in a much deeper way. Many beheld God through their nous (the spiritual eye of the heart) and had a very real encounter that resulted in union with Him. This type of encounter with the Divine usually takes many years of spiritual discipline in cleansing the body and soul of sinful passions and ridding the heart of all evil and malice.
Why the experience is important
During times of heresy, these fathers of the Church uphold the Truth. They are able to discern true theology from interesting philosophical theologizing because of their experience with Truth Himself.
Most ideas deemed heretical by the Church were denounced even though they were based on approaching the scriptures rationally and philosophically. Much truth can be found by such an approach to scripture, but heresy is also easy to fall into. In this regard, heresy is attempting to know God philosophically.
An unholy identity crisis
God is not a good philosophical idea.
This is troubling news for our rational culture.
Philosophically speaking, “appeal to authority” is considered to be a logical fallacy. Therefore, believing the dogma of the Church based on the experience with God of the fathers and mothers of the Church is completely worthless and invalid from a cold, hard, rational viewpoint.
So, it’s a good thing Christianity isn’t a philosophy, right?
Well, studying western Christianity left me wondering. Some Protestant Christians rely heavily upon apologetics to keep their faith and bring in converts.
There are groups that attempt to disprove the philosophies of skeptics, or groups that attempt to prove that the world is less than 10,000 years old through “Creation Science,” or even ones that try to harmonize current scientific research with scripture. All of these share one thing in common: an appeal to struggling Christians looking for safe, logical answers in a skeptical and rationalistic culture.
The erotic love of Christianity
Christianity is not a philosophical system, but rather a path to know God. The Church is not some powerful institution that is simply safeguarding her pretty little ideas, instead she is a house of healing for the body, soul, and spirit of mankind.
When scripture states that “Adam knew Eve,” it is not referring to Adam’s knowledge of Eve’s favorite food or colors, but rather a union of body and soul with her. We are invited to “know” God as well. It is for this reason that most Greek monks and theologians use the word “eros” (erotic love) to describe communion with God.
Some good news
Here’s the good news: we don’t have to meet others on the philosophical plane. We don’t have to dumb-down the experiential revelation of our communion with the Divine into a list of rational arguments. Our faith should be built upon our experience with God in prayer and the divine services, or at least upon the experiences of the saints until we have entered into this holy communion ourselves.
When our Lord Jesus called the apostles, he did not say, “Come, for I will give you neat little syllogisms that will convince men that you’re really smart!”
I don’t want to come across as being opposed to all reason. I believe that it is a gift from God to aid us in this life. I know also that many in the apologetics field have completed intriguing research, providing people with reasons to believe. I was one of those people for several years.
However, these ministries exist because we are looking for a rational answer to what is truly an experiential question. Ultimately, God is a person to know, not an idea to prove.
Anything short of that will result in disappointment or a need to continually strive to find more answers and reasons to believe.