I Am Not A Theologian

It was noted in a comment earlier that this Blog was not nominated (for the Eastern Christian Blog Awards) in the category of theology. I should say quickly that I’m honored to be suggested as a blog worthy of consideration in any category and that there are some excellent theological blogs out there that I read regularly. I was not disappointed to be in a category other than theology (I do not have a category for what I write), but mostly because I would not be worthy of being classified as a theologian nor do I claim the title.

In Orthodoxy, “a theologian is one who prays and one who prays is a theologian,” and I am certain that my prayer life does not qualify me as a theologian. It is too fitful, and fraught with weakness to rise to the level of “prayer” many days. My own flesh constantly pulls me away from the altar and from my icon corner.

I seek to write as simply as I can because I know (truly know) so little. My hope is that the little I know is of some use to someone. I ask and pray for nothing more (including awards). I’ve received a couple awards along the way but didn’t know enough about how to operate a blog site to post them.

Like the honors given to clergy (especially those of us in the Russian tradition), they can serve most dangerously as things for which you have to give an account on the day of judgment. When my Archbishop awarded me the purple skoufia, he did so with the words, “Here, this is good for nothing.” He meant it in jest, but it was also the truth. His own humility speaks volumes that no awards could ever say.

I reprint (for at least the third time) my writing entitled “I Am An Ignorant Man.” I don’t do so to pretend to a humility I do not possess – but because it is the truth. I am grateful for comments from people who have been helped in their reading, but I do not look for them here – thus I have turned the comments off on this particular post. Be blessed.

An Ignorant Man

I am an ignorant man, despite posting writings on all kinds of things. But make no mistake – I am an ignorant man. Thus, I would always counsel any reader to remember, these are the writings of an ignorant man.

Why would I say this? Because it is true. How am I ignorant? I am as most of us are – I do not see the world clearly for what it is. I do not see other people clearly for what they are. I do not see myself clearly for what I am. And most importantly, I do not see God for Who He Is.

Ignorance cannot be an excuse. It should be an impetus to seek, to ask, to knock. If we do not know God we will perish – this is absolutely true. And ignorance in other matters brings its own perishing as well.

I don’t think I have always thought I was ignorant – indeed, I know I did not always think this. But as years have gone on, either I’ve become more ignorant, or I’ve become more aware of how ignorant I truly am. What do any of us actually know of another human being? The Scriptures tell us that our true life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians), thus the truth of any person is a mystery. And I know almost nothing of this mystery – not only towards myself but also and especially towards those around me. How do I know what another man needs? I do not know. God knows.

What do any of us actually know of God? I believe we only know of God what has been revealed to us in Christ. And just reading the revelation is a world away from actually knowing and “having” the revelation. That comes very slowly indeed.

The Elder Sophrony wrote that such revelations come in something like a “flash of lightning, when the heart is burning with love.” These relatively rare experiences accumulate over a lifetime:

The accumulation in the experience of the Church of such ‘moments’ of enlightenment has led organically to their reduction into one whole. This is how the first attempt at the systemization of a live theology came about, the work of St. John of Damascus, a man rich, too, in personal experience. The disruption of this wondrous ascent to God in the unfathomable wealth of higher intellection is brought about, where there is a decline of personal experience, by a tendency to submit the gifts of Revelation to the critical faculty of our reason – by a leaning towards ‘philosophy of religion.’ The consequences are scholastic accounts of theology in which, again, there is more philosophy than Spirit of life. (From his work On Prayer).

I ask those of you who read this blog to remember that I am an ignorant man and to pray for me, if you remember to. I pray for you all.

 A Romanian version of this article can be found here.

A French translation can be found here.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.


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