A Jewel of a Lecture
(A Review by Christopher Laurence)
It was as if a museum curator opened for us a casket to show us a beautiful ancient jewel inside. It is unspoilt and unchanged by the centuries that have passed since it was crafted. He holds it up and turns it, to show the light reflecting from its many facets.
So it seemed when we were introduced to “God and the World in Orthodox Theology” by His Excellency the most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware). The full house in the Robert Hardy lecture-room listened attentively to a brilliant lecture: profound themes simply expounded, threaded through with a sense of humour that did not diminish the reverence for his subject.
He spoke of the Orthodox understanding of God as the constant source of creation which is good. Christ is the “face “ of creation, he said, the beginning of the transfiguration of the world. Orthodox theology and practice emphasise the proper human response to creation in thankfulness for all the gifts that we as creatures receive. “Without thanksgiving we are less than human”.
It was a jewel of a lecture but, but, but…A questioner touched on one of my “buts” when he asked how Orthodox theology responds to the theory of evolution. This was a difficult question, the bishop acknowledged, and not all Orthodox theologians would agree with his general acceptance of the theory. Their theological understanding has not been changed by this idea nor by other developments of thought through the centuries subsequent to its formulation. Kallistos, a distinguished scholar, has read all the books and owns his indebtedness both to Western science and to Eastern mysticism; but the original jewel of Orthodox faith is unchanged by them; they simply add further reflections of light from it.
So I am left asking myself, “Are we not promised that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth, and that this journey will involve the shaking of the foundations, the very preconceptions of our faith?” One example is our developing understanding of the place of the feminine in creation which has resulted in the Ordination of women – an absolute no-no in Orthodox theology. On one of Orthodox religion’s holiest sites, Mount Athos, though the female principle is spiritualisd and worshipped in the image of the Virgin Mary, actual female enfleshment is forbidden on the mountain. Which is why I came away from the lecture with the same sense of deep dissatisfaction that was evoked by the proposed representation of the Blessed Virgin for our cathedral which, evidently owes something to Mount Athos. “C’est magnifique mais ce n’est pas la guerre.” For me, that’s not where it’s at. Bishop Kallistos showed us a beautiful jewel. I’m happy to see it go back into its casket, shielded from the ravages of time, and to revert to my habitual anglican angst.