My husband represents the East as a deacon in the Eastern Catholic Melkite Church. The Eastern Catholic Churches celebrate the Byzantine liturgy with its many beautiful and meaningful rituals. Their sanctuaries are full of beautiful icons with gold backgrounds; they appear at times translucent, permitting the eye and the imagination to travel beyond this world to heavenly heights.
It’s the Orthodox tradition: experiential, sacramental, mystical, rich and deep.
I represent the West as a Roman Catholic. My home parish is a mini cathedral with carved pillars supporting graceful Corinthian arches. Light-filled and colorful, the stained glass windows tell stories of the Gospels through the rosary mysteries. Paintings of the stations of the cross line the walls, inviting one to prayer. And the golden tabernacle, holding the true presence of Christ in the host, is positioned in the place of honor at the front of the church, behind the altar.
I come from the Roman tradition, also sacramental, rich and deep, but based more on reason perhaps than experience.
I love living in an East-West household, receiving the benefits of Eastern thinking, augmenting, and softening perhaps my Western way of thought.
My husband and I share many lively discussions about our faith.
His conversion to the Eastern Catholic Church was one of the greatest gifts to our marriage.
I enjoy learning about his approach to faith and can do so readily through a website known as Ancient Faith Radio. One can listen 24/7 to beautiful Byzantine chant and learn from the many podcasts espousing Orthodox teaching.
My favorite is “Search the Scriptures,” hosted by Dr. Jeannie Constantinou, presenting “interesting and accessible bible study for busy people.” Dr. Jeannie, thanks to her vast education in a variety of settings, combines a passionate love for the Bible and Orthodox spirituality with her love of ancient history. She makes the pages and people of the Bible truly come alive.
Today she taught about Isaiah, chapter 6 which describes the prophet’s vision of heaven
It reminded me of why mystery is such a wonderful and freeing concept.
The first three verses of chapter 6 read as follows (New King James version):
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”
Dr. Jeannie went on to explain, citing her favorite Church Father St. John Chrysostom (aka, “The Golden Mouth), the impossibility of describing the nature and essence of God. As God is formless, there is no way to physically describe Him. Why even the seraphim are formless!
So how can Isaiah write this description of heaven?
Isaiah needed a way to convey the truth of what he saw in his vision: the utter majesty and glory of God. Even though seraphim are not known to have form, the traditional image is of an angel with wings (and in this case, six). By having the seraphim covering his face and feet with his wings, Isaiah is demonstrating how the being could not look upon the countenance of God, for His glory was too much for him. St. John Chrysostom goes on to explain the meaning of the feet being covered as well as the face, as a means of demonstrating the seraphim’s knowledge that he was a lowly creature in the sight of such magnificence.
Dr. Jeannie cited other parts of the Bible, including the Genesis creation story as similar examples of writers using human examples to describe the indescribable so as to convey important theological and spiritual truths.
Looking at the Bible that way, backed up by rich ancient history she provides, surely does make the pages and people come alive.
But the reason why I so enjoy hearing the Bible taught in this way, through the lens of Orthodoxy, is that it reminds me of the utter mystery of God.
Rather than trying to explain difficult concepts such as the Holy Trinity or the essence of God, how much more enjoyable, fruitful and freeing it is to just release the need to understand and go with the flow of the mystery, allowing it to sweep me along.
This, of course, requires a Guide (the Holy Spirit), thus I need to remain in prayer to continue the journey safely.
The book I cited in my last post, The Naked Now, presents a simple and profound way to remain in prayer at all times and it fits in perfectly with the indescribable magnificence of God.
Richard Rohr, in talking about the name of God, said that word Yahweh (in Hebrew, YHVH) “was considered a literally unspeakable word … From God’s side the divine identity was kept mysterious and unavailable to the mind; when Moses asked for the divinity’s name, he got only the phrase that translates something to this effect: “I AM WHO AM … This is my name forever, this is my title for all generations.” (Exodus 3:14-15) (page 25, The Naked Now by Richard Rohr).
Rohr says the word was not spoken; no, it was breathed. The first and last thing we do each day, and at the beginning and end of life. The thing that we must do to live.
We breathe, thus speaking the unspeakable, over and over again.
Breathing and mystery … wonderful things to lose myself in today …
What is mysterious to you?
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