Democracy and Aristocracy in Orthodox Christian Spiritual Experience

A good friend recently made a very kind assumption about me: that, if I had experienced God, I would not be willing to admit it. I haven’t answered the friend’s email yet, but it has made me think about my spiritual “privacy policy.”

Orthodox Christianity has a “democracy” in the Chestertonian sense. The Church is strong, not just in her saints, but in her day-to-day faithful. The conviction and faithfulness and loyalty and spiritual intensity of these folk, and the willingness to patiently apply Christian obedience to everyday life, is indispensible to the function of the Church and her vitality. More, it is indispensible to the Church’s Orthodoxy, for where the heirarchy may someties be tempted to go wide, the rank and file are always conservational in their overall impulses.

As Elder Thaddeus said, (and I paraphrase) it’s the ordinary people who are most important to God. My interpretation of this saying is that the strong – the spiritual aristocracy – are made strong for the sake of the weak.

And yet there is a spiritual aristocracy. We have no doubt that our saints experienced glorification and holiness at a level that most of us will have to wait to the next life to experience. It’s our joy that they should be better than us – because then we have someone to lead our eyes upward step by step toward the perfection of Christ, to condition our dimmed spiritual eyesight to be able to percieve Him who is All in All.

What then of the experience of God?

I freely admit that I have experienced God. I simply don’t find it immodest to do so. My confession of God’s presence in my life is a confession demanded by honesty, and an act of worship.

Was my friend’s instinct entirely “off” then? No, I don’t think so at all! Orthodox Christians do indeed display, normally, a modest reticence about their spiritual experience. What if they were deluded? They might lead someone else astray! What if they fall away later? They might discourage someone else! What if their spiritual level is or seems higher than that of the person to whom they are speaking? They might humiliate them!

So there are many good reasons to be reticent about the experience of God.

There are also good reasons to admit to it. The world is under the impression that God died a couple of centuries ago, in the modern consciousness, never to rise again. They think that we believe what we beleive in a “leap of faith” involving no reasons, no causes, and no adherence to reality.

Isn’t it important to behave as if God’s presence is normal?

The truth is, I have experienced God… I just haven’t experienced him with an experience very high in the heirarchy of experience. So, it is the nature of my exprience, rather than the object of my experience that I would be modest about… if I had anything to be modest about.

It’s not just that I’ve experienced God, though. It’s that I believe everyone has experienced God in some fashion, whether they have begun to realize it, as I have, or whether they haven’t. God himself is indisputable apart from insanity. I don’t believe that my experience of God is abnormal or special. It’s ordinary, and that’s what makes me believe that God is ordinary – that goodness is reality, and faith essential to a normal human existence.

7 thoughts on “Democracy and Aristocracy in Orthodox Christian Spiritual Experience

  1. ” . . . everyone has experienced God in some fashion, whether they have begun to realize it, as I have, or whether they haven’t.”

    So there’s hope
    Thank you

    And then there’s faith
    Easy for some

    But the greatest of these
    we can experience everyday, all day,

    if only . . .

    Like

  2. In every moment of beauty, there is God. In every incidence of sharing, there is God. In the depths of our shame, there is God. In the exultation of joy, there is God.

    He is fully man. Like us in all things save sin.

    Albert, you sell yourself short. You know, if you allow yourself to recognize.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I started to say, “Easy for you to say, Michael,” and add a smiley face. But then I realized that I already said it in my initial comment.

      To be honest, it IS easy for me to say. I say the Nicene creed each Sunday, and a mini-version daily (if I remember). It rolls out, even while I’m bothered  by a nagging fear that I’m not attending to the words and don’t really know the implications or believe them if I do know. I mean really believe. Otherwise why would I live the way I do. It is an awe-full thing to contemplate the possibility of God, not to mention the truth of the gospels.

      But love I understand. I believe it casts out fear. I’m counting on that. I suppose one could say that’s my version of faith. For now. And maybe that’s enough. But there’s still hope.

      What i do know, Michael, is your thoughtfulness. I recognize your sincerity, and appreciate your being willing to share convictions freely and forcefully. As far as the advice you offered, I interpret it to mean that assurances are not part of the deal. We make decisions every day. We take risks, believing in others. No outcomes are guaranteed. Even life itself is a type of risk. It takes faith to believe in the processes of nature. They are incredibly reliable, just as the fact of entropy and death is reliable but also incomprehensible. Apparently the only thing, aside from love, that is both understandable and reliable is sin–each being a matter of choice. So I’ll speak words of faith, but take my stand with love. And I am grateful for the love that motivates you to comment here, and that inspires out host, ms a.r., to work faithfully to maintain a forum for this kind of communication (which I for one most definitely need, not finding it–yet–in family or church).

      Like

      • Albert even St. Paul did the things he would not do. We all struggle and must bear one another’s burdens in love. Just as you say.

        Like

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