Monday, March 12, 2007

Triumphalism

Like my friend Les of Whippleshire, I was raised in an Evangelical Protestant family.

Today, while painting a door, a tune from my childhood started weaving its way through my cerebral passages, circling and circling about my mind in the way that only a truly annoying song can:
One door and only one,
And yet its sides are two.
I'm on the inside,
On which side are you?
And I got to thinking about how arrogant this Sunday School tune truly is. How presumptuous. What kind of Protestant triumphalism was I ingesting with my Sunday breakfast? What kind of message were we kids receiving? That we were/are the elite? That we have the right to flaunt that eliteness before those on the "other side"? Frightening, really.

This led me to thinking about the Orthodox Church, and how on Sunday of Orthodoxy, we declare boldly:
As the Prophets beheld,
As the Apostles have taught,
As the Church has received,
As the teachers have dogmatized,
As the Universe has agreed,
As Grace has illumined,
As Truth has revealed,
As falsehood has been dissolved,
As Wisdom has prevailed,
As Christ has triumphed,
This we believe. This we declare, This we preach:
Christ our True God, and His Saints we honor in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in Temples, in Icons,
On the one hand bowing down and worshiping Christ as our God and master; On the other hand, honoring the Saints as true servants of the Master of all, and offering them due veneration.
This is the Faith of the Apostles!
This is the Faith of the Fathers!
This is the Faith of the Orthodox!
This is the Faith which has established the Universe!
-Synodikon for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, 7th Ecumenical Council, 787 A.D.
Those last four sentences are fairly triumphalistic also ... but I think that there is a substantial difference between the tune of today's painting project and the Church's Synodikon for the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

The first says that we have it made. We are in. It's over, it's done, we are "on God's side" as another Sunday School song puts it.

However, Orthodoxy by contrast does not presume to say we have it made. Yes, we should be glad that we are in the Church! Yes, we should rejoice that we have found the Ark that will take us through the Deluge of sin and vice that is this world. But there is always that caution in Orthodoxy... sure, we may have found the Church, the spiritual Ark, but it doesn't guarantee us salvation - we can still jump out of the Ark, or if we are too precariously perched, we can fall out.

Triumphalism tempered by common sense, I'd say.

- V.

4 comments:

les said...

I agree totally, and would add that as well as triumphalism there is a touch of individualism, the "me and Jesus' way of thinking that I think is a direct inheritance of revolution by rebellion. This is obvious to varying degrees within the spectrum of Protestant churches and it parallels the national and political radical individualism we have seen manifest south of the border, in a nation born of a revolution and proud of it. (I think there may be a cause and effect relationship there but that is a whole other discussion)
By contrast, the declaration of faith you have quoted is a "we" declaration. We believe, we declare, we preach. There is a fundamental difference of understanding there, a recognition of our common faith and our need for each other as a Church and a people.
As a Roman Catholic I have sensed that same community, that communion, such that when one of us suffers, we all suffer, and when one of us sins it hurts all of us. The communion of saints in the Apostle's Creed and Nicean Creed is not simply a nice turn of phrase, it is a reality.

les said...

By the way, thanks for the mention and the link.

LifeSpark said...

The feast is called the Triumph of Orthodoxy, not the triumph of all those who call themselves Orthodox. Nowhere in the hymns or teaching of the Church do we find confident assertions about how we are saved. Everywhere we find instead 'confident' assertions that we are individually the most desperate of transgressors. Thanks be to God we are equally confident of His mercy to us!

V & E said...

Let me try to tie in together what both of you (Les and Lifespark) have said ...

... Perhaps what we should be internalizing is that triumph is only appropriate as a "we" statement (such as the Nicene Creed or the Synodikon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy), so long as it countered and balanced by an "I" statement such as "Lord have mercy on me, the sinner" or "Mea culpa".

- V.