The Faith. It's Simple. (Really.)


by Fr. Joseph Huneycutt

The priest had prepared a wonder-filled lecture on Iconography for the growing Adult Ed Class. He’d done his research — looking through books, magazines, and the internet. His goal was not only to teach how icons were painted, or written, but also their history, including a brief synopsis of the Iconoclastic controversy of the 8th century. He’d made charts, graphs and timelines. Most of the participants in the class were Converts — who eat this sort of thing up — and Reverts: those Cradle Orthodox who had “rediscovered” their faith and were hoping to delve deeper. The class had been steadily growing. In fact, there was a newcomer on this particular evening. It was his first visit to an Orthodox Church. He claimed he’d read some things about Orthodoxy on the internet.

During the presentation, the priest used his charts and graphs to explain the controversy over icons (Iconoclasm). He also spoke of the symbolic nature of the colors used in iconography and the meaning behind the distorted shadows and depth as portrayed in iconography.

Throughout the class period he’d appreciated the smiling and nodding faces of the regulars. Their questions and comments exemplified their great interest in Holy Orthodoxy and the subject at hand. He’d only scheduled one hour for the class, but their interest had encouraged him. Now, 90 minutes into the great class of Iconography, he asked: “Any questions?”

Slowly, reluctantly, a hand went up, catching the priest’s attention. He looked to the back of the room; everyone looked toward the newcomer.

“Yes?” said the priest.

The country boy said: “What’s an icon?”

After the laughter died down, the priest realized he’d been too smart by half. All the preparation, all the zeal, the accumulation of knowledge … was lost on the newcomer. (And, truth be known, probably on half the smiling — seemingly attentive — faces.) With all that preparation, the priest had forgotten to start with the basics, the fundamentals.

Quickly, everyone joined in helping the newcomer to catch up to one of the “staples” of Orthodoxy: icons.

A few months later came the Great Feast of Pascha.

Let me tell you some backstage info about Pascha for priests:

 

  1. he’s tired: services, services, services; fasting, fasting, fasting; prep, prep, prep, etc.
  2. the priest wants the experience of Pascha to be special, awe-filled, in a word: miraculous
  3. he desires this wonderment not only for himself and his family, but for the regulars, some-timers, one-timers, and even for the CEO crowd (Christmas, Easter & Other)

 

Suffice it to say: Tension is high.

That night, the priest stood before the unusually packed church and cried out:

Christ is Risen!

The people responded:

Indeed, He is Risen! Christos anesti! Alithos anesti!

But over the crowd everyone heard a delayed:

—Halleluia!

… and some nervous laughter.

Khristos voskrese! Voistinu voskrese! —Praise the Lord! El Messieh kahm! Hakken kahm! —Yeeeee — Haaaa!!!!

Amid the excitement, most probably didn’t notice, but the priest’s face had become as white as his vestments. (Or, okay, maybe as red as the eggs.) All that preparation, all the expectation, all the year long — waiting — for this one moment.

He decided he would remedy this immediately. Discreetly, he sent a Server out to tell the man just to reply “Christ is Risen!” — “No matter what we say, just say ‘Christ is Risen!’”

Later, as folks shared their feasting foods in the hall, the man approached the priest and said: “Sorry ’bout that. But, I didn’t know what y’all were saying. I’m just happy to be here!”

On the Sunday after the Great Feast of the Ascension, the Sunday before the Great Feast of Pentecost, we remember the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council.

Why? It’s simple … really. There was confusion in St. Constantine’s empire over the basic truth of the Catholic Faith: Was the Son of God co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father? Or, was the Son of God created later?

A great teacher at the time, Arius, claimed the latter. He taught that there was “a time when the Son of God was not” — thereby making God the Son a creature and not the Creator.

By now, most of you veteran-Orthodox know that Arius was condemned, even slapped by St. Nicholas for his blasphemy, and the Council consisting of 318 Fathers were united in the Holy Spirit in proclaiming that the Son is co-equal, co-eternal with God the Father. To this end, they developed a sort of “Mission Statement” about the True Faith at the Council of Nicea.

What you may not know is that the heresy, known as Arianism, remained all the rage for over a hundred years after the First Great Council. In fact, the Fathers never intended for their Mission Statement to become part of the worship services of the Church. But, since the heresy persisted, it became necessary to define the communities of True Worship by inserting the Mission Statement — or, the Creed — into the service of the Divine Liturgy. In other words, just before Communion, “I believe in one God …”

In essence, it's simple: what we believe. This Creed,, the first part of which was fashioned in the year 325 in Nicea, though full of mystery and majesty, is a simple statement of belief. This is what we believe.

In the Gospel of John, 17:1-13, we once again hear our Lord’s high priestly prayer for unity — that all may be one — even as He and the Father are one. This, brothers and sisters, is simple. Our Lord prayed that his gathered disciples would be one as He and the Father are one.

Though hard for us to comprehend: God is simple.

Entering this new phase of the Church Year, Pentecost and beyond, let us be mindful of the basics, the fundamentals, of our Faith. When we talk to others about Orthodoxy, let us be careful to keep it simple.

We often hear reports and rumors of union — between Rome and Orthodoxy; among the American Orthodox jurisdictions; between the separated Russian Orthodox, etc. But such talk and possible union is bound for failure if not based on the fundamentals, the essentials, the basics.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: God is one. Love God, love your neighbor. God is simple.

Keep it simple. After all, even heretics can make it all complicated.

Courtesy of the

October 2006 issue of The Word magazine.

Return to The Word article listing.