Random Thoughts: Strange Things

The following are excerpts from Doru Costache‘s The Orthodox Spring: A Diary, second edition, revised and expanded (Sydney: AIOCS Press, 2021) 76-77.

It seems to me that we all take too seriously what we say about God; we entrust our theologies with the task of butchering God in order to fit our bill, that is, our quest for clear and distinct ideas. I am not thinking of what and how God talks to us; I’m thinking of human speech. Apophatic theology teaches that our thoughts and words won’t do. After all, God is not like us (Isaiah 55:8). Why, then, do we take our words so seriously, killing one another for semantics? That’s so strange.

Equally strange appears to be our claim, as Orthodox, that we are unconditionally traditional. I have found many cracks in this wall. Let me give you an example. Except for the bishops who sign by their Christian name—usually preceded by a cross which represents the stylised form of the Greek letter τ/t and denotes the signatory’s “humility,” corresponding to the Greek ταπεινός, not an indication of magnificence—nowadays almost all clergymen, including mere monks, introduce themselves as “fathers.” Let me be very blunt: calling themselves “fathers” is the clearest proof of lacking traditional literacy. The Saviour condemned the temple priests, pharisees, and grammarians who called themselves “fathers” (Matthew 22:15–23,39). No wonder the history of the church does not know of any self-styled “fathers.” True, “fathers” is how those who acknowledge them as spiritual progenitors call them, and it is good that they do so, but the ecclesial tradition does not know of the signature of any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or monk as “father.” Let me continue with this example. At the end of the encyclical letter by which Saint Alexander of Alexandria announced the deposition of Arius and his Egyptian followers, all the clergy who participated in the diocesan synod added their signatures. Here is the list: “I, Colluthus, presbyter, agree with what is here written, and give my assent to the deposition of Arius and his associates in impiety; Alexander, presbyter, likewise; Dioscorus, presbyter, likewise; Dionysius, presbyter, likewise; Eusebius, presbyter, likewise; Alexander, presbyter, likewise; Nilaras, presbyter, likewise; Arpocration, presbyter, likewise; Agathus, presbyter; Nemesius, presbyter; Longus, presbyter; Silvanus, presbyter; Peroys, presbyter; Apis, presbyter; Proterius, presbyter; Paulus, presbyter; Cyrus, presbyter, likewise; Ammonius, deacon, likewise; Macarius, deacon; Pistus, deacon, likewise; Athanasius, deacon; Eumenes, deacon; Apollonius, deacon; Olympius, deacon; Aphthonius, deacon; Athanasius, deacon; Macarius, deacon, likewise; Paulus, deacon; Petrus, deacon; Ambytianus, deacon; Gaius, deacon, likewise; Alexander, deacon; Dionysius, deacon; Agathon, deacon; Polybius, deacon, likewise; Theonas, deacon; Marcus, deacon; Comodus, deacon; Serapion, deacon; Nilon, deacon; Romanus, deacon, likewise.” No clergyman in this list calls himself “father.” And this is what we find in the synodical documents of the church throughout the first millennium—that church we claim to follow in all things faithfully. As no clergyman in these lists calls himself “father,” then by virtue of what tradition do modern clergymen call themselves “fathers”? And as the painted wall is cracked in this spot, how does it look in other matters?

3 September 2021 © AIOCS

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