Austin Farrer, the great Anglican theologian, drew a line in the sand for Christians living in our post/modern era. We can’t erase, hide, or ignore history. Our #cancelled and #metoo and #woke friends won’t let us get away with it. In the good old days, we could hide the disciplina arcani—the Orthodox truths handed over to new converts when they were first baptized—from outsiders. Not anymore. Fr Tom Hopko used to remark with his customary aplomb, “The toothpaste is out of the tube.” Anybody with a laptop and a Google Chrome browser can discover nearly anything about anyone at any time. Some of the search results will be wrong. But some of them will be correct. We cannot hide behind ignorance.
If we’re going to canonize heroes as genuine heroes, we must see them as they really are. The famously ugly Oliver Cromwell once sat for a portrait. The artist, Samuel Cooper, wanted to airbrush some of his many blemishes. Cromwell, good honest Calvinist that he was, protesteth vigorously. Paint me as I really am. Warts and all. The #cancelled generation doesn’t want pious un-truths that impart moral lessons, even if they are earnestly taught. Just tell us the unblemished truth and let us sort it out. Warts and all.
I discovered Andrei Rublev’s The Trinity icon ten years ago and have been using this icon for prayer ever since. I especially turn to the Trinity (both the icon and the Father, Son and Spirit) during times of crisis.
Given the COVID-19 Pandemic, coupled with the racial violence that seems to have been magnified in 2020, contemplating the Trinity has been my refuge.
When I grieve the loss of lives due to COVID-19, I contemplate The Trinity, but I see something new: the Trinity is weeping.
“I belong to a small country,” said the great Greek poet George Seferis in his Nobel Prize winning speech in 1963. “It is small, but its tradition is immense.”
As wrangling over the word “tradition” has become an idle pastime, particularly on that domain of debauchery known as social media, Seferis’s thoughts warrant consideration, despite his unorthodox Orthodoxy. Tradition, for Seferis, has three elements: it is alive; it is universal, but only because it is particular; and it is, above all, liberating.
Introduced to the West in Henry Miller’s 1939 travelogue The Colossus of Maroussi, the poet and diplomat (whose real name was Giorgos Seferiades) was larger than life. Miller described him as “a wild boar which had broken its tusks in furious onslaughts born of love and ecstasy.” When Orthodox lay theologian Philip Sherrard first met Seferis in person, he wrote in his diary that he radiated “profoundly direct and simple human warmth and spontaneity.” The British poet and Jesuit priest Peter Levi wrote that Seferis “was the sun in the sky to all of us who lived in Greece.”
In the context of contemporary events, protests, and the revolt spreading throughout Serbia, the matter can also be seen from a theological point of view. It is hard to say how well the churchgoing people are managing in all this. On the public stage, there are but a handful of voices that are perceived as the voice of the Church. However, in the general confusion, it is not easy to discern the Christian position. Christians are usually thought of as being exclusively interested in the Kingdom of Heaven, which is basically true. Yet the path to Heaven leads through the world in which we live. Our testimony in the world is a ticket to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is often forgotten that one part of the prayer Our Father reads: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If there is no justice of God on earth, how will the Kingdom of Heaven descend on it?
This question concerns Christian action in the world. If Christians are silent or approving of injustice, are they on the path of the Kingdom of Heaven? If they rise up against injustice, then one might call that a rebellion, a rebellion against injustice. Only free people and those who strive for freedom are capable of rebellion. The obediently pious cannot rebel. In order to better understand things, we will look at and recall some things which are almost forgotten in the Church, and which are an essential part of its mission in the world. At the heart of this recollection is the idea of rebellion.