For Eastern Orthodox Christians, who follow the Julian calendar, this is the week of Theophany. The Feast of Theophany in the Eastern Church corresponds with the celebration of Epiphany in the Western Church. In the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions, Epiphany commemorates the visitation of the baby Jesus by the Magi, or three wise men. It is when the Christ is first revealed to the gentiles and hence the meaning of the word epiphany—an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being. In the Orthodox Church, January 6 is referred to as Theophany, which means basically the same thing with a stronger emphasis on God (theo-). For the Eastern Church, it is a commemoration of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by the Forerunner, John the Baptist. There are two aspects to Theophany which are focused on by the Church. One, it is generally looked at as the beginning of Christ’s ministry on Earth. Two, and most importantly, it is the revelation of the Holy Trinity to humankind; as the Son is being baptized in the river, the Father looks down and acknowledges Him as Son, with the Holy Spirit descending upon the Son like a dove. This Icon illustrates the concept quite well.
To commemorate this event in scriptures, on the Sunday after Theophany, the entire congregation leaves the church building and goes to the nearest body of water; we are lucky at my parish because there is a river in our backyard. Here the priest throws a crucifix into the water which is then retrieved by one of the parishioners. This act is a re-presentation of the Baptism of Christ and it serves as a blessing to the entire creation; since water is constantly moving, this blessed water eventually moves throughout the whole Earth sanctifying the planet. This means that we are all showering in Holy Water every day. The hymn for this feast, which is the same for all baptisms, is taken from the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians; “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (3:27).” It is personally my favorite feast day next to Pascha (Easter).
Lately I have been reading through the Book of Proverbs; Proverbs is one of the books of wisdom in the Old Testament and authorship is traditionally attributed to Solomon the son of David. In the Orthodox lectionary (the cycle of scripture readings), Proverbs is read during Great Lent. I have to be honest that I generally have not enjoyed reading through this book in the past. The reason is because there appears to be little organization to the various sayings of wisdom in the book. If you are unfamiliar with the book, it really is just a collection of random proverbs which relate to many different events in the human life. Another added difficulty is many times these sayings seemingly contradict each other. For example, are we supposed to plan ahead (Proverbs 21:5 NIV) or are we supposed to refrain from worrying about tomorrow (Proverbs 27:1 NIV)? Of course the problem I was having was not due to the text itself. What I was looking for was a neatly organized rubric on how to live my life. This is not what wisdom looks like. It is the strong desire of humans, especially in the Western world, to seek out this nicely ordered universe. This is generally fine, though when it comes to theology, the Eastern Church has rejected this systematic, or scholastic, approach to experiencing God. One issue is, when the concept of truth is set up in a formulaic manner, our tendency as humans is to tear that formula apart. Enter post-modernism and deconstruction.
During my education in the Language Arts, a favorite form of literary criticism became Deconstructionism. Deconstruction is the brainchild of a French philosopher named Jacques Derrida and is largely a response to its predecessor in thought, Structuralism. One aspect of structuralism is the development of a system called binary oppositions; this is the theory that in language and thought, concepts cannot be contemplated unless they are set against something else. We cannot understand the concept of “On” unless we know the concept of “Off”. White is set against black. Male against female. Sacred and secular. God/man. What deconstruction does, is point out that within these binary oppositions, there is a dominant term. This dominance has developed through centuries of cultural conditioning inside the Western world and the deconstructionist attempts to flip this dominance or at least take it apart to examine it—hence the term deconstruction. It tries to demonstrate that when we read a word, for instance “man”, we cannot grasp this word by itself; there is a irreconcilable concept which must be placed in juxtaposition to “man” in order for us to begin to understand the concept of “man”, and in this case it is “woman”. Because no term, or idea, can be understood by itself, requiring another idea placed in comparison, deconstruction moves on to claim that we cannot be sure if our understanding of the initial term is true since it depends upon a specific world view, developed over lifetimes, in order to grasp concepts. It is here where we arrive at the now old adage, “There is no truth”; if we cannot grasp a concept in its pure form, since we need something else to place in opposition to it, we cannot be sure if our understanding of the concept, in its pure form, is free from cultural conditioning. Truth becomes merely a personal experience and there is nothing to say that my personal experience is any more “true” than yours.
As you can imagine, Deconstructionism has created problems for the Christian worldview.
To be continued in a later post…