This is the final part of an essay I have been working on concerning postmodernism and Eastern Orthodox Theology. It started with Theophany, Proverbs, and Deconstruction and The Mystical Theology of Postmodernism.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (3:27).
But what does this mean and how does it relate to this essay? We can glean its meaning by reading on in the scriptural text:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (3:28).
Through baptism, we all “put on Christ” or in other words, we place our image in union with the Image of Christ. All who are baptized find their identity in the Image of the Word of God so there is no longer this separation, or contrast, that exists between all people. To be sure, we all hold on to our uniqueness, but our diversity gains fulfillment in our union in Christ. This paradox finds meaning in the blessing of the waters of Theophany.
Most people misunderstand what it means when we talk about Holy Water; often the image that comes to mind is a priest saying prayers over some water and imbuing it with magical properties. It then becomes distinct from regular water in that it is now holy and, according to Hollywood, can do things like burn people who are demon possessed. A dichotomy is created and there are now two different types of water—holy and regular. Our Western minds require us to search for this opposition of terms so that we may understand the properties of the water. Fr. Alexander Schmemann describes the act of blessing the water in very non-Western manner:
On the other hand, the same act of blessing may mean the revelation of the true “nature” and “destiny” of water, and thus of the world—it may be the epiphany and fulfillment of their “sacramentality.” By being restored through the blessing to its proper function, the “holy water” is revealed as the true, full, adequate water, and matter becomes again means of communion with and knowledge of God (For the Life of the World, 132).
It could be said this opposition of terms, sacred/profane, existed before the water’s blessing. The water was just sitting there, perhaps nourishing our plants or quenching our thirst, but nevertheless, just water. The act of blessing does not remove this purpose of water but deifies it by declaring it God’s water. We offer the water back to God in thanksgiving for all the properties it already held. The water is holy, because it gives us life, washes away filth, and heals our wounds. It is holy because the life-giving, cleansing, and healing properties of the water are as true for our spirit as they are for our flesh. There is no need to separate the two; blessing the water removes the separation and thus reconnects, or rather, brings back into focus, the divine and material nature of God’s creation.
Removing this dichotomy between the sacred and the profane, allows us to see the world not in opposition to itself, but as the Glory of its Creator. Eastern Orthodox theologians have said regarding the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, that Christ did not undergo any change. It was the disciples whose senses were changed in order for them to perceive the actual nature of Christ. Christ is always Divine Light, but we are unable to perceive this Glory due to the separation we have placed between that which is God’s and that which is man’s, as if man has claim to anything. When we break down these oppositions found in our language and thoughts, we come closer to a “pure concept” or the truth of who we are. No longer are we concerned with how this may be opposed to that, but what it is that separates us from God.
This brings us finally back to the Book of Proverbs in scripture. I mentioned the difficulty I have experienced when reading through the book of wisdom. I have realized, and really, this is the entire crux, or inspiration, of this essay, Wisdom Literature is not supposed to be an easy read. Actual wisdom is not found in the adherence to rubrics and laws, though those are foundations to wisdom. If laws and formulas become a fundamentalism, then wisdom has been put to death. Reading through Proverbs is like looking at a very small part of the Mind of God. It cannot be contained by our language in an organized manner. They are reactions to a variety of events we as humans are faced with and the reactions to these events are just as varied. It is only through the pursuit of wisdom, which is ultimately the Mind of God, where we find peace in facing everyday problems. A favorite musical artist of mine once said, “I see that there is evil, and I know that there is good, but the in-betweens I never understood.” Most people do not understand those “in-betweens” and so we attempt to create nicely organized systems so people no longer have to search for answers.
Jacques Derrida and the postmodern Deconstructionists claim there is no answer. They recognize the difficulty in pursuing a wisdom grounded in truth but have declared the search for the “pure” a futile endeavor. We may look for answers within our limited view of the universe they claim, but ultimately the search leads to nothing; the process is nihilistic and so becomes our worldview. Derrida was unsatisfied with apophatic theology because it was not negative enough and this is true. With all the negations we move through in order to understand the Divine Essence, the ultimate focus is a person who is absolutely real and this person has a name. Our scriptures are full of positive language, revelations, about the One Who Is. The wisdom found in Proverbs illustrates how the use of language makes comprehension of God a difficult and lifelong journey. Unfortunately, in the modern Western world, the only options we seem to have are an attempt at a systematic formula for truth on one hand, or a nihilistic disregard for truth on the other. Lost is the bridge which brings ignorance and comprehension into cooperation. Lost is the paradoxical experience of the world which is, knowledge of infallible truth, gained through the mystery of the sacramental worship of our God.