I have been going through a transition of sorts. Actually a return. I can’t explain it, but I am recalling the summer of 1993 (25 years ago… Ugh!) and the beginning of my journey to Orthodoxy. The recollections are so clear. Clearer than they have been for some time.
Here is what I remember: I remember Umberto Eco, Anton Ugolnik, and Sergei Bulgakov.
Umberto Eco: In 1993 I read Foucault’s Pendulum for the first time. The book is monstrous. It is saturated with allusions to actual events, to philosophical and theological concepts, to a widely diverse array of topics and ideas. And in the end it signifies absolutely nothing. In many ways it is a laborious journey to nowhere. It drives home Eco’s sense of the importance of details that is joined with the pointlessness of one’s journey. I could not help but get the sense that one of the characters was Eco. And just think: Eco was not a believer (well, maybe he was…), but he spent all of that time working over details and concepts and philosophies and cabals and yet… It was all seemingly pointless. To use one’s brilliance to go nowhere… Imagine if you actually had someplace to go.
Anton Ugolnik: I had met Fr. Ugolnik in 1989, in the closing weeks of my college experience. Who knew that it would be so transformative. I read his book, The Illuminating Icon, in the summer months between college and seminary. It was excellent. For me it served at minimum three major purposes. First, it helped to introduce Eastern Orthodoxy to me in an excellently constructed book (he is a professor of English after all…); second, it helped to show the tenacity of Orthodoxy under communism (under any regime, honestly); and third, it helped to show that Orthodox Christianity is far from a rigid, rules-driven, legalistic faith. It has its fasts and its canons, but Orthodox Christianity is organic, and takes the mandate of Christ, “Love God with all your mind” seriously. It is an all-encompassing faith, integrating all of the senses. It is a rich faith, requiring you to use your brain but not to worship it.
Sergei Bulgakov: A controversial figure in Orthodox circles, I suppose, but one that should not simply be dismissed out of hand. The man was a brilliant scholar. He was a polymath. He was an economist who wrote lucidly and powerfully about a type of economics that took Christianity seriously (something that neither socialism nor capitalism do). He wrote lengthy volumes on the Forerunner, the Mother of God, Christ, the Church, the Holy Spirit, and much more. He wrote devotions. The man was amazing. I found in him and in Pavel Florensky (a physicist and priest) powerful examples of doing everything as best as one possibly can. Given my background in electrical engineering and physics as well as religion, you can see how intriguing these figures would be.
Flash forward to now. It’s as if I have awoken from my dogmatic slumbers (hi Karl.). I remember. I remember why I love the Orthodox faith, I remember the beauty of creation and that the heavens are indeed telling of the glory of God. I remember as a younger adult how I understood that the study of the natural sciences helped to point to God’s glory. I understood that it did not so much reveal as confirm it. Christ reveals it, the creation says amen. I understood that then, and I understand now.
And more: we are not in a vacuum, we are not in diaspora. As American or western Orthodox believers we are not alone. We think the same way, we reason the same way as believers of other faiths. We have some theological and historical concerns to straighten out, but in the words of Steve Hogarth of the band Marillion, “there’s more that binds us than divides us.” To live only in the differences is both unhelpful and inaccurate. I’ll let David Bentley Hart’s comments suffice (see “The Myth of Schism“).
I will have more to say. Much more. These are interesting times. We have work to do. And most of the work is in using what God gave us to the best of our abilities to His greater glory. The field is ripe. Time to get busy.