A Spiritual Chronicle for Genghis…(my beloved cat, totally Orthodox – he did not like change)
The two were about to settle in for the evening. It had been a long day and the fire before them was about to die out. Both were staring at the embers as they breathed rhythmically with life, glowing in the cool spring evening, floating upwards to the stars.
It was then that the child rose a bit from the ground as he watched the embers climb skyward, “Master, I have a question.”
The old man rolled his eyes to the heavens, “It is much too late for questions my child.” The monk was tempted to roll over and simply close his eyes, but he knew the child would persist.
“But this is an important question!”
The old man yielded, “Okay, what is it? Don’t you know it is late and you should be sleeping?”
“There’s still time for just one more question.” The child was now sitting up and animated. The monk knew he was in trouble, but he did not know how much trouble.
“Okay,” he said with a deep sigh, “what is your question?”
“What is dogma?”
The old monk did not know he could still move that fast as he sat up and twisted his torso toward the child, “What?!”
“You know – dogma. What is it?”
“Where did you hear this word – dogma?”
“I heard it from one of the younger monks. He was saying,” and the child held out both hands to his sides as though balancing the air above him, “‘dogma this’ and ‘dogma that’ and ‘dogma, dogma, dogma.'” With each iteration of the word ‘dogma’ the child would lift one hand and then the other.
The monks eyes were huge, filled somewhere between rage and disbelief. “An Orthodox monk was breathing the word ‘dogma!'” The old man was incredulous.
The innocence of the child was palpable as he responded, “Yes, yes, ‘Orthodox dogma this’ and ‘Orthodox dogma that'” – the child was still raising each hand intermittently.
The old man shook his head slowly from side to side, “I must talk to their instructor. I will,” he said sternly, “have that talk tomorrow.” The child, looking at the monk, had his head tilted in wonderment and said, “What?”
“This dogma-thing!,” responded the monk, “I want to know where it is coming from and who is teaching such nonsense.”
“Dogma is nonsense?” The child was now truly curious.
“Yes, there is no such thing as Orthodox dogma. How can there be dogma about He who is unknowable? How can there be dogma?,” he was again disbelieving. “My child, of all the historical English-language translations of the Holy Bible, the word ‘dogma’ does not appear in a single one. The only bible in which the word ‘dogma’ appears is the Latin Vulgate…the Latin!” The monk’s ire was truly peaked.
He continued. “My child, the word ‘dogma’ did not come into fashion until the 16th century and you know what happened in the 16th century?” He monk leaned forward toward the child, whose eyes were now large as the child shook his head side to side responding negatively to the query.
“My child, the 16th century was the rise of Protestantism – heresies! And they used the word ‘dogma’ to self-define themselves, to define their church, and react to God and His Holy Church. Dogma – despicable.”
The moment was quiet. The child was looking at the monk, envisioning smoke coming from his nostrils. Then with slyness in his eyes, the child said, with a slight smile on his face, “So, you don’t like this word ‘dogma.'”
The monk could not interpret whether the child was questioning or stating a fact. But he responded nevertheless, “No, I don’t like this word ‘dogma.’ First, it is a Latin error and there are too many of those we have to deal with. Second, it is not an Orthodox concept. Third, and this truly bothers me, we are apparently teaching our students the language of the West.” The old man now lifted himself up from his blanket and rose to his fullest height with his staff and said quietly and firmly, “I’ll have someone doing a thousand prostrations.”
The child giggled and the monk turned toward him quickly ready to chide. The child restrained his smile.
The monk was now pacing back and forth.
“My child the correct Greek word is ‘dokein’ – that which seems good or proper. It was often used to express one’s personal opinion. But from an ecclesial perspective, we use ‘dokein’ to reflect that which the Holy Mother Church believes is good and proper – the mind of the church.”
“‘Dokein’ gradually evolved from personal opinion to opinion of the emperors and state where it had greater gravitas and impact; naturally these opinions, because of the power of the sword, had greater weight and overrode the concerns of the populace. Similarly, the opinions of the Church, as the body of Christ and filled with the Spirit, carried significant weight.”
“These opinions were framed in the sense of being decrees or proclamations to be adhered to by the general population. But they were never framed as ‘dogmas’ – not with a blind requirement for adherence. Oh yes, if one deviated from the decree or proclamation, there might be problems. Indeed, that was to be expected. But they were not Pharisaical, not cast in stone.”
“Well, the answer is simple. Emperors die and change. States mature. But with respect to our Holy Church, revelation continues. Yes, it continues to this day. In our days…well, in our days,” the monk was lost in thought, “well, in our days the decrees and proclamations were equal to practice, not so much theory. Today, too much of the West is consumed with theory and they call this dogma. Harrumph, this is despicable.”
“What else?” the child added.
“Chrysostom, he did not like dogmas. He, rightly saw dogmas as heresies saying the devil had ‘sown the dogmas of irreverence.'”
“I like Chrysostom!” The child was sitting up and smiling.
“Yes, yes, so do I. In our days, we were worried about worship, kerygma, and the Church, not mere words of theory for those outside of the church – but within the holy territory of the church. This is the ‘philosophy of the church’ – not of man.”
“What do you mean: philosophy of the church?”
“The philosophy of the church is not one of human logic; it is a transcendent logic of revelation within the Holy Church. It is manifest by our Holy Tradition, visible and invisible. It is sustained by the restless Spirit moving within the Church and the body of believers. It is about faith, not human logic. It is about a faith that makes our belief alive and applicable to us today as much as it was yesterday for the apostles.”
The old man seemed to be dreaming, looking ever toward the heavens. Then he continued as tears rolled down his cheeks, tears of joy. “My child, Holy Tradition transcends dogmas.” The monk restrained himself. “Dogmas are confining and limiting. Dogmas were pronounced in reaction to the Holy Mother Church. Dogmas are not alive and do not allow for spiritual growth and the drama of God to work within and with us. Dogmas do not allow for deification and movement toward the Divine. Dogmas are of the West and attempt to place God in a box – a box defined by man.”
“My child we live not by dogmas, but by Holy Tradition, which speaks to each one of us. Our Holy Tradition consists of our Holy Mother Church, our liturgy and worship, Holy Scriptures, the very lives of the saints, the teachings of the ecumenical councils, the writings of our great and inspired Patristic Fathers – especially when they combated the heresies, our prayer life and the prayers that have proven to be effective across time and for so many of the faithful, including the miracles that followed, our hymnography and iconography, the vast spiritual writings available to us, and the lives of our hierarchs and faithful who today are struggling against adversity and the demons themselves.”
The monk concluded, “And there is so much more – so much more.”
The monk turned to the child and noticed that he was fast asleep. The old man could only smile to himself. “Someone else,” he thought to himself, “will also be sleeping well tomorrow night – after he does a thousand prostrations.”