I think Perry Robinson said it well: there is no such thing as neutral ground between denominations. There is only common ground, and that ground is Orthodox: where we agree is where the others are “conceptual squatters”.
Is this abrasive? While it’s not a way to start a conversation with someone in the grocery store, but it’s something anyone who is serious about ecumenical conversation must appreciate, especially given today’s patronizing atmosphere. Additionally, it is something that we need to keep in mind whenever we think about Church Doctrine.
Sadly today’s conversational climate is allergic to truth claims, but serious dialog must center around the Truth. And the Truth belongs to the One God. While I urge us not to cowardly succumb to current conversational climate, I strongly believe that thinking about the Truth and our relation to it is not a source of pride, but rather one of humility.
As an Orthodox Christian we must understand that none of us have all the Truth, and no collection of writings by the Saints provides us with the entire Truth. We may have a privileged opportunity because of the relationship of the Church with the Spirit of Truth. My patron Saint reminds us that Christ said when “the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth.” Yet this is not a call to ecclesialogical infallibility, but to relationship with the Spirit that proclaims the truth of Christ, as can be seen in the rest of the passage.
It’s also worth pointing out that one of the most essential means of guiding us into truth that the Spirit has provided for us is the Holy Scriptures, which (Glory to God!) have been studied, memorized, and preached by Christians of every stripe. Do we have a hermeneutical advantage in reading the Scriptures? Certainly, yet every generation, every person must dedicate themselves to the task. It is not binary; not something we have suddenly and completely.
So the Orthodox advantage in Truth is just that, an advantage. It does no more guarantee the veracity of the words that come out of our mouth than the goodness of the works done by our hands. Orthodox parishioners and clergy sin and err all the time – we are not special in that regard. Nestorius was the bishop of Constantinople after all.
Recently I’ve been concerned with the academic situation of the Orthodox Church. Our seminaries are not consistently up to the task of equipping academically astute priests and lay people, and there are virtually no Orthodox undergraduate institutions for our young adults. Moreover, the academic world is generally an evil, haughty, and imbalanced place. Academia is often the worst place to find truth, and I have been blessed to be at two places that still earnestly seek after Truth. The Orthodox, just like the rest of Christendom, is both naive to the threat of academia and impressed by its resume – with a mixture of imbecilic paranoia about smart people and “thinking” to boot.
Some of these concerns surfaced in a conversation I recently had with Fr. Pat Reardon (whose intellectual capabilities no one can question). He reminded me that Ss. John Chrysostom, Justin Martyr, Basil the Great, and many more were educated by brilliant pagans and yet were not destroyed, but were rather uplifted. I would add that the whole of them were uplifted: not just their intellects. While few things are more destructive to our lives than thinking about God while we pray, the person who earnestly desires Truth will pray all the more effectively. The search for Truth requires everything of us: courage, humility, hard work, and sacrifice. In this way it can usher us to the Maker of the Universe. Our political affiliation, our ancestral heritage, the things that can form us and teach us to seek Truth; are always obstacles when they cease speeding us to God. Getting a head start in a race is nothing to brag about, it is something to be thankful for because it helps us to finish. When an Eastern heritage – or adoption into it – frees us from concepts that entangle us and we are complacent we do nothing more than squat down on the start line.
What is the Christian perspective on Truth claims? Christ said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” We must not lose the Truth, especially when we tell others about our close relationship with it. Therefore there is only one thing to do, acquire the Holy Spirit.