(This is Neil) The Orthodox priest John Breck’s “Life in Christ” column is presently about Haiti. I would like to make one quick note before I provide an excerpt. Breck writes, “Most people, including many Orthodox Christians, have had their vision of God shaped by a Western theology that begins with philosophical abstractions.” I think that I can say that the best Western theology has never begun with philosophical abstractions. Yves Congar, OP, once wrote, “One of my brethren likes to say: There is a heresy which, sadly, has never been condemned: Abstraction.” In the excerpt below, when Breck writes, “From an Orthodox perspective,” we should ask ourselves – “From our perspective, too? If not, why?”
Also, please continue to remember Haiti in your prayers and please be generous with your donations.
Here, then, is Fr Breck:
From an Orthodox perspective, however, we need to begin not with the image of “God on high,” but with the more powerful and more poignant image of the Cross. That image does not explain in rational terms the mystery of innocent suffering; nothing in this life does or can (that is why it is “suffering” and not merely pain). But it does tell us what is essential: that “if I make my bed in Sheol, Thou art there!” (Ps. 38/39). All we can finally say about tragedies such as the one in Haiti, or the tsunami of a couple of years ago, or the death of a little child on the highway, is that Christ is present with us, to share totally our loss, our grief and our pain. As the Paschal icon so dramatically and beautifully depicts it, Christ descends again and again into the depths of our hell, to reach out his hand to grasp ours, and to lift us from the darkness into his radiant light. For all of those trapped under the ruins, Christ is there, sharing their agony to the bitter end. He is with those who grieve the loss of loved ones, bearing their sorrow and anguish as well. As the service of Great Compline declares, he is “God with us!” Not in the first place as a God of righteousness and judgment, but as the God of boundless love, who remains, in Pascal’s words, “in agony until the end of the world.”
If we begin with the Cross, rather than with some abstract notion of divine omnipotence, then we can see that God and we ourselves are still engaged in a massive cosmic struggle. The Cross and Resurrection ended Satan’s sovereignty over the world and over our individual destinies. Yet the struggle continues, just as sin continues, as natural disasters continue, and will do so until Christ comes again in glory. Once more we need to remind ourselves: there is profound significance in the fact that at the Empty Tomb the angel speaks of Christ not as “the Risen One,” but as “the Crucified One” (Matt & Mk). The risen and glorified Christ remains “the Crucified One” in the life and experience of every one who seeks him, perhaps first of all those who cry out to him from under the rubble.
If God is the vindictive overlord who punishes sinners with such tragedies (why particularly in Haiti?), then frankly, I’m not interested. …
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