Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Melody of Faith: Theology in an Orthodox Key

By Vigen Guroian,, 158 pages.

Books such as The Melody of Faith show the impressive depth of Orthodox theology. These theologians seem to have never lost their focus on the central issues of the faith. Jesus Christ and the spiritual consequences of his life, death, and resurrection are held as central, and inform every other area of discussion.

In other words, the discussion never wanders far from this main concern. Guroian even notes that ethical behavior is not all there is to being a Christian. When discussing redemption, he focuses not on our work of doing good but on Christ himself as both healer and the medicine itself. From Christ's grace, good and moral actions will follow because of the healing that occurs.

The lack of moralizing rises from the fact that Orthodox theology tends to lack the Western legalistic basis to redemption, whereby Christ's death was a ransom paid to the devil or a way to satisfy God's wrath over our sins. Instead, humans are seen to be in need of a physician. We need to be healed. Thus sin is not something that leads to guilt-oriented sermonizing, but to the proclamation of healing through Christ.

The Melody of Faith discusses Mary, God-bearer or theotokos, at length. The author notes that the Orthodox do not subscribe to the Immaculate Conception, but they do nonetheless revere the Mother of God, for whom she is also the Mother of the Church. Guroian observes, "Whereas Eve asked no questions of the Serpent ... Mary scrupulously interrogated her angelic visitor."

This is an important point, according to the author, as it shows that Mary "exercised her freedom and made her choice to bear the Son of God with total sobriety." Eve, through her lack of questions to the serpent, was easily deceived.

The fall of man, and Christ's redemption, have theological consequences. While most theologians wander off into political causes and moralizing without setting proper theological foundations, The Melody of Faith keeps the discussion focused on the most important issues for Christians.

Central to this writing style is the lack of sentimentalizing Jesus. The Son is the Son of God who defeated the evil one, and not someone who will make us feel warm and fuzzy. Sin and evil are not moral or psychological, but theological issues.

Holiness is not about perfecting a specific moral code, supporting the correct political solution, or achieving a state of spiritual bliss. It's about sharing in the personhood of Christ, Guroian notes:

"Holiness comes about in a relationship to Christ and our Mother Mary. It is shared. Holiness consists in keeping and remembering what God has done in Christ through his mother for all of humankind. Holiness is a personal state of wholeness and spiritual wellness...Holiness is ecclesial, entirely related and connected to the other great marks of the church: unity, catholicity, and apostolicity."

This sort of theological writing can help inspire Christians and all people to accept Christ as their King.