First, a disclaimer: My brother Fred will not like this post. He will consider it churchy, pious and too preachy. I have no defense. Nor do I make any apology.
Regular readers know of my commitment to inter-faith dialogue and active curiosity about other faith traditions. Currently, my attention is focused on the Orthodox Church and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in particular. You will remember him as the one who officially invited Pope Francis to Jerusalem (though that quickly became overshadowed by geo-political issues). Bartholomew was invited by Francis to the prayer service with the Israeli and Palestinian presidents at the Vatican.
Any who are interested in Orthodoxy can do no better than to get a copy of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s 2008 book Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today. Although I am increasingly concerned about Amazon.com’s aggressive and unscrupulous attempts to dominate the market, I did get my copy for just a few bucks from an independent book seller through Amazon’s “used” book purchase option.
Among many topics I found insightful and consoling, Bartholomew’s comments about prayer rank near the top… “Learning to be silent is far more difficult and far more important than learning to recite prayers.” He describes silence as “not the absence of noise but the gift or skill to discern between quiet and stillness.” (I can see my brother’s eye’s rolling back in their sockets!)
Sorry, bro, but I’m intrigued when the Patriarch taps thousands of years of spiritual practice by emphasizing how we must learn to listen in silence, to silence, if we are to approach true wisdom. Such silence elicits a kind of listening by which we are fully engaged, actively attentive, alive and compassionate. That’s hard, demands practice and perhaps requires a lifetime!
Prayerful silence “shocks us out of numbness to the world and its needs.” Anything but autonomous navel-gazing, silence “sharpens our vision … by focusing on the heart of all that matters.” Silence enables us to notice, pay attention, and respond with truly human hearts.
We discover there is no libertarian autonomy in our world. The solidarity to which Christians are called is as counter-cultural as God’s Word has always been. Seeing through our social obsessions and beyond passive acceptance of cultural norms of what is fashionable or acceptable, we recognize God’s own imprint — all creation is intimately inter-connected and mutually interdependent.
If we would be truly “orthodox” in our faith, what is a Christian to do?
My references are from pages 80-81 of Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: New York, Doubleday, 2008.