It’s amazing how I, and seemingly everyone I’ve ever met, don’t know a thing about the world’s second largest Christian denomination, the Eastern Orthodox Church. Perhaps all the protestants in America thought, Catholicism’s as exotic as it gets for me, and left it at that. But in so doing, most of the Christian West has forgone an infinite treasure of theological history and ideas.
The Eastern Orthodox Church, in addition to mothering a vast portion of our Christian brothers and sisters, has held central many of the mystic traditions of the faith. They’ve remembered a God beyond gender, both immanent in nature and transcendent, simultaneously personal, spiritual, and abstract. They have recognized humanity as the mediators between the visible and invisible. They understand the dynamics of both sin and the Church. They also have something to say about the Bible.
I am presently in the beginning stages of my Master’s Thesis. In the most general of terms, that very-long-essay will be about the Bible and the concept of revelation—so you can therefore expect a lot of blog posts about revelation in the coming weeks. However, as a part of studying the phenomenon that is the Holy Bible, I’ve become fascinated with the phrase “Word of God.”
It’s as if for each appearance of that phrase in the Bible, there is a different understanding of what those three little words mean. For some, it’s power; for others, it’s grace; and for still other, it’s knowledge. Yet for almost all Christians in the West, they connect “Word of God” with the Holy Scripture.
Yet not so with the Eastern Orthodox Church. For them, “Word of God” is not just another theological phrase but a title, a title reserved for Christ.
And for the Orthodox, it can only refer to Christ, because Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, is the only one who can take on that mantle. You see, if there’s anything the Bible makes clear about the Word of God, from Genesis 1 to the first chapter of John, God’s Word is not hollow—it is not like human words. When “God said, ‘let there be light,’ there was light.” With his words, God spoke the universe into being, and his voice resonates in creation without diminution throughout all history—God’s Word is a word of divine power.
And this isn’t to diminish the prominence of the Bible in the Eastern Orthodox Church. For those Christians, Scripture attests to the work of God in history. The sixty six books are then a witness to the Word of God. They are not that power but reflect that power.
These truths are just a taste of the mysteries to be found in the history of our faith and from those practicing it around the globe. They teach us what revelation really is: not an epistemological theory about how we know the totally-other divine Being, but a claim in itself that God has chosen to speak to us, not only in the Scriptures which reflect his glory, but in the flesh, as a man.