LEXANDER Schmemann, the well-knownOrthodox pastor and teacher, remarked onmore than one occasion that it would serve Christiantheology, preaching and spiritual direction immenselyif several words were dropped for a while from theChristian vocabulary. One of these words
Fr. Alexander believed, hasbecome so compromised and confused over centuriesof controversy between Eastern and Western Christians, as well as between Roman Catholics and Protestants, and among Reformed Christians of differing convictions, that the word can hardly be used anymore inways which are meaningful and clear.A way forward, Fr. Alexander suggested, might befor people to describe their spiritual experience andarticulate their theological convictions in non-technicaleveryday language. If
were done it would not onlydemonstrate that people, especially preachers andteachers, actually know what they are talking about,but it would also compel their hearers to come to termsnot merely with terms, but with God and God's realityand activity in human being and life.If we were to heed Fr. Alexander's request, and notuse the word
in our preaching and teaching,what would we Christians say?Those in the spiritual and ecclesial tradition of Fr.Alexander would say that God through his divine Son,Word and Image incarnate as Jesus Christ, and theHoly -Spirit, speaks and acts in creation from its verybeginning. God's creatures do not merely have wordsand images and ideas about God; we have God himself with us through the divine activities of God's "twohands":the divine Word and Spirit.We would say that God's truth, love, goodness,mercy, power, beauty, wisdom, glory...and indeed allof God's qualities
.actually enter into our creaturelyexistence and activity. We truly experience and participate in God's supradivine being and life.We would say that God's speaking and acting inour world, and God's entrance into our creaturely beingand life is a free gift of God's mercy and love for us,that there is nothing that we can do to earn or deserveit, and nothing that we can do to stop or prevent it. Wewould say that there is no human life without participation in God's self-manifesting activity, and that wehuman beings are who and what we are because weare made in the image and likeness of God, male andfemale, for unending divine life.We would say that it is not a matter of God choosingus without or against our will, nor of our choosing orrejecting God.
The mystery of God-with-me andI-with-God depends wholly on God to the extent thatthere is no "I" without God. When I am with God,then I am who and what I am. When I am againstGod, I am struggling to destroy who and what Godcreates and saves me to be. This struggle is futile; Icannot rid myself of God's presence in my being andlife. To persist in it is madness and hell.
It must be clearly affirmed, nevertheless, that I amnot God and God is notme.Without God, I am nothingand can do nothing. With God, I am who I am andcan do all things through God who vivifies, illuminesand strengthens me.In Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in the Church,through the preaching of the Word and the celebrationof the sacraments, the presence and power of God isgiven as a gift: pressed down, running over, lavishedupon us. All is given by God whether we like it ornot, whether we want it or not. When we like it andwant it, it is paradise. When we resist it, it is the hellwhose very pain is the presence and power of Godwho
love and truth, peace and joy, beauty and bliss.God is with us. This, simply put, is the meaningof grace. God's gift of divinity to human persons isundeserved and unmerited, unconditional and unstoppable. It cannot be resisted, yet it may be madly unsuccessfully resisted from our side forever.To speak in this way, without using the term
which was intended to say it all in a word, may allowus to say things reasonable to the human mind, verifiable to the human heart, adequate to Christian worship,and proper to the experience of God accessible tocreatures who are made for this wonderful reality inwhich alone we find life.
Father Thomas Hopko is Dean of St. Vladimir'sOrthodox Seminary, Crestwood, New York.
20·THE LIVING PULPIT / JANUARY-MARCH 1995