Theistic Existentialism and Orthodox Christianity
some thoughts on Orthodoxy Christianity and Budism
Some time ago I started subscribing to little daily sayings from various religions at "Belief Net". I am using this stuff as food for thought while I am busy creating a universe filled with culture, history, dozens of fantastic creatures, a tradition of ancient philosophy and religion, in a novel I've been working on. Those who eventually read my novel (and who are familiar with Orthodox Christianity) will ultimately notice some similarities between many of the beings who populate the history of my world, and many of the strange, essentric and wonderful saints of Russian history, holy fools, and wonder working vagrants...
However, I wanted to get some glimps of other religions and their little sayings, so I subscribed to all these newsletters. I have discovered that, when it comes to the little sayings of saints, you could pretty much exchange one saying from somone in one religion with one saying from someone in another, and nobody would notice. Of course when it comes to theological, philosophical, and doctrinal differences that would not be the case. (The only real exception would be the muslim religion - where almost all the sayings of the "wise" are very legalistic and militant.)
Meanwhile, in the rest of my life I have a new friend who is a Budist priest. I began asking him questions about Budism several weeks ago, but something that he explained to me this weekend really made a light go on in my head. In fact, what he explained to me helped me further refine my own philosophical statement that Orthodox Christianity is existential.
He mentioned to me, quite simply, that while Western religions are often preoccupied with "being" (and "beings") Budism is, quite the contrary, preoccupied with processes instead. It is the processes that are both the means to an end and the end itself. In fact the concept of "being" is utterly unimportant to Budists - to such a degree that really to master Budism your goal is to divorce yourself from any conception of "being."
That really made sense to me, and a little light went on in my thinking on existentialism and Orthodox Christianity.
Quite the opposite from Budism, Orthodox Christianity is centered around "Being" - and not the "being" of each of us individually, but the "Being" of God. A basic understanding of existentialism can be found in the statement: "Existence preceds essense." What that means is that Existence is of prime importance, and the essence of that existence is of secondary importance - coming after the importance of Existence itself.
In Orthodox theology the Existence of God is the begining of our contemplation of God. The Existence of God is at the center of the cosmos and prevades every molecule that exists - giving it meaning and purpose. How do we "understand" that existence? How can we comprehend it?
In fact, we cannot. And that's what makes Orthodox Christianity existential. The "Existence" of God is fundamental to his "Essence" - or better put, His Being is fundamental to His Revelation. The "Existence" of God is explained by the Orthodox mystic as Divine Darkness, and unapproachable Holy Darkness in which we can see nothing, understand nothing, perceive nothing. This is known in Orthodox theology as "apothatic theology". It is the comprehension of God through what He is not. Meanwhile, the "Essence" of God is explained by the Orthodox mystic as Divine Light. The Light of God is his "essence" - His revelation of Himself to the world. All of what God reveals of Himself (His Esssence) to this world is based upon what He truly is within (His Being, or His Existence). And most importantly all of Christianity is based upon this fundamental concept of God's Existence. We perceive of His Existence because of His interaction in the world, but we must never lose sight that He cannot be boiled down to nothing but His interaction with the world. He Exists - and that makes our religion different from all others. The priest concludes the Liturgy (in the more accurate translations) with: "Christ Our God, the Existing One, is Blessed, Always now and ever and unto ages of ages amen." This parallels the title God has given himself in the Old Testament to Moses: "I AM THAT I AM." This is because all of our comprehension of Him, all of our hope of salvation, all of our every possibility of attaining His Glory, comes from the fact of His Existence.
Who is Blessed, now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
~ Fly ~