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The Christian Obligation to Know God

If our first and basic obligation to God is to love Him, then it follows naturally that we must know Him. Man will not and cannot love one whom he does not know.

We must observe that the necessity to know God is one of the least fulfilled of our obligations. How different it was in former times when interest in theological matters and religious knowledge was deeply felt by Orthodox souls. St. Gregory the Theologian testifies that in his time even merchants in the market place turned from their business affairs to discuss the consubstantiality of the Son of God.

Now, many intelligent people, sometimes even those who write and speak on various purely Christian themes, positively fear all theology. They tend to consider all its explanations and questions as somehow remote from life.

Because of this, an oppressive religious ignorance has appeared - a lack of acquaintance with the basic truths of the faith. Take for example, the masses of intelligent, educated Russian people. They will enumerate for you, without error, all the tsars of the house of Romanov, or the main Russian writers, etc. It is considered a disgrace for an educated person not to know this. Ask them, however, the main dogmas of the Christian faith, or to name the twelve apostles of Christ (people who did immeasurably more for mankind than any tsar or writer) and in nine of ten cases, the result will be lamentable. Even worse is the fact that no one considers this ignorance to be a disgrace, and people even admit it lightheartedly.

It is absolutely necessary that each Orthodox Christian have a knowledge of the content of his faith and of its basic truths - the dogma of the Trinity, of Divine Love, the Incarnation, the saving death and Resurrection of the Savior, and the future destiny of the world and of mankind, etc. These questions are not something distant and insignificant, rather they are vital and important to us, for the whole meaning of life hangs upon their answers.

All these questions coalesce in one: is there a God and Who is He? These are questions of singular importance even for people who barely believe. For truly believing people, to know about God is to know what He means to us and what His will is concerning all of us. This is the basic, most important and precious knowledge in life. In fact, Orthodox life itself is defined first of all by the knowledge of God, The Lord Himself, while praying to His Father, said: "This is eternal life, that they know You, the One True God and the One Whom You sent."

From all this, we see that the knowledge of God is our direct Christian duty, and the way to it, in addition to the study of theology, is the contemplation of God. Contemplation of God is the description of the spiritual mood in which man intentionally introduces into, maintains in his conscience, the thought of God, of His highest properties, the matter of our salvation and of our eternal future, etc. Such contemplation of God is especially loved by our Orthodox ascetics, but, unfortunately, it is not even familiar to most of us.

The knowledge of God is not, however, the mere rational acceptance and remembrance of our Orthodox Christian teaching of faith and life. Christianity is a living life, an experience of the human heart, and therefore it is accepted by people unequally. The more a person has experienced the truths and commandments of his faith in his personal life, in the inner experience of inner struggle and striving to live according to Christ's Gospel, the deeper does he assimilate Christianity. Conversely, if a person treats his faith dryly, with external formalism, and is not guided by the appeals of Christ's Gospel in his personal life, he will not accept Christianity into his soul and heart, and the profound content of the truths of Christ's faith will remain alien to him.

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