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
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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