Democracy and Aristocracy in Orthodox Christian Spiritual Experience
Orthodox Christianity has a “democracy” in the Chestertonian sense. The Church is strong, not just in her saints, but in her day-to-day faithful. The conviction and faithfulness and loyalty and spiritual intensity of these folk, and the willingness to patiently apply Christian obedience to everyday life, is indispensible to the function of the Church and her vitality. More, it is indispensible to the Church’s Orthodoxy, for where the heirarchy may someties be tempted to go wide, the rank and file are always conservational in their overall impulses.
As Elder Thaddeus said, (and I paraphrase) it’s the ordinary people who are most important to God. My interpretation of this saying is that the strong – the spiritual aristocracy – are made strong for the sake of the weak.
And yet there is a spiritual aristocracy. We have no doubt that our saints experienced glorification and holiness at a level that most of us will have to wait to the next life to experience. It’s our joy that they should be better than us – because then we have someone to lead our eyes upward step by step toward the perfection of Christ, to condition our dimmed spiritual eyesight to be able to percieve Him who is All in All.
What then of the experience of God?
I freely admit that I have experienced God. I simply don’t find it immodest to do so. My confession of God’s presence in my life is a confession demanded by honesty, and an act of worship.
Was my friend’s instinct entirely “off” then? No, I don’t think so at all! Orthodox Christians do indeed display, normally, a modest reticence about their spiritual experience. What if they were deluded? They might lead someone else astray! What if they fall away later? They might discourage someone else! What if their spiritual level is or seems higher than that of the person to whom they are speaking? They might humiliate them!
So there are many good reasons to be reticent about the experience of God.
There are also good reasons to admit to it. The world is under the impression that God died a couple of centuries ago, in the modern consciousness, never to rise again. They think that we believe what we beleive in a “leap of faith” involving no reasons, no causes, and no adherence to reality.
Isn’t it important to behave as if God’s presence is normal?
The truth is, I have experienced God… I just haven’t experienced him with an experience very high in the heirarchy of experience. So, it is the nature of my exprience, rather than the object of my experience that I would be modest about… if I had anything to be modest about.
It’s not just that I’ve experienced God, though. It’s that I believe everyone has experienced God in some fashion, whether they have begun to realize it, as I have, or whether they haven’t. God himself is indisputable apart from insanity. I don’t believe that my experience of God is abnormal or special. It’s ordinary, and that’s what makes me believe that God is ordinary – that goodness is reality, and faith essential to a normal human existence.