Dear Don and Rick.
Thanks for some further interesting posts. It is so good to have this place where we can discuss meaning and value and substance without a narrow confessionalism.
I can understand both Don's desire for some structure, and Rick's explanation that Orthodoxy doesn't seem to be a place where the structure can be really nailed right down. It is a bit like the idea of an arrow fired at a tree which goes half way to the tree, and then half way to the tree, and then half way, and then half way, so that it is clear where it is going but in the fine detail always seems liable to hesitancy and provisionality.
I wonder also if there is a sense that the concreteness does not lie in where we are starting, but where we are going. This is not to say that 'every road leads to God', because I don't believe that, but certainly every journey starts in a different place and is unique.
Does the journey begin when we accept certain propositions? Or does it begin when we hear and respond to a call, without even quite being aware of it? For myself, my journey into Orthodoxy did not begin 15 years ago when I was received into the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, or 5 years before that when I started to study Orthodoxy, but when I was a toddler growing up in a devout and committed Evangelical home. That is where I first learned of Christ and was drawn to Him. I can remember being about 5 and disagreeing with comments my teacher had made about the Flood. I can remember at 10 knowing that I did not need to become a Christian because I already was one.
Yet I knew nothing about Christology, or Ecclesiology, or the Trinity, or Soteriology. Nevertheless my Orthodox journey had begun, if Orthodoxy is life in Christ - as I believe it is.
Here I am, an Orthodox priest with 15 years experience of being an active member of an Orthodox community. It seems to me that each day my journey continues to be 'just beginning'. I know more about 'propositional Christianity' but this is not my faith any more than it was when I was a child, it is the scaffolding, as I said.
And I know this because though I would want to say what Orthodoxy teaches in propositional terms, I would not want to narrowly define an Orthodox Christian by such propositions. Indeed in some sense the propositions stand in the way of an understanding of the Orthodox Christian experience if it is considered that there is only one absolute explication of the proposition, instead of each proposition coming into focus in a personal life lived.
If the propositions are a scaffolding for spiritual growth, then they are also boundaries which encompass a wide space for theological understanding, especially when theology is understood as insight through spiritual experience and not academic study. This is why many of these propositions have a negative value that says what we cannot say rather than what we can.
If we take the credal statement, 'And in One Lord, Jesus Christ, the Word of God...became man' then this constrains our reflection. for instance, we may not say that the Word of God did not become man, we may not say that Jesus Christ is only a man. But even if we fully understand in an intellectual sense that Christ is the Word of God truly become incarnate, then we have to continue asking all our life, 'what does this mean?' and the answer must be more than an intellectual one.
What I am trying to say is that the meaning of the proposition is not exhausted by simply stating it. Rather it becomes itself only a beginning for reflection, and its meaning only becomes increasingly known through prayer and spiritual experience, and that reflection is constrained by the negative exclusion of false understandings, which constraints are the fruits of the shared reflection of the Church.
So the propositions and constraints are important, but the aim is spiritual understanding and growth, and this personal experience of the Orthodox Faith is therefore liable to a variety of understandings within the constraints which the Church understands are required. It is hard to nail down an exact uniformity of understanding, but that does not mean that there is no uniformity within the constraints which the Church understands are necessary. It just means that the faith lived is not the same as propositions, and that the propositions cannot exhaust the substance of the Faith.
I'd be very happy for us to start a thread looking at the creed, and seeing what this teaches us about the substance of the Orthodox Faith, and how the creed relates to our lived faith. I'll open a thread now.