Christ is Risen!
I wonder if this scripture found in Romans has a bearing...
Quote:Romans 9:15-16 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
Not that this means that the Church is not the locus of salvation, but salvation is of the Lord and not of the Church, and He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy.
I can remember several epiphanies when I knew nothing of Orthodoxy. I did not deserve any of them and none of them were based on my own understanding or knowledge, let alone on my having a completely Orthodox theology or praxis. They were undeserved and unexpected and can only be explained by me in the context of a sinner who loved God and strived weakly to live for Him and in Him.
One was driving as a passenger with a Church friend. I was just overcome with joy. Almost shaking with joy. Another was at Bible College when I was only discovering the world outside my Brethren roots. I remember that I was reading a passage from the rule of the modern Jerusalem Community, (The Jerusalem Community Rule of Life. Foreword by Carlo Carretto. Paulist Press, 1985) and I became overwhelmed with love - I mean a Divine love for me. And a third occasion was when I was still Brethren, perhaps 18 years old, and with my family I had a holiday in Spain. We were at Santander on a Sunday waiting for the ferry home and wandering round the town we came across a large Catholic church which was coming to the end of their service, perhaps the epiclesis and the distribution of communion. We were waved to come into the nave and I felt an overwhelming sense of the holiness of the place such that I wanted to prostrate myself - something unexperienced before and completely outside my Brethren praxis.
I have no doubt, as I look back at these and other events in my life, that these were all experiences of God, who has mercy on whom He will have mercy. But I also find that it is my growing into Orthodoxy which explains these events and makes them more than isolated flashes of light.
Is this is what we need to do? Allow for a wider experience of God but also understand that our experience comes to fruition in the context of a teaching community - and especially in the context of the Orthodox Church? I have to look at the Brethren community in which I grew up and I realise that much of what I experienced was mis-interpreted, as it were, and so precluded my becoming what I am becoming in Orthodoxy. This does not mean that there were not also those things which were interpreted aright and which supported my becoming Christian - I mean, by example, a sense of belonging to the community; a sense of wanting to be 'in Church' as much as possible; a sense of respect for the Scriptures. But much else was not interpreted aright.
I think that I am able to appreciate in my own past that it is possible to experience God as He wills, even outside of formal Orthodoxy - since surely all that is the experience of God is Orthodox.
That there is much in the churches which is of The Church and so interprets and facilitates these encounters with God, even when the truth is mixed with error.
But that The Church is a privileged place, not by any merit of the members of The Church, which has a responsibility to both carefully preserve the true interpretation and facilitation of our human experience of God, while also being open, and 'generous', so that this interpretation and facilitation is not a secret gnosis, only for the few, but an open secret for all who will heed the call.
I am unable to answer the question of the ontological status of those who are not baptised and communicant members of the Orthodox Church, save that I do believe that all that is truly Christian is of Christ and belongs to His Church, and that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and that while I was and remain a sinner, and while I knew nothing of Orthodoxy at all, God met me and blessed me on many occasions.
Christ is Risen!