Word Magazine May 1992 Page 16
By Archpriest James C. Meena
Everybody at one time or another is a fundamentalist. We run into a controversy in our modern society, not between non-believers and believers, but among believers themselves; those who contend that fundamentalism is the only way to fly and those of us who believe that fundamentalism is only a beginning to the fullness of the Faith. And while it is not my intention to demean or denigrate the Faith of any group or individual, I would like to make it clear to the reader that fundamentalism is “fundamental” to our Faith, it is the beginning of our Faith. Everybody begins fundamentally in everything in life. When we learned to walk we learned the fundamentals. First we crept, then we crawled, then we stood up tentatively and took our first step or two and then we learned to walk and to run and to hop and to skip, but first came the fundamentals. When we learned to eat, to speak, to read and write, first we learned the fundamentals.
So it is with our Faith. Everyone starts with the fundamentals, with the basic understanding of that which is the beginning of the Faith. But in every other area of life, we consider it a sign of stunted growth, stunted maturity when someone stops progressing. If a person only learned to creep and never learned to walk, or only learned how to talk but never learned to run or to hop and skip, we would consider that person somehow physically stunted, retarded maybe. If someone only learned the alphabet but never learned how to use the letters to form words and sentences in order to make sense in their communications with other people we would consider them stunted in their intellectual maturity And yet we think nothing of people who get stuck in first gear theologically. We think that’s quite alright. But the Orthodox Church believes that while all of us begin with the fundamentals, i.e., with a basic knowledge and understanding of the Life and Teachings of Christ, we go beyond to the broader and fuller teachings of the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church.
After all, we have no documentation that was given to us by Jesus Christ Himself. Unlike Moses, He did not ascend into the mountains and come down with tablets of law or doctrines and say this is the definitive tenet by which you must live. Jesus preached not only by His word but by His example and He performed great miracles in order to show the power of God that was invested in His own divinity, and yet when people asked Him for a sign He called them faithless. While He was performing many signs and wonders for us, He refused to be tempted or to tempt His Father by performing signs on demand, (St. Matt. 12:38-39).
He gave us nothing of himself in writing. He left that to His followers, even to the second and third and fourth generation of disciples who would set down in writing their experiences, their revelations and inspired understanding of who Jesus Christ is. One of the basic problems with fundamentalism is that it denies the efficacy and the validity of the testimony of these second, third and fourth generation disciples. It claims that only the Bible, as they understand the Bible, is basic and fundamental to the Faith and that’s as far as anyone can go. First of all they define in their own terms what books may be included and what books are to be excluded, (modifying at will the universal canon of the Church which presented the Bible to the world) and we find Bibles of all sizes, shapes and forms. Those things which the Orthodox Church considers to be sacred writings, most of the fundamentalist churches consider to be apocryphal writings, i.e., having no basis in truth, being legendary or fictional or of false authorship. But the Orthodox Church Fathers evaluate these documents on the basis of their content, on the evidence of their inspiration.
What I am saying to you is not so much that we must accept or we must reject this, that or the other, but rather that we must be open to the revelations which God has sent through His Saints throughout the ages, unless we subscribe to a limited concept that Jesus only has meaning for that three year period in which He preached and revealed His glory, and that’s it, nothing else happened! There was no more inspiration! There was no more prophecy! There was no further revelation after that, and that nobody could receive and speak with the grace of the Holy Spirit. If we believe that concept, then we can be fundamentalists but fundamentalists don’t believe that. Even fundamentalists believe that today, right now any person of faith can receive the Holy Spirit and speak with the grace, the charisma of the Holy Spirit.
So while we all start as fundamentalists, I did and you did, I must adjure you not to get stuck in first gear. It is incumbent upon you as growing adult Orthodox Christians to mature in spirit and understanding as well, in order that you might grow in faith and in love. If your spirit and your understanding are stunted, then your faith and your love will never come to full maturity, they will be stunted also.
It is important for us to pray, to study, to fast, to offer ourselves up to God not merely in compliance but in complete surrender, to understand and to do his work. When that happens to us we can face all of the realities of life and we begin to come out of our fundamentalism into full maturity in the light of understanding the fullness of Jesus Christ as the Orthodox Church, in Her fullness, presents Him to be.
Father James C. Meena is one of our beloved senior priests, now living in retirement.