St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Belief and Faith, Water and Wine

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (3:13-17)

The Christian message is very, very simple. God loves the world. He loves us. Seeing his creation falling into death, he sent his Son, to liberate us from death, from sin, from fear and to grant eternal life to all who believe in this simple Gospel. And he has accomplished in taking on human nature and matter the deification of all things.  In Holy Baptism we have been clothed with Christ, buried with him, raised with him and yet, in the Baptism service itself we hear these wonderful words, “He has enlightened everyone that comes into the world.”

There seems, my friends, to be no limit to his love and all limitations that appear to be are merely creations of our darkened minds.  I love to quote Olivier Clement who wrote that not one blade of grass grows outside the Church. That is a statement of faith in the Incarnation if I have ever heard one.  Christ truly is, as St. Paul writes, “all in all.”

The question is as always what does it mean to believe?  It must mean more than simply saying, “Jesus is Lord,” for Jesus tells us that there are those who call him, “Lord, Lord,” and who even perform miracles that will not enter into his kingdom.  No, that is not it. I think it comes down to understanding the difference between belief and faith.  It is faith that saves and that by grace.

Belief is only a beginning, a halting step on the journey into the limitless. "Belief clings," writes Alan Watts, "faith lets go." Belief as important and essential as it is, ties us to the earth, to concepts and definitions, while faith gives us wings to explore, to discover, to question, to grow, to fly.

Belief is water, faith is wine. Belief is a boat. Faith is the ocean - the ocean we enter in Holy Baptism where we are supposed to drown.(If only we would stop coming up for air!) Belief is a door, a window, a boat. Faith is going through the door, climbing through the window, and discovering by jumping overboard that we are able to swim.  We are meant for greater things, always greater and greater things. As St. Paul puts it, our life in Christ is “an ascent from glory to glory.” To ascend we must let go of what is known and pass through into the unknown. We must die and be reborn.

The Persian poet Hafiz knew this and wrote, “Every sane person I know has jumped overboard.”  The ultimate act of faith is the great leap into the unknown, knowing and trusting that when we jump the net will appear.

Just a few Sundays ago we read the Gospel of Jesus and Peter walking on the water. Only Peter was invited to leave the boat. Why? Probably because of all the apostles he was the most impetuous!  He was the one who spoke and acted before he thought.  Whatever the case, only he was invited to venture out on the water.

I think that all of us, at the right time, when we are ready, will hear that invitation – to leave the boat and enter the spiritual realm of personal experience. It will be a moment of enlightenment and awakening, when all the stars align, as they say, and something clicks inside of us and we hear that still, small voice asking us to leave behind the safety of our understandings and move out into the unknown, the “divine darkness” of which St. Gregory of Nyssa was the greatest exponent.

And it will be a movement of heart rather than of the mind, for belief is the province of the mind and faith the province of the heart. We will be guided not by dogmas and laws, but by Spirit and truth, motivated by love and wonder and not by fear.  In this ascent we will experience the truth that there is nothing left for us to do, but embrace Christ and give thanks.

Here is another gem from Anthony DeMello that points us in the right direction. It is in the form of a short dialogue between a Christian preacher and a teacher from another religion.

“Allow me to explain the good news my religion proclaims," said the preacher. The master was all attention. "God is love. And God loves and rewards us forever if we observe God's commandments.” "If?" said the master. "Then the news isn't all that good is it?"

There are no “ifs”, brothers and sisters. There is only Love. To believe is to rest in this truth. There is nothing we need do except surrender and surrender is faith.

So, what is it to believe and have faith? It is to let go of the idea that God has not come, that He is not here, that he has not deified all things, that the kingdom awaits us in a distant future far, far away and is not itself the very foundation  of life. It is all a matter of surrender, of letting go and letting be and of waking up to Christ’s central message that the He is in our midst always and forever and the kingdom is present even now in the ordinary ebb and flow of life.

“It is a matter of growth,” writes Thomas Merton, “(of) deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts. Never was it more necessary to respond to that action.”