by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
"I am the Way, the Truth and the Life."
"The Church gives us not a system, but a key; not a plan of God's City, but the means of entering it. Perhaps someone will lose his way because he has no plan. But all that he will see, he will see without a mediator, he will see it directly, it will be real for him; while he who has studied only the plan risks remaining outside and not really finding anything."
-Fr George Florovsky
One of the best known of the Desert Fathers of fourth-century Egypt, St Serapion the Sindonite, travelled once on pilgrimage to Rome. Here he was told of a celebrated recluse, a woman who lived always in one small room, never going out. Skeptical about her way of life - for he was himself a great wanderer - Serapion called on her and asked: 'Why are you sitting here?' To this she replied: 'I am not sitting. I am on a journey.'I am not sitting. I am on a journey. Every Christian may apply these words to himself or herself. To be a Christian is to be a traveller. Our situation, say the Greek Fathers, is like that of the Israelite people in the desert of Sinai: we live in tents, not houses, for spiritually we are always on the move. We are on a journey through the inward space of the heart, a journey not measured by the hours of our watch or the days of the calendar, for it is a journey out of time into eternity.
One of the most ancient names for Christianity is simply 'the Way'. 'About that time', it is said in the Acts of the Apostles, 'there arose no little stir concerning the Way' (19:23); Felix, the Roman governor of Caesarea, had 'a rather accurate knowledge of the Way' (24:22). It is a name that emphasizes the practical character of the Christian faith. Christianity is more than a theory about the universe, more than teachings written down on paper; it is a path along which we journey- in the deepest and richest sense, the way of life.
There is only one means of discovering the true nature of Christianity. We must step out upon this path, commit ourselves to this way of life, and then we shall begin to see for ourselves. So long as we remain outside, we cannot properly understand. Certainly we need to be given directions before we start; we need to be told what signposts to look out for, and we need to have companions. Indeed, without guidance from others it is scarcely possible to begin the journey. But directions given by others can never convey to us what the way is actually like; they cannot be a substitute for direct, personal experience. Each is called to verify for himself what he has been taught, each is required to re-live the Tradition he has received. 'The Creed', said Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, 'does not belong to you unless you have lived it.' No one can be an armchair traveller on this all-important journey. No one can be a Christian at second hand. God has children, but he has no grandchildren.
Describing a visit to a country church in Greece, John Betjeman stresses the element of antiquity, but he also stresses something more:
"... The domed interior swallows up the day. Here, where to light a candle is to pray,
The candle flame shows up the almond eyes
Of local saints who view with no surprise their martyrdoms depicted upon walls
On which the filtered daylight faintly falls.
The Flame shows up the cracked paint-sea-green blue
And red and gold, with grained wood showing through-
Of Much kissed ikons, dating from, perhaps, The fourteenth century • • .
Thus vigorously does the old tree grow,
By persecution pruned, watered with blood, Its living roots deep in pre-Christian mud. It needs no bureaucratic protection.
It is its own perpetual resurrection . . .”
Betjeman draws attention here to much that an Orthodox holds precious: the value of symbolic gestures such as the lighting of a candle; the role of ikons in conveying a sense of the local church as 'heaven on earth'; the prominence of martyrdom in the Orthodox experience - under the Turks since 1453, under the Communists since 1917. Orthodoxy in the modem world is indeed an 'old tree'. But besides age there is also vitality, a 'perpetual resurrection'; and it is this that matters, and not mere antiquity. Christ did not say, 'I am custom'; he said, 'I am the Life'.