This series is reflecting on Matthew Gallatin’s book, Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.
Real love is an act, not an idea.
The above quote is not actually highlighted in the book, but I think it elegantly captures the core theme of this section. If our salvation is a living person, we have to encounter, know, and learn to love that person.
The Orthodox Christian devotes himself to certain acts of love designed to open the heart’s door and allow him to encounter Jesus Christ as He is.
Matthew Gallatin is, of course, describing the sacramental approach to worship and life. Here is where, even after all these years, I stand as something of an outside observer to the Protestant rationalistic approach to faith. I wasn’t shaped by it. I don’t perceive reality through that lens, and it’s unlikely that I ever truly will. But I’ve been immersed in that world for a long time now. I think the following short excerpts ring true.
For instance, for a Protestant, spiritual experience is a result of spiritual understanding. Conversely, for an Orthodox Christian, spiritual understanding is a result of spiritual experience.
So for the Protestant, the purpose of the Communion experience is to demonstrate that he already understands something; but for the Orthodox Christian, understanding comes as a result of the Communion experience. This “reverse emphasis” often makes it hard for a Protestant to comprehend the sacramental way.
For the Protestant, growing in love for God requires gaining new information about Him.
Matthew Gallatin goes on to point out that many Protestants have so tied up the idea of salvation in legal terms that it becomes a thing of the past. It’s a transaction that Jesus completed and which at some point a person chooses (at least among the strands that believe human choice and will matter) to accept. But is that salvation?
To be saved, then, is to be drawn into union with God, into the life of the Divine. … Salvation is transformation.
Think of it: we are saved by loving God. As St. James reminds us, salvation in the Kingdom of Christ belongs only to “those who love Him” (James 1:12; 2:5, italics mine).
And love does not naturally grow and develop by acquiring knowledge. Knowledge is not bad. It just shouldn’t be confused with love.
Sacraments, then, are the Holy Spirit’s “Do This!” to those people who long to love God deeply. What’s more, these acts of love are not difficult to perform. So, in a wonderfully gentle, quiet, and natural way, anyone who, out of love for Christ, devotes himself to practicing the sacraments of the Orthodox Faith will find himself within the intimate, saving, transforming embrace of Jesus Christ our God.