by Dcn George Maximov
Another excellent gem from Dcn George, who is becoming a favorite writer of mine.
A friend once told me about an article on one religious website on the feast of the Entrance of the Most Pure Theotokos into the Temple. The article essentially stated that there was no entrance into the temple—that is what “many scholars” say, and as we know, “many scholars” make no mistakes.
I remembered how ten or so years ago, I also did not believe in the historicity of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, and thought myself quite smart and progressive for this. I believed that it was my own opinion, although in fact I had read it in something by one of the “many scholars” or even simply by someone who worships the scholars. The argument that seemed irrefutable to me consisted in that fact that this event is inconsistent with what we know about the ancient Jews’ view of the temple, and even goes against certain rules (only males were allowed to enter the temple).
So I lived with that opinion, and then, let’s say, ten years ago, I suddenly thought about it: haven’t I seen with my own eyes instances where exceptions have been made in church life? We are not talking about a breach of the rules, but about those exceptions that take place obviously by God’s will—don’t they indeed happen? There have been, and will be exceptions. They happen. That they happened during Old Testament times is something Christ Himself mention to the smarties of His time: But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? (Mt. 12:3–4).
Had the Lord not said these words, probably our modern-day smarties would cook up an article about how the episode with the wheat written in the twenty-fourth chapter of the first book of Kings, in the opinion of “many scholars” is no more than an idea because it contradicts the Law, and early Jewish traditions, which clearly state that it is always the priests’ prerogative alone to eat the shew bread.
If there were, and still are exclusions, then the Theotokos’s entrance into the temple could have been one—that is the thought that came to me. And if that is so, then the argument about which I had such a high opinion means nothing. One this is certain regarding the “many sholars”: they were all people from the twentieth, at best nineteenth centuries, and not one of them lived during the time of the temple in Jerusalem of the first century B.C., which would have enabled them to give an authentic testimony about what did and didn’t happen then. All that the “many scholars” have at their disposal are a small body of scattered information from written sources and their own imagination. Furthermore, any insufficiency in the former is always completed using a surplus of the latter. Only a person who is completely unlearned in historical scholarship could truly believe that historians have documented knowledge of every step and every gesture made two thousand years ago in one building in one city of the Roman Empire.
I knew, thank God, ten years ago as well that “many scholars” have at their disposal concerning such ancient events only scattered information from an extremely small amount of sources, upon which they try to build to a greater or lesser degree of probability theoretical conclusions about the state of affairs in a given era. This can work quite well for the ordinary course of events, but it is powerless before exceptions to the rule, especially those that did not manage to fall into historical sources written by eye-witnesses and preserved down to our day.
Thus, if the Virgin Mary’s entrance into the temple could have taken place not as an ordinary event but as an exception, then the skepticism of “many scholars” in the twentieth century—no matter how many there are of them—means, to say the least, very little. It is not knowledge but soothsaying. But compared to the soothsaying of “many scholars” of the twentieth century, a second century historical source (the “Protevangelos of James”), which records the tradition of the entrance of the Virgin Mary into the temple as an authentic fact, is far more trustworthy, no matter how you slice it.
That is what I was thinking ten years ago, and I began to allow for the historicity of the entrance of the Theotokos into the temple; again I thought myself quite smart, although I was still just as much of a fool because I didn’t understand that all of this is nonsense that has no relationship to the essence of things.
I will finally try to get to the point, but I will start from a distance.
Why did I get stuck back then on what I had read in someone’s work about the non-historicity of the events to which this feast is dedicated? Why did I agree to it so easily? It was not his arguments that won me over. The reason is that both he and I were standing on the same initial position that led to the following axioms:
1. “Those who lived earlier were stupider than me.”
2. “I myself can and should determine what is true, supporting myself with the conclusions drawn by my own reasoning.”
This is why I so readily agreed with the idea I read or heard concerning the non-historicity of the feast of the Entrance into the Temple. He and I were proceeding from the same point of departure in the same direction, and therefore we would naturally come to the same thing—skepticism, and a justification of this skepticism. His idea turned out to be so infectious for me precisely because of this inner similarity and unanimous mindset. This is the root of what is called modernism; this root was planted in each of us from childhood, and it takes no little effort in order to tear it out of ourselves.
Only standing upon the above-mentioned axioms is it possible, without noticing the entire absurdity of such a combination, to consider ourselves believing Christians and yet suppose that we know better what the Virgin Mary did and didn’t do than the Christians of the second century, than Sts. Herman and Tarasius of Constantinople, St. Gregory Palamas, and others who wrote about these events as facts; and finally, better than the Church herself, which instituted this feast.
But pride, even in such grotesque forms, is, so to say, half the problem. The other half is lack of faith, or simply no faith at all.
If you call yourself an Orthodox Christian, it means that you believe that there is an eternal God, Who is witness to all events in human history, Who reveals His truth to holy people both in former times and latter times; you believe that He created the Church, which is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), against which the gates of hell shall not prevail (Mt. 16:18) and in which the Holy Spirit dwells, about Whom it is said: shall teach you all things (Jn. 14:26) and will guide you in all truth (Jn. 16:13). This means that you accept that “The Church cannot err or go astray, saying a lie instead of the truth; inasmuch as the Holy Spirit, always working through faithfully serving fathers and teachers of the Church, preserves it from all error” (Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs on the Orthodox Faith, section 12). This means that you believe and accept in the Church what she has established and preaches as the truth, including the historical basis of the feast of the Entrance of the Most Pure Theotokos into the Temple.
If you consider the story of the entrance of the Most Pure Theotokos into the temple to be an invention and lie, then that means that you consider that the Church speaks a lie instead of the truth—after all this is all unambiguous, it is not simply the utterances of some people, not someone’s “personal opinion”, but one of the twelve feasts of the Church with a text of services generally accepted by the entire Church, with a host of patristic homilies on these events, etc.—then that means that the Holy Spirit does not preserve the Church from error and does not instruct in all truth; which means that either God lied, or He simply doesn’t exist.
It’s one or the other. Either you believe in God, or you do not believe.
Faith is when you trust in God more than in yourself. It is when you do not “establish truth” with your own mind, but recognize it from the One Who possesses it. If you only accept those of His words—revealed either in the Scriptures or through the Church—that you can understand with your own mind and agree to consider trustworthy, then there is no place left for faith; you believe not in God but in yourself. This is not faith—it is fakery.
But if you believe, then believe for real.
If God exists, then He is a witness to everything; if He created the Church and revealed the truth to her, that means that you need to believe the testimony of the Eye-witness even if this is not fashionable or popular in the eyes of the world, even if an unimaginable number of “many scholars” say otherwise.
Not accidentally does the Lord allow the existence and dissemination of modernistic ideas about the non-historicity of the Entrance into the Temple and other ideas like it. This is all for our benefit. The popularity of these ideas help us to distinguish the believers from those of little faith, and it helps a person to determine where he is in relation to God. It is like the theory of evolution. The world insists that people came from monkeys, but God in the Bible says that He created people from the earth. So take your pick, and see where you heart is—with God, or with the world.
But you will only truly begin to believe when you open yourself to God fully, without any “yes, but…”, “all, except…”, and “yes, only not…” Only then will miracles happen, and a life will begin that makes your former life seem no better than a somnambulistic existence.