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The Fall Of Gondolin

June 11, 2010

When I first read The Silmarillion, the story of the elves and their rebellion, periods of glory, war, sorrows, etc reminded me a great deal of the Old Testament. No sooner had things seemed to quiet down, or a victory seemed to be at hand, when tragedy would strike. Reading the story of the fall of Gondolin, you see the crown jewel of the elves forever crushed. The thing that brings it down is pride and betrayal. You see it coming before it happens. You wish it wouldn’t, but it does. I wonder why Tolkien wrote so much tragedy in the lives of the elves. I wish they could get the upper hand on evil and have peace. Why such suffering? I have to admit, I feel a little betrayed. Like something that could have been so wonderful, never was.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I first read the history of the Orthodox Church, it kind of felt like that. I mentioned it in another post, but I felt offended by the history I was confronted with. From the podcasts I had heard, I got the impression that the Church that contained the Fullness of Faith was also something at least close to perfect. The Church I read about in the pages of The Orthodox Church by Kallistos Ware was anything but perfect. After a bit of reflection on why an imperfect Church would be a stumbling block for me, I think I have come up with a few answers.

I think the root of my “offended sensibilities” was a misguided understanding of the Scriptures. I, like many Fundamentalist Evangelicals, believed that the Bible was more or less an “actual, factual” account. Scriptures were not just God’s Word, but that Word is inerrant and infallible. That perspective lent itself to a sort of romanticized view of the accounts of the Bible, which in turn also created an unrealistic view of the early Church. I knew there was conflict, but I thought with the guidance of the Holy Spirit (after all, hadn’t He “dictated” the entire Bible up to the time of Jesus?) the answers were pretty obvious. I hope this doesn’t sound too confusing, but when I be

came aware of the fact that my old views of Scripture, the Church, etc were incorrect, I must have subconsciously transferred my misguided concepts to the Orthodox Church. I was still investigating the claims of Orthodoxy, but I thought if it was the fullness of Him who fills all in all, it would be just about perfect.

The Church that I was confronted with on the pages of  Metropolitan Kallisto’s book was full of jealousy, divisions, vain-glory, wars, hate, murder and a laundry list of other things too numerous to list in a single blog post. Was this really the “pillar and ground of truth” spoken of by Paul to Timothy? As I would come to find out, yes. The podcasts I listened to helped tremendously. Search the Scriptures covered a multi-teaching section on the history of the Bible, and the Church. Father Thomas Hopko, as well as the guys from Our Life In Christ also explained a lot of the historical aspects of the Church. As always, Fr Stephen Freeman’s reflections on Glory To God help to put these things into perspective, as well. You can refer to my earlier post on the podcasts to find out more about the ones I listed here.

I learned that God has worked with very flawed people, from the time of the Fall to the present. I learned that “inspiration” does not mean possessed or dictated to, but works in conjunction with our human flaws with all its ugliness and messiness. I have also reflected on the very troubled history of the people of Israel and how they had The Oracles of God, yet sinned grievously. Their sin did not negate the truth of the God who chose them. The Church, the Israel of God, has the fulfillment of all the truth of the Old Testament in Christ, yet that truth is held in “earthen vessels”. With all its “earthiness” getting in the way, God has led His Church from its birth on Pentecost, to the present.

Another thing I had to combat in my mind, came from the critical arguments arising out of Emerging Church and Liberal camps. These are most prominent in Protestantism, but there are a few Roman Catholics involved in this as well. It seems to me the main criticisms that come from these groups bring into question the authority of the Church and especially Scripture. I thinks it’s mainly a challenge of Fundamentalist thinking on scripture, Church, etc. It proposes that the theology of the Church “evolves” with the changing culture and as such, scripture, theology, morality, etc should be interpreted in the context of society. In this thinking is the idea that there is no real way of “knowing” that we have true doctrine, worship, church authority, apostolic succession, etc. I am painting with way too broad a brush and am leaving a lot out, but I am oversimplifying to make a point.

My point with all that, is to say that such thinking (even though I by and large rejected it, it still crept into my head) dismisses the human errors within the Church as reasons to doubt her authority and dismiss the teaching and dogmas established by the Church. Such thinking says that anything that was taught by the Apostles has long been misunderstood and it’s up to us to figure it out for ourselves. With this kind of thinking rolling through my head, all the humanness of the Church through the centuries strips the authority passed on by the Apostles and reduces it to a nice idea that can no longer be proven. It makes the dogmas of the Church seem like a silly thing to have gotten so worked up about. I wondered if this Church that seemed to have fought so much with itself, had really preserved the faith passed down by the Apostles. Was it all just perspective?

I have discovered that in all the apparent messiness of Church history is the leading of the Holy Spirit. By Church I mean the one defined by the Fathers; that being Orthodox (One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic). The Apostles handed down to faithful men, that which was handed down from Christ and they in turn passed it on. Amazingly, this was worked out by the Church over several centuries. Though there have been those that have broken away, the Church remains one. Not an institution of man that can be criticized, scrutinized, marginalized and divided into various groups, but the living body of Christ on earth; One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and visible. (I know I said it already, but it’s a phrase worth repeating)

Like Asaph, who came to understand the things that stumbled him, so too when I step into an Orthodox Church to celebrate Liturgy, I get perspective on the history of the Church. I hear the hymns, psalms and prayers as they have been done over the centuries, I smell the incense that have been a symbol of prayer from ancient Jewish times, I am in the presence of the “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) the holy icons of saints, patriarchs, angels and Christ Himself and I am led in worship to our God by the priest, with the congregation. This is not just another format or flavor of worship by one of many denominations. This is the Living Tradition. This is the experience of the Life In Christ, passed down by the faithful, unchanged. Like ancient Israel, the Church has those who do not “discern the body of Christ”, but that does not lessen what it is and Who it represents. To apprehend this mystery, or more accurately, be apprehended by it (thank you Fr Stephen) is to understand the Church and its history.

So… the Fall of Gondolin. While I originally thought I was going to make a comparison with Gondolin and the Church, adding a huge disclaimer that no such complete and utter destruction has happened to the Church, I can see that’s not the metaphor this posts comes away with. In truth I have come to realize that Gondolin represents my faulty understanding of the Church. A glorious and magnificent fortress-city that existed only in my mind. THIS is the Gondolin that has been forever razed to the ground in ashes. A fictional Church, full of make-believe characters who believe in an equally made-up God. Like the elves who escaped the destruction, what one is left with is a lot more painful and the road ahead is full of toil, tears, sweat and blood. Yet we who are saved by Christ look for a city without foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Sean permalink
    June 13, 2010 1:30 pm

    There have been times I have wondered about these same issues (and I have been Orthodox all my life, in a country where the vast majority of people are also Orthodox – at least nominally). I always come up with the same answer; or rather, the New Testament comes up with the same answer, each time: “I did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners to salvation”. I guess my way of interpreting this passage is a bit simplistic, but it sounds to me that a church of perfect people would not be a church at all. Christ did know to what kind of creatures He was trusting the responsibility of carrying His message and grace. He knew a priori – being God – and from personal experience – being Man – the failings of our kind. That all of us fail, in lesser or greater manner, to witness Christ’s love and truth to the world is not a sign of this love and truth’s non-existence but rather of the degree of the fall of the human nature and the scale of the Lord’s salvific sacrifice on our behalf.

  2. June 13, 2010 7:59 pm

    I think yours is a great interpretation of that statement of Christ. I like Fr Stephen’s reflection on the statement “Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” With a Church full of the “chief of sinners”, no wonder we see the things we do. But what a wonder it is that our God leads us through it all.
    Thanks for your comment.
    By the way, what country are you from?

    • Sean permalink
      June 14, 2010 6:20 am

      The one in whose language the New Testament was written 🙂
      (though I generally prefer not to say where I am from. These days most people tend to be rude when I tell them where I am from – of course I don’t believe you would do the same)….

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