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Lembas Bread

October 3, 2010

I have to admit that this picture I found really cracks me up. The “New” statement in the upper right corner is one of those great lines from the book, that I think never made it into the movie. Gimli the dwarf sees the waybread, and scoffs under his breath, “Cram.” To his surprise and delight it is not and he proceeds to eat an entire cake. The elves inform him that he has eaten an entire day’s worth of lembas, which the elves say has every nutrient necessary to give a person strength on a long journey. And while this picture is a very clever play on the elvish waybread, I think it also depicts a serious tendency I was reflecting upon. Actually two tendencies, I suppose.

The first tendency is one I was caught up in for years, without ever knowing it. I am speaking of the tendency to emphasize the Scriptures as the sole source of spiritual life within the Church, to the exclusion of all else. This was first introduced during the Reformation with the words Sola Scriptura. There are a lot of great historians and theologians that have discussed the issue of Sola Scriptura, so I won’t get into that issue. I would like to share my own reflections in light of what I am learning as I become more immersed in the life of the Church.

When I was a Protestant, I would have pointed to the following Scripture verses as proof that the Bible is all we need as Christians: Job 23:12 “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.” ; Psalm 119:105 “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” ; Romans 10:17 “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”; and of course Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of souland spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” These are but the smallest pinch of verses that are often used to point to Scripture as the sole means by which God communicates to man through the Holy Spirit. All else is man-made religion. Unless, of course, you have a “Spirit-led” Church.

The thing that I never understood is that the Church is so much more than just the Bible. Again, I won’t get into the historical inaccuracy of those who try to treat the Bible as if it was Dictation from God Himself, and is some kind of perfect instruction guide as long as you “have the Holy Spirit”. I will say that after reading, podcasting and in general learning about the history of the Bible, Church, Tradition, etc, I am blown away at how ignorant I was. I have been missing the big picture of the life of the Church. Sam and Frodo knew the benefit of the lembas, but began to long for a bit of a change after a while. The Word of God is indeed alive and powerful, but it is not all the Church has to offer. I used to think every problem in life could be answered within the pages of the Bible. While one cannot exhaust the spiritual blessings found within Scripture, there is more in the life of the Orthodox Church.

I am going to steal a friends analogy. Don’t worry, I will give him full credit. Jonathan (Dr Jonathan) and I were talking about this illustration of Protestantism versus an Apostolic Church. He likened the Church to a Fitness Club (remember, this is only an imperfect analogy). In one room you have barbells, and dumbbells. This is the room Sola Scriptura advocates stay in. All you need to get in shape is in that one room. Even though they see that there are rooms with machines for lifting, machines for cardio, exercise classes, a track, a pool, etc, they see no benefit in it. In fact, they see it as bad for you. It is all there for your benefit, but only the free weights are good for you. Can someone get in shape with just those? Sure, but not in the rounded way someone who takes full advantage of the gym’s facilities can. Will a free-weights only person get in better shape than a slacker who barely takes any advantage of the full use of the gym? Absolutely. I had a co-worker (a fireman) who sat on an elliptical bike with a news paper, only pedaling every minutes or so, while my other crew members and I used the whole gym. It’s easy to guess who was useless on emergencies. (Thanks again for the illustration JD)

Even as a catechumen I am amazed by the vast height, depth, width and length of the Orthodox Church. The icons, the prayers, the saints, the Theotokos, the sacraments, the theology, the history (good and bad), and yes, the Scripture (last, but definitely not least). Far from taking away anything from the Scriptures, this journey has opened my eyes to the great reverence for and value of the Scriptures. Never in my former traditions did I ever stand whenever the Gospel is read aloud. Such a reverence for the Holy Scriptures. Now the Scriptures make sense. They are meant to be understood in the context of the Church, not individual “Spirit leading”. Does that mean God does not speak to me? Far from it. I seem to hear Him far more clearly and frequently. It’s all too much to describe in a blog post, or even several. Let me just say that it is wonderful, this life I am so close to entering full into, once my catechism is deemed complete.

There is an excellent blog post my Fr Stephen Freeman titled Treasure In A Box, in which he speaks of the problems created by the Sola Scriptura mentality, as it relates to our being connected to God, the Source of Life. I found it a good reminder that we don’t serve and worship a text, a book or a concept. It seems today that some circles have deified the Bible, and relegated faith to a mental ascent to the teachings contained within that book (or collection of books). No, rather, Christ is in our midst. And this life that we “now live my the Son of God” has it’s fullest expression in His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. What a freedom and a gift.

“So come to the feast laid out for us in our life in Christ. And don’t forget to try some of that bread over there. It’s called lembas. It’s delicious! Way better than cram… But try some of everything. You’ll be glad you did.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2010 12:15 am

    Hi Jeremiah. I liked your Lambas Bread pic so, here I am 🙂 Well I have a question and I would like you to know it is completely sincere and without any aim or goal except knowledge of what the answer may be.
    What does an Icon do for you? Can you please explain what they are for?

    • October 4, 2010 1:35 pm

      Hey Eric, great to hear from you. I hope you and the family are doing well.
      There are a lot of great teachings on the use of icons within the life of the Orthodox Church, their purpose, use and the theology behind them. I will just give you a brief reply on how I use them in regards to prayer and such.
      I primarily use my icons for prayer. On a wall in my room is a typical “prayer corner”, with a cross centered above an icon of Christ on the right and the Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ on the left. There are a few other icons of saints as well. When I pray, I stand before them and speak my prayers out loud. My prayers are not to the icons, they are directed to God, but I find that looking at the icons help me to focus. I have noticed that my mind does not wander quite so readily as closing my eyes and praying silently.
      The purpose of an icon has many aspects. One of them is the purpose of teaching. Icons do with color, what Scripture does with words. It teaches salvation history through Jesus Christ. All the theology of icons is based on the theology of the incarnation of Christ. Because He was visible in His human nature, He was able to be depicted in icons. They are more than pictures, they teach a theological truth about Christ, His Church, the events of His life, etc. Every scene, saint, etc that is depicted points back to Christ. Without Him and His Incarnation, icons would just be paintings. They are called Windows into heaven. They point to and glorify Christ and His Grace.
      I have found that in conjunction with the Scripture, an icon allows for a deep meditation on the truths of our salvation. I think for that reason, as well as what I stated above, icons are “venerated” or shown respect, with a kiss. A kiss on the hand is, as I am sure you know, an Eastern custom showing respect to an elder, or someone in authority. We recognize the work of God in a person or event, and therefore show an outward sign of honor toward Him. At first it looks like bowing down to an object, but all respect is really going to God.
      I know that wasn’t as short as I intended to be, and not nearly as clear as I had hoped to be. But icons have a pretty deep theology and tradition. Fr Stephen Freeman’s blog Glory To God For All Things has some good teachings on icons. I think his blog sight has some good links as well. His blog is in my blogroll.
      Sorry if my explanation was weak and/or confusing. Thanks again for checking out this blog. My journey toward the Orthodox Church has been an interesting one so far. Tell Deanna hello.

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