Certainly, a theology not based on a living experience is empty, vain, and sclerotic, even if the words are true and sound, borrowed from the common experience of the Church. How can I reply? Of what value is my experience? I cannot judge this. But I can say that I want to base myself with my whole being, without dissolving myself, on the experience of the saints: in apprenticeship, in humble discovery, in partaking of this common faith that gradually becomes mine, to such an extent that I no longer know where to put the quotation marks around the words of the saints and my own words – quotation marks are a modern invention, unknown to the Fathers. There is a way of living the words of the Gospel and the words of the saints so deeply that they become my own words, spontaneously, naturally. Thus, I feel that the certainty of the saints is mine. With all my being, I desire that this be so. I live the painful alternation of the presence and the absence of God – who of us can say he or she is entirely in the presence of God? I live the oscillation between, on the one hand, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit and, on the other, dryness, inaneness, and spiritual sterility. I live in the faith, that is, in the hope of things to come, in the certainty that God has loved and saved us and that the grace of God superabounds and works through our weakness. The Lord tells St Paul that to speak of spiritual experience is not to look at oneself in a mirror or to hear oneself talk, pray, or preach. St Isaac of Syria writes, “True prayer is when one prays without even knowing one prays.” To know that one prays is already a return to self. True prayer, then, is to forget about oneself; praying is turning to God and others in the best possible way.
Father Boris Bobrinskoy, The Compassion of the Father, (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003) 147-148.
Father Boris concludes this chapter on theology and language by drawing on the incarnational and ascensional mystery of Christ which draws us into the Kingdom, enabling us to partake of the divine life.
…henceforth language and human art can be baptized in the Church; they can, in the fire of the Spirit, become able to translate for our human senses and our understanding the presence of the divine Trinity in itself and in its saints. (148)
This language is actualized in the “here and now” but is in continuity with the language of the Fathers. Recent biblical, theological, iconographic and spiritual renewals have enriched “the Orthodox eucharistic and liturgical life and, starting from there, all of theology” although there remains work to be done in recovering worship as the true source of theological knowledge. Some of this is due to ecumenical endeavour, and “We should discern and rejoice for every germ and desire for Orthodoxy with our separated brethren.” (149) Moreover, there is need for a balance between “unwavering fidelity to the tradition of the Fathers and theological research in which we are instructed directly by the Spirit.” (150)