Holiness and the Heart

My sister Ruthie never questioned what the Bible said, or the settled tradition our parents handed to us. For her, faith was what you did. Her faith was in her heart. That was the difference between my late sister and me, at least when it came to God.

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Theological inquiry is not wrong, but we must never forget that knowing about God is not the same thing as knowing God. A syllogism never fed a hungry child, comforted a dying man, or saved a lost soul. Ruthie understood that.

After I lost my Catholic faith, in large part due to the weakness of my own favored intellectual style of religion, God gave me a second chance as an Orthodox Christian. Orthodoxy has a profound and ancient theology. One of its key insights is that knowing God with one’s heart is the key to holiness. Formal study is fine, but it is no substitute for prayer and the practice of mercy and compassion.

In classic Orthodox Christianity, a “theologian” is one who knows God. Silouan, a monk of Mount Athos, could barely read, yet so great was his holiness and humility that he is considered one of the great Orthodox theologians of the 20th century. In this sense, my sister Ruthie, a simple Methodist country schoolteacher, is one of the greatest theologians I have ever known.

Rod Dreher is a Beliefnet columnist and the author of The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming, which has just been published by Grand Central. Follow him on Twitter @roddreher, or connect with him at the Rod Dreher fan page on Facebook.

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