Written by Vladimir Moss



     Tertullian said: “I believe because it is absurd”. This was not quite accurate. He should have said: “I believe, although my faith is highly paradoxical, and unbelievers will think it is absurd.” 

     Our faith is indeed full of paradoxes, and the liturgical language of our Divine services does not try to avoid that paradoxicality, but even emphasizes it. Thus we believe that the Creator became a creature, the invisible became visible, the immaterial became material, Eternity entered into time. And far from trying to explain or rationalize these paradoxes, or soften their edges, as it were, our liturgy proclaims them triumphantly, without apology: “Today Christ is born of the Virgin in Bethlehem. Today He Who knows no beginning now begins to be, and the Word is made flesh.”[1]

     Again, we believe that all the sins and injustices of the world were wiped out by the greatest sin and injustice in the history of the world, the killing of Christ. Do our Divine services attempt to soften this paradox? By no means! “By the Blood of God the poison of the serpent is washed away; and the curse of a just condemnation is loosed by the unjust punishment inflicted on the Just One.”[2]

     Again, we believe that the Fount of all life in heaven on earth, Who is the Life and Light of the universe, died – and thereby raised all the dead to life… Do our Divine services attempt to soften this paradox? By no means! “Come, let us see our Life lying in the tomb, that He may give life to those that in their tombs lie dead.”[3]

     Nor is this deliberately – one might almost say: provocatively – paradoxical language confined to the great feasts of the Church that celebrate the deeds of the God-man. Even the services to the saints are full of paradoxes, and of the use of imagery that defies all logicality. Thus the blood of the martyrs is often said in the service books to dry up the blood-sacrifices offered to the demons. But how can that which is liquid dry up something else that is liquid? It makes no sense! 

     Again: “With the blood thou didst shed unjustly, thou didst drown the whole horde of the demons and didst overwhelm the multitude of the ungodly. But thou didst richly give drink to the assembly of the faithful, O Eupsychius, adornment of the holy martyrs.”[4] This is not quite so paradoxical, but teachers of literature would hardly approve of a student who used the image of blood so liberally and extravagantly. 

     Again: “Those in deception stretched thee forth without pity and bound thee with bonds, who bindeth all falsehood and rendeth asunder the fetters of heresy with the bond of thy divine doctrines, O most sacred hierarch, father Martin.”[5] Here again, the image of bondage is used literally once and metaphorically twice – but in quite different ways – within a single sentence. Such extravagance of imagery hardly conforms with the canons of aesthetic taste…

     And yet we, the believers, delight in this extravagance, in this breaking of the bonds of literary decorum and symbolic consistency. For our faith celebrates the breaking of all bonds of nature and logic and aesthetics, and the language of the Divine services reflects this fact. Indeed, it is precisely through the language of the liturgy that we constantly remind ourselves of that fact, otherwise we too could easily slip into a comfortable, sanitized faith in which the element of the miraculous and paradoxical is, if not removed altogether, at any rate relegated to a secondary place. And this would be the death of faith. For we preach “Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness” (I Corinthians1.23). And the moment our faith is not a stumbling block for the Jews, and seems quite reasonable to the Greeks, we can be sure that we have lost it…

     So our faith is not absurd, no. But it is paradoxical; it does unite opposites and reconcile the irreconcilable and confound all laws of nature and logic and aesthetics. It is, and must be, foolish to the wise of this world… 

     And we glory in this fact. For “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through wisdom did not known God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe…” (I Corinthians 1.20-21).


April 15/28, 2015.

[1] Festal Menaion, December 25, Mattins, Lauds, “Both now and ever…”

[2] Festal Menaion, September 14, Great Vespers, “Lord, I have cried”, “Both now and ever…”

[3] Triodion, Holy Saturday, Mattins, Lauds, verse.

[4] Menaion,  April 9, Mattins, Ode 6, troparion.

[5]Menaion,  April 14, Mattins, Ode 6, troparion.

‹‹ Back to All Articles
Site Created by The Marvellous Media Company