Faith is the subject of the first Sunday of Great Lent.
Each Sunday during Great Lent the Eastern Church puts a different topic before us to mull over during the week. It’s long past those days, but people would actually talk to each other about the sermon and the topic in homes, market places, even while working. It was a far different time than in what we live.
Faith is an interesting word. The dictionary (M-W) defines it (beyond its religious connotations) as something that is believed especially with strong conviction. I’ve also heard it stated as belief in something without concrete proof. In today’s reading the church tells us of the call of Nathaniel:
John 1:48-49 (RSV) Nathan′a-el said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathan′a-el answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.”
We usually stand in awe of Peter’s proclamation
Matt 16:16 (RSV) “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
But here, from Nathan’a-el we hear the same proclamation before any miracles have been performed, before Nathan’a-el heard even one preaching or parable. That’s faith. He was in such awe over Jesus seeing him under a fig tree, one that Jesus could not see from where he was, one that he would have no way of knowing that Nathan’a-el was resting under. This was enough for Nathan’a-el to make his proclamation. His actual knowledge of Jesus was far less than we, some 2,000 years later, have.
In the West there is a distrust between science and religion, in some corners even a hostility, between the two that doesn’t exist in the East (at least between science and Eastern Christianity). In the East the relationship has been that religion teaches us who created the universe and why, science delves into understanding how it was accomplished. As a scientist myself I can appreciate the dual roles of the different philosophies. Science struggles to understand how the universe came into being, how molecules (organic and non-organic) came into being from nothing but pure energy. It struggles to comprehend how that energy itself came to be – with one of the latest theories being from the collision of two other universes (part of the multi-verse theory). But, even if this theory is true, how did the other universes come into being? Is there something outside of the multi-verse that created it? If so, what created that? And on and on from there, until at some point scientific theory just falls apart. Even within this universe science fails to understand how, seconds after the Big Bang the universe would have to have expanded at speeds greater than that of life. All of this requires, in the scientific community, one thing: Faith. Faith in things which cannot be proven from within this universe (how can you prove, beyond doubt, the existence of universes outside of our own?). Faith in something which they can neither see nor, mathematically, prove.
Yes, mankind is full of faith, both religious and non-religious. Faith is what we, as Christians, are called upon to have in our creator. Faith not even the size of a mustard seed. But do we have it? History is replete of Saints who believed so firmly that they were willing to sacrifice their lives to hold onto their faith. In this age we are called upon similarly, as an ever increasingly secular world looks with disdain, even reproach, upon those who profess their faith. I am not talking about those who refuse to deal with non-believers in their day-to-day lives, but of those who stand firmly in their belief of a loving, Creator in the face of those who would wish to remove all religion from their cities, states, countries, world.
This week Mother Church asks us to look into our faith, not our religion, but our faith. Do we have the faith to stand firm before others? Do we have the faith to keep Great Lent as a sign of our love and belief in our Creator? Do we have the faith of Nathan’a-el to declare our belief in Jesus as The Christ?