Audio length: 45:21 minutes
Transcript published: May 15, 2011
Jesus does not say he will show us Truth. He claims to BE Truth. He is full of Truth, full of Grace, and the very definition of Truth.
We certainly know from the holy Scriptures that Jesus says about himself in John 14 that he is the truth. He says there, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me. If you had known me, you would have known the Father also. Henceforth you know him and have seen him.” We reflected on Jesus as “the way.” Now let us think a bit about what Jesus means when he says, “I am the truth.”
First of all, we have to remember the same thing that we remembered when we spoke about “the way” and about “the light” and about so many things, and that is that Jesus does not say, “I will show you the truth” or “I will tell you the truth.” Certainly it is the teaching that he is full of grace and truth, and that the truth is in him. For example in St. John’s Gospel you have in the very beginning: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” The law came through Moses; the grace and the truth came through Jesus Christ. In the letter to the Ephesians, it is simply written, “For the truth is in Jesus.”
So he’s full of truth, full of grace. He shows the truth, he speaks the truth, and then he even argues with the leaders of the people in St. John’s Gospel in the eighth chapter that what he is saying is the truth and that he is speaking the truth. So, for example, Jesus says to the Jews who believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Then they start arguing with him about: they’ve never been in slavery, why are you saying such a thing. And then Jesus continues to speak about telling the truth.
They speak about Abraham and that they’re Abraham’s children. And then Jesus says, “If you were indeed Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.” So he says that he’s telling them the truth, and then he speaks about the devil, claiming that their father is the devil—very strong words, to put it mildly. He said, “You are of your father, the devil. Your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.”
Jesus is saying that he’s speaking the truth, and he claims that even his words bear witness to the fact that he is the Son of God: they’re a testimony to truth. So we know that Jesus spoke the truth, told the truth; the truth is in him; there is no lie in him at all, but we must remember now—we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again—where he says, not simply, “I tell you the truth” or “I show you the truth” or “I reveal the truth” or that “I’m full of the grace and the truth” or that “the truth is within me,” but he says, “I am the truth. I am the truth. I am the way and the truth and the life.”
He says that the very truth that he speaks, the truth that he tells is the truth that he is. It’s exactly the same as with “the way.” The way that he shows, the way that he goes, is the way that he is and that we are to go also. So he is “the truth.”
When we think of Jesus as saying, “I am the truth,” not simply revealing the truth but being the truth, we can’t help but to remember that the whole pathos, the whole meaning of the Holy Scriptures, the whole witness of God’s people Israel is that their God, Yahweh, the Lord, the “I am,” is the true God, that the truth about God is that true God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the law, the psalms, and the prophets. That is the true God, and that there is no other god but this God. That this God is the true God.
Some scholars even call it, even the Pope of Rome, even Benedict XVI, he wrote a book about Jesus that I read once and he said—I can’t remember what he called it—the “Mosaic distinction” or some kind of fancy name, which simply meant that what Moses insisted upon, what the law insisted upon was: there is no other god but Yahweh. There is no other god but who led the people out of Egypt. There is no other god but the one who chose Israel. There is no other god but the one who made the promises to Abraham. And this God who made the promises to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, who was with Joseph in Egypt, who led the people out under Moses, this God is the creator of the heaven and the earth. Only Yahweh is God. Adonai Eloheinu. The Lord is God. The Yahweh is God. No other god is God. So you have this very, very firm teaching of what we could call nowadays the Judeo-Christian revelation, and here even the Muslims, Islam would want to buy into this because they claim also that this God of Abraham is the only god that there is. And it’s the God of Moses, the God of the Jews.
Of course, Islam would say that the Jews somehow departed from the truth, and that Mohammed was the last prophet and that he comes to tell the final truth. Well, Christians say, “Oh no, Jesus is the final prophet. He is the devar, the very logos of God incarnate in human flesh. He is the word become flesh, and he is full of grace and truth, and he is, in fact, the truth, and there is no truth that transcends or surpasses or goes beyond him. He is the truth.” So the Christians would insist, with Jews and Muslims, we would say the truth that who Jesus is is the truth of the true God.
Here our Church Fathers like to play with this. They’ll say, “The truth of the true God is personally Jesus Christ the incarnate Logos, the Messiah of Israel.” The life of the living God, as we will see, is personally, hypostatically, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The wisdom of the wise God. The power of the powerful God. The wisdom and the power are Jesus himself. Athanasius the Great, for example, just loves to do this. He would even say that the king of God’s kingdom and God’s kingship is Christ. Then they’ll even go further, as we’ll see in a minute, by saying that the spirit of truth, the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of peace which Christ is our peace, this is the Holy Spirit.
So you have the true God: Christ as the truth, and the Spirit as the spirit of truth. That’s what we want to think about today, but we will also think about, next time, God as the living God, Jesus as the life, the Holy Spirit is the life-creating spirit. We already reflected on the fact that the wise God’s wisdom is Jesus Christ, and the Spirit is the spirit of wisdom. The power of the powerful God is Jesus Christ, and that activating, energizing power that comes upon us from on high is the Holy Spirit.
Looking at the truth here, this teaching about the truth, Jesus saying, “I am the truth,” and saying, “This truth is revealed in me,” this is connected to the true God. That’s what we want to say right now very clearly, and that the Hebrew Scriptures, as we call them now, especially the law, especially the prophets: Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, all of them, they’re insisting that there is no other god but God. There is no other god but Yahweh. There is no other god but the Lord. All the other gods are not gods at all. They are not real. They are false. They are untrue. That they are idols. They are created by human beings. They are fantasy productions. They are projections of the human mind and the human imagination, but they’re not real. They are not true. They are not God.
For example, in Isaiah, the Prophet Isaiah, I would just suggest to you to read Isaiah 43-46. It’s really how Isaiah just keeps repeating this in that part of the prophecy that’s written in the Scripture. I counted this morning more than 30 times where the Prophet Isaiah is saying, “ ‘You are my witnesses,’ says the Lord, ‘that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed and there shall never be any after me. I am the Lord and beside me there is no other. I am he. I am the Lord. Beside me there is no savior.’ ” He just keeps repeating this again and again.
Let me find some more examples here. “I am the first and the last, alpha and omega.” We’ll see that that’s attributed to Jesus, too; we’ll see that later on. “And beside me there is no god. I am the Lord and there is no other. God is with you only and there is no other. I am the Lord and there is no other. I make weal, I create woe, I am the Lord who does all of these things. I am the Lord who has created heaven and earth and there is no other. There is none beside me.” 30 times! Read it.
In Ezekiel, I counted this morning that in the first 40 chapters—the last eight chapters of Ezekiel are kind of an additional part; it has to do with the making of the Temple, building of the Temple—but the first 39 chapters of Ezekiel: 60 times! 60 times it says that God is doing all the things that he is doing so that we may know that he is God and that there is no other, that “I am God and there is no other.” “That you may know”: 60 times he says it, in 40 chapters. It’s very interesting to know. “You shall know that I am the Lord when I do the things that I’m telling you that I will do. It shall be profaned for you in the sight of the nations you shall know that I am the Lord. You shall bear the penalty for your sinful idolatry and you shall know that I am the Lord. The Ammonite and their flocks shall be destroyed, then you will know that I am the Lord. Thus shall Ezekiel be a sign; according to all that he has done, you shall do. When this comes then you will know that I am the Lord.” How many times it says, “I am the Lord and then they will know”! And that verb is there: “know.”
Knowing is connected with truth, because when you know something, you have to know the truth. You will know the truth and this truth will liberate you. This truth will make you free. And if you’re not in the truth, then you’re enslaved to falsehood. We already spoke about it when we spoke about Jesus when he says he’s the light: then you’re enslaved to darkness. You’re still in darkness. You do not know. You cannot see. A synonym to knowing in the Scripture is “to see.” Can you see things clearly? And Jesus is the one who says that he is the truth, he is the one that is dependable.
When we think of the word “truth,” and we remember also that when Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate—it’s important that we not forget this—Jesus said this. Pilate asks him, “Are you a king? Are you the king?” And he says, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born; for this I came into the world.” And then he says, “To bear witness to the truth. To make a testimony. To be a martys to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”
Earlier in the Gospel Jesus even said, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know that my doctrine is from God.” In other words, he will know that what I am saying is the truth. So he says, “For this I came into the world. Only for this: to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” And then Pilate says to him: “What is truth?” and Jesus remains silent, because Jesus says the truth is standing right in front of him, and if he cannot see that Jesus is the truth, there’s nothing that Jesus can say that’s going to convince him.
In fact, it is the teaching of Scripture very clearly that if people love darkness more than light because their deeds are evil, then they cannot know the truth. They will not know the truth. They will blind themselves. St. Paul speaks about this in his letter to the Romans. He speaks about people who suppress the truth. That’s the RSV translation. In the original, it actually says: “those who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Those who hold the truth in unrighteousness: it means that they may know objectively or verbally what the truth is, but they’re unrighteous themselves, so they don’t really know. And then they replace the righteousness of God with one of their own because they’re in delusion. It’s possible to be in delusion.
Jesus is this truth, and it’s the truth that the true God is. When we think of this term “truth” or “true,” it’s very interesting to see what the word for “true” is in the different languages, particularly the languages that are classically those that belong to Christian faith. First of all, the biblical language, Hebrew; then the Greek language; then the Latin language; and then we could even speak about what the word for truth is in the Slavic language, and we’ll learn something from every one of these words.
Truth, in the Hebrew, is the word, I believe it’s emet—I’m not sure, but I know for sure that the connotation, the etymology of the word for truth in Hebrew is that which is dependable. That which you can count on. That which is not shifting. That which is solid. And that’s why, very often, the metaphor of God as a rock is connected with the teaching of God as the true God, or the true God as being himself, truth.
So you have this use of the imagery of rock. For example, again I’ll just quote Isaiah. He said, “Fear not, nor be afraid. Have I not told you from of old and declared it? Are you not my witnesses? Is there a god beside me? There is no rock. I know no other.” You have that imagery of the rock. Also, for example, in Isaiah, it will say—the prophet is chastising the people, chasing them and rebuking them, and he says, “For you have forgotten the God of your salvation. You have not remembered the rock of your refuge.”
Then in the Book of Samuel, you have the Song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. She sings this canticle of Hannah, the number three ode at Orthodox Church services at Matins and at Compline—the number two is penitential so we have number one: that’s Moses’ song, then number three is Hannah’s song. It says, “My heart exalts in the Lord. My strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies because I rejoice in thy salvation. There is none holy like the Lord. There is none beside thee. There is no rock like our God.”
The Psalter, of course, uses that imagery also all the time. For example, Psalm 18 says, “I love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer. My God, my rock in whom I take refuge. My shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” So this imagery of rock, you can just see how many times it’s used in the Holy Scripture. Another example would be Psalm 28: “To thee, Lord, I call, my rock: Be not deaf to me. For if thou be silent to me, I become like those who go down into the pit.” In other words, like someone who’s dead. “Hear the voice of my supplication.”
You have this teaching in what we call the Old Testament that the true God is faithful. He’s responsible. He’s dependable. He’s there. He’s the only one who’s there. He’s the only living one. All the other ones are not God at all. So he is the true God.
Here it’s very interesting just to point out on the issue of translations that very often in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, called the Septuagint, that Hebrew word is translated in Greek as “true.” So they’ll say, “Our God is true” in the sense of “dependable,” and then they will say, “He is the God who possess truth”—”aletheia in Greek. He is alethenos.
But we should know that in some English Bibles, when they translate from the Hebrew directly, they don’t translate that word as “true.” They translate it as “faithful.” They’ll say, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” or “in God is fidelity; God is faithful.” And that’s a very important meaning of the word “true,” because we know that we use that even in English. They’ll say, “He’s my true friend,” which doesn’t simply mean he’s a real friend, but it also means he’s faithful. “My faithful friend.” Or we say, “I’m true to my word,” which means I am faithful to what I say.
There’s a connection of fidelity with truth. One of the main characteristics of God in the Holy Scripture is that he’s faithful. He’s there. He’s dependable. He’s like a rock. He can’t be moved. You can’t budge him. That’s the meaning of “truth” in Hebrew, and generally Aramaic, Semitic languages. It’s interesting that in Latin, the word for truth is “veritas,” but “veritas,” I believe, also has this very same connotation. We say veritable. Something that is verifiable, something that is provable, it’s demonstrable. When you have “veritas” you have this connotation of something being dependable, faithful, loyal.
In Greek, the word is “aletheia.” This word, etymologically, if you just break it down as a word, it means “uncovered, to uncover, to unveil, to remove the veil.” That word “true” is connected with the fact that, when you know the truth, it means you see reality as it really is because it’s unveiled. You see it clearly. You see it directly. It’s disclosed. It’s manifested. It’s revealed. You can know it. It’s connected with knowledge. You know what something is because you can see it, because it is no longer covered, it is unveiled.
Here St. Paul, of course, will play with that, because he’ll speak about people who have a veil over their eyes, and we see through a veil darkly, but then the veil is removed. So this unveiling is the connotation of “truth” in [the] Greek language. That’s very important, because it’s connected with light. Because when you’re in darkness, you can’t see anything, but when the light comes things are unveiled. The obscurity goes away, and you can see it for what it really is. Which leads now to a little word about the Slavonic term.
The Slavonic term is “istina,” and istina comes from the verb “to be”: “jestu.” It means, “It is; it is being.” So in Slavic, the connotation would be that truth is the reality of things, how things really are, the way they really are—not as we fantasize, not as we imagine. And here fantasy and imagination would be the great enemy of truth. Of course, we can get caught up in our own delusions. We can get caught up in our own fantasies, our own imaginations. We can follow “the vain imaginations of our own heart,” as we pray in the Church prayers, and then we’re not in truth. We’re not in reality. We’re in falsehood.
Of course, we want to reaffirm again this connection of truth with the lie; that God is true but the devil is a liar. It’s interesting that the devil is accused, very directly, of being a liar. That he lies from the beginning. What would that mean, if you took it in the light of what we just said? Well, first of all, it would be that the devil is totally not dependable. He can’t deliver in what he promises. He’s always lying. He’s always deceiving. He says things but they’re not true. You cannot count on him. You could also say that the devil covers things over. He obscures things. He veils them. He doesn’t want us to see them, really. That’s why the devil is connected with darkness. And then, of course, the devil distorts reality. The devil wants to twist and pervert and destroy reality. He does not want us to see things as they really are. He lies to us about everything. He lies to us about himself, because he wants to make us think that he is wise and good and true. He lies about God. He lies about us. He lies about creation. He lies about Jesus. He lies about everything.
Once I was having a conversation with my professor of theology, Serge S. Verhovskoy. He was my mentor. He was my main teacher. I took his place as a teacher of dogmatics at St. Vladimir’s. Whenever I have the opportunity, I always mention that I think that one of my main vocations in life is to be a microphone, a kind of a conveyor, of what Professor Verhovskoy taught me. He was a kind of an eccentric man. He didn’t write practically anything. He taught a lot. I spoke with him hours and hours on end.
One day when we were having a conversation, I said to him, “Professor, what do you think is the worst possible sin?” I just wanted to stir up conversation and see what he would say.
He said, “My dear, you don’t know?”
I, of course, fooled around and said, “Well, I’m just checking to see if you do, Prof.”
He said, “Well, my dear, it’s very clear, according to the Holy Scriptures and all of the saints that the worst sin of all is the lie. The conscious distortion of truth. The deceit.” Then he went on to say, “And the most perverse lie that we can possibly utter is the lie about ourselves. And the lie about God. And the worst and worst of all possible perversions is when we lie about God and lie about [ourselves].” And then he says that when we lie about God we are lying about [ourselves], and when we’re lying about [ourselves], we’re lying about God. And that’s why these two things are connected.
If you know the truth of God, you will know the truth about yourself. This is very, very important. Very important, because we can mouth truths. We can say, for example, “Holy Trinity; Christ is Lord; God is the Lord.” We can say about the Holy Scripture being the inspired words of God in human words. We can say all kinds of stuff, but we could just be in delusion about [ourselves] when we say those things and therefore they have no power. They have no reality. They don’t work. They don’t work for us. That’s what St. Paul means when he says, “We can hold the truth in unrighteousness.” We can hold the truth, but we’re unrighteous [ourselves], so we don’t even know what we’re talking about [ourselves], even though, verbally, our words may be true.
We may say, for example, “Christianity is the truth. Christ is the truth.” We Orthodox may even say, “The Orthodox Church is the true Church.” St. Paul called the Church “the pillar and the bulwark of the truth.” We could say those words but [not] have the foggiest reality, existentially, and in a vital manner of what those mean. When that happens, we don’t know ourselves at all. St. Isaac of Syria says that the person who comes to know the truth about himself is greater than a person who has raised the dead, because to know the truth about yourself—your family, your tradition, your feelings, your emotions, your relationships—if you’re not in the truth about those things, and if you’re in fantasy, or as we nowadays say so often “in delusion,” denial, denial about the reality of things, then nothing is real for us.
We’re not real. The tree outside my window is not real. The bird on my birdfeeder is not real. Beautiful woodpecker, by the way. What’s real? I’m making up everything. I’m making up myself. I’m making up my neighbors. I’m making up my world, and I’m making up God. And I’m in total falsehood, and I’m in the hands of the devil, who is a liar. And I become a liar myself.
We have to know the truth verbally, but as the old Latin saying is, there has to be a proper relationship, an adequatio, between the thing and me. My mind and the reality. There will not be— What’s in my mind will not at all be the same thing that’s out there in reality, as it actually reveals itself to me and I know it through its actions and revelations. The tree reveals itself to me as a tree. It’s in fact a maple tree. There’s a cedar tree out there, too. But if my mind is working right, then what’s in my mind is exactly in correspondence with what is out there.
But the Bible and the Fathers of the Church and the saints would teach, that gets all messed up if we ourselves are liars. If we ourselves are deceivers, if our heart is not pure, if we don’t hunger and thirst for what is real and true, we will distort reality all over the place, and we’ll even make up our own Jesus. We’ll make up our own Jesus. We’ll say, “This is Jesus,” and it’s not the real Jesus. Christ himself even said that. He said, “People will come and say, ‘Christ is here; Christ is there.’ ” He said, “Don’t go there. It’s not real.” He said, “The demons could appear as an angel of light, to lead people astray, to think that they’re in the truth, and they’re not in the truth at all.”
Well, this is very, very scary. We can even ask the question: “My goodness, how do we know that we’re not in prelest, in plani, in delusion? How do we know that we’re in the truth?” Well, I’m afraid that the answer’s going to be we don’t really know; we just hope and pray and try to be and beg to be and invoke the Holy Spirit, who is the spirit of truth, to lead us and guide us into all the truth. Of course, that’s very important to add, because when we’re thinking of Jesus Christ as the truth, we remember, we remember that he said that he would send us the Spirit of truth to guide us into all truth.
So we have that again in St. John’s Gospel, in the 15th chapter, in the 16th chapter, this is what Jesus says. He said, “If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father, and he will give you another parakletos, another advocate or counselor or comforter, to be with you forever, even the spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” “The world” here means the fallen, corrupted world [which] cannot recognize what is truth or not.
Then he continues: “But when the counselor comes whom I shall send you from the Father, even the spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father”—and we believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, not from the Father and the Son, although he’s sent by the son—“He will bear witness to me. You also are witnesses to the truth because you have been with me from the beginning. When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority”—and by the way, Jesus himself doesn’t speak on his own authority. Jesus says, “I speak the words that the Father has given me to say. What I hear from the Father, what I’ve heard from before the foundation of the world, these are the true words, ‘the pure words,’ as the psalm says, that I’m telling you, that I’m giving to you.
So he says, “When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears, he will speak, for he will take what is mine and I am the truth and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine, so everything that the true God has is mine. Therefore I said that he, the spirit of truth, will take what is mine, who am the truth, and give it to you, declare it to you.” So we have God the Father, the true God; we have Son who is the truth, the Logos, the Word incarnate; and we have the Holy Spirit, who is the spirit of truth who guides us into all truth.
If we want to be delivered from fantasy, imagination, delusion, lies of all kind, and the world is lying all over the place… Turn on the television set and there’s lies flying out of there left and right. Just look at the advertisements if you want to see lying. How many things are just deceit? All these things that are promised: “Have a good sex life and you’ll be happy” or something. It’s all lies! “Get that car. Get that house. You’ll be finally happy.” It’s all lies. In fact, you’ll be enslaved.
By the way, we remember that Jesus said, “It’s only the truth that makes you free. You’ll know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” And the Apostle Paul says in the Corinthian letter that where the Holy Spirit is, there is freedom, eleutheria. The spirit of truth makes us free. Otherwise, we’re trapped. We’re caught.
The claim is that this truth is given to us to know. And here we would say you can know the truth. You could know the true God; you could know Christ as truth; and you could know it through the spirit of truth and therefore confess the Holy Spirit as the spirit of truth.
If we ask this question, “How can that happen? How does it work?” If you’re a scientist, you could say, “I know how to weigh and measure things. I know how to produce mathematical formulas that say about how neutrons and electrons and protons and whatever are working. I can weigh. I can measure. I can look. I can analyze. I can see. I can draw conclusions.” And you hope that you’re really in truth and that you’re not messing up the realities that you’re looking at, but then, if you’re a scientist you can invite people to verify.
You can say, “Do a test. Do an experiment. See if what I’m telling you is true. Look at that leaf through a microscope. I can give you ways that you could know that these things that I’m saying to you are true.” But even then, you’ve got to be willing to believe them. If a person says, “I’ll never believe that the earth is round” or something, you could make millions of kinds of proofs, but that person won’t do it because they don’t want to know the truth. So you’ve got to want to know the truth. You’ve got to hunger for the truth.
If we’re hungering and thirsting for divine truth, to know the truth of the Gospel, what do we have to do? Here the Scripture is very clear: We have to want it. We have to seek it. We have to desire it. We have to be ready to follow it. We have to be ready to pay the price to have it. And if Jesus says to us, “You will know the truth if you love one another as I have loved you; that you will know the truth if you will take up your cross and follow me. You will know the truth if you try to be meek and merciful, patient, peaceful, peace-making, pure at heart, poor in spirit.” These are the ways that you can come to know. But you have to strive to do those things in order to know.
For example, Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart; they will see God.” If your heart’s not pure, you won’t see God. Period. Just like if you don’t look through a microscope, you won’t see what’s in the little whatever you have under the microscope. You just won’t see it. So we have to want to see. Jesus even put it this way; he said we have to want to see because our deeds are good. It’s only when our deeds are evil and wicked that we don’t see. He says that we have to seek the glory of God, the good of our neighbor; then we will see.
Here I think that you could actually say that Jesus promises that if we try to keep his commandments, we will know. If we don’t try to keep his commandments, we won’t know. And Jesus gives the commandments. And these commandments, as St. John says in his first letter, are not burdensome. But unless we are willing to follow the commandments of God, we remain in ignorance. We simply will never know. But the claim is if we do follow those commandments and try, at least strive to follow them, and beg God that we might, and repent of when we don’t, then we will have a certitude. We will know that all this is true, and no one will be able to disabuse us of it.
We’ll say, “I’m sorry. It’s my experience, just as much as two and two is four and the tree outside my window is a maple and the bird sitting on my birdfeeder now is a chickadee. That’s the truth.” And we will come to know these spiritual, theological truths. It is not right to say that we cannot really know spiritual truth. But if we’re going to know it, we’re not going to be able to know it the way we know the truth of material reality. We’re not going to know it the way we know natural science, because we’re not dealing with things that are created and natural in that sense.
Now, in the first letter of John, in the Scripture, we find these words. It says, “I write to you.” John is writing to the Christians; and so he’s writing to us. John is writing to you and to me. And this is what he says:
I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it and know that no lie is of the truth. No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father, and this is what is promised to us: eternal life.
So he writes and says: You know the truth. You know the truth. He says you have a chrisma from the holy one and that you will then know the truth. In the first letter of John, he even goes so far as to say, “You know everything.” It can be translated as “You know all things” or it could be translated “You know all,” but I think that the proper translation is: “I write to you because you know all things. You have a chrisma from the holy one that leads you into all the truth. So I’m not writing to you as people who don’t know the truth. I’m writing to you as people who do know the truth.”
Let me just read what he actually says. He says, “You have been anointed by the holy one, and you know all things. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it and know that no lie is of the truth.” He also says, in the second letter attributed to John, “The elder”—he’s speaking about himself—“the presbyter is writing to those whom I love in the truth and not only I, but also those who know the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever, grace and mercy and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son in truth and in love.” And then he also writes in the other letter: “I greatly rejoice when some of the brethren arrived and testified to the truth of your life as indeed you do follow the truth. No greater joy can I have than this: to hear that my children are following the truth.”
If we’re Christians, we have to be the children of God who are following the truth. We have to test that truth. And here I think it’s very important to say we can test it. I would invite anybody who’s listening to this, my talk right now, to test it. You can do an experiment. You can test it. What would be the test? The test would be: Read the Holy Scriptures and ask yourself: “Does this ring true to me? Does this sound true to me? Can this possibly be the truth? “And then you can say, “Maybe not. Lots of stuff I read there sounds pretty wild and so on.”
Then you could take the next step and say, “Okay, but what I’m going to do is I’m going to put into practice what I read there. I’m going to try to love my enemies. I’m going to bless those who curse me. I’m going to pray for those who abuse me. I’m going to do good. If people want something from me, I’m going to give it to them if I can give it. I am not going to curse. I am not going to lie. I’m not going to be angry. I’m not going to be deceitful. I’m not going to be carnal. I’m not going to be seductive. I’m not going to trick people. I’m going to try to live purely, truly. I’m going to try to be a kind of a true person, so to speak, in that ethical sense of the word. I’m going to try to be dependable. I’m going to be responsible. If I say a word, I’m going to keep it. I’m not going to lie.”
Now if a person is going to try to do those things, the claim is that they would come to know the truth, and they would be convinced of it, and they would know that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the prophets, Isaiah, Ezekiel, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the Orthodox Church, the holy Fathers, they would know that this is true. They would come to know. Oh, sure, doubts would come and failures would come and questions arise.
I mean, we’ve got to deal with Darwin before this year’s over, of course. I’m going to speak about Darwin. He was a lover of truth in my opinion. He was just looking at those earthworms and at those fossils and at those birds and he was trying to understand the reality of things. Maybe he was successful; maybe he wasn’t; maybe partially; maybe not wholly. But I do believe you would have to say [that] a guy like Charles Darwin, he was really interested in truth. He wasn’t messing around. But he was dealing with scientific truth, natural truth. He was a naturalist.
But we have to be lovers of truth. We can’t be suppressors of truth. Lovers of truth. Lovers of reality. And the claim is that if we have that desire, then we will come to see that Jesus Christ really is indeed the truth, that he is not lying when he said, “I am the truth.” But there does come to a point where if we keep saying to him “What is truth?” like Pontius Pilate, that he’s just going to stand there silently and say, “Look at me and you decide. How much can I tell you? How much can I show you? How much can I reveal to you? How many instructions can I give you so that you may know? But the rest is now up to you. Do you want to know? If you want to know, you will see. Seek and you will find. Knock, it will be opened. Ask, and you will receive.”
So it is our conviction, and it’s certainly the conviction of the Scriptures, the Church services, the sacraments, and the saints, that Jesus Christ is the truth. One last thing: We believe, as Christians, that all truth is Christian. Whatever truth there is anywhere, you might almost say it belongs to us, or God has given it to us. He’s given it to everybody, but we can claim that we want it and he gives it. So any kind of truth: mathematical truth, scientific truth, biological truth, archaeological truth, musical truth, whatever kind of truth there is, we believe that the heart of it, the revelation about it, the meaning and significance of it is given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ.
He reveals the truth about everything, but we have to love that truth about it to know what the truth of it is. So what we do believe [is] that wherever, in whomever, however there is truth, we’re for that. And St. Paul even wrote it to the Philippians. He said, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is good, whatever is lovely, whatever is worthy of praise, if there is any of excellence, think about these things.” But he said, “Whatever is true,” so whatever is true, whatever is true: that’s what we want to have.
We can remember, even, just in our own time, a person like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who just died, a Russian writer. He said, “Let’s at least not try to lie. Let’s at least respect the truth. Respect the truth of science. Respect the truth of mathematics. Respect the truth of art. Let’s be people of truth.” And of course, if that would be our intention, then we would see that Christ is the truth. We would see that he holds everything together. He gives the meaning to all things, and that he is even indeed the source of the truth of all things because he is the one, by whom, for whom, and toward whom all things are made. The truth is in Jesus and he is the truth.
And he’s the truth about everything: the truth about God, the truth about man, human beings; the truth about the created world; the truth about the birds and the fish and the trees; and he’s the truth about everything. Jesus Christ is, himself, personally, hypostatically, the truth. And that is our conviction and that is the teaching of the Scriptures, the services of the Church, the sacraments, the prayers. Certainly it’s the teaching of the saints that Jesus is indeed the truth about everything and that Jesus has given himself to us so that he could be our truth also. So that our truth could be Christ himself who is the truth, and then we will not be deceived, will not be tricked, will not be in darkness, but we will have life in us, because the truth is life-giving, and without the truth we are in darkness and we are dead.
But our reflection today is on this very simple few words. Jesus said, “I am the way; I am the truth; and I am the life.”