In 1991, I sat in a room at Duke University with Geoffrey Wainwright, Stanely Hauerwas, and Susan O’Keefe. The purpose was the defense of my thesis, The Icon as Theology.” I was an Episcopal priest, who was turning his doctoral work in Systematic Theology into an M.A. and heading back to parish life (a long story, that). The defense was friendly, thorough, with few surprises. The one major surprise, of course, came from Hauerwas. His question caught me off-guard in that it left behind academic questions and became intensely personal (that’s typical Hauerwas — there are no hiding places). His question was straight-forward:

Do you believe the veneration of icons to be necessary for salvation?

The loaded part of the question was quite intentional on his part. Anglican priests take an oath at their ordination that I believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to contain all things necessary to salvation.” It had been drilled into me at a certain point in my life and my answr should have been a knee-jerk repetion of my vow. Instead, I was mute. What he had done was to bring me to see something my soul had pushed into the background. What was interesting and academic was suddenly revealed to be a matter of existential authenticity. What did I believe?

After a time of quiet, I stammered out my answer:

I know that my oath of ordination says that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary to salvation. However, I believe that the veneration of icons is necessary to its fullness.

It was the first time the thought had occurred to me. In truth, it would be some years before I fully understood what I had just said. My response was more a matter of instinct than understanding. I knew it was true. I was not entirely sure how. The upshot of that day came the next morning. I woke up with a clarity of soul. I knelt by my bed and prayed, Oh God, make me Orthodox.” I meant two things by that: first, I wanted to become Orthodox; second, God was going to have to make me. That second point was simply my awareness of my own cowardice and the duplicity of my soul. It was not an act of bravery or noble conversion. It was an acquiescence in the face of what I now saw to be true. At least half of me wished it weren’t so. The rest of me was willing to be dragged into the Kingdom of God. It took seven years for that prayer to be fulfilled. There were heel marks on the entire length of the path.

Father Stephen Freeman

Stanley Hauerwas is a treasure.

November 18, 2019

Previous:Veneration (of icons and of all creation)
Next:The problem with hysteria