One is Holy, One is Lord

Feb 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

The principle of lex orandi, lex credendi (which can be translated as “the law of praying is the law of believing”) has an immediate appeal to almost all Christians. It is easy to see that how we relate to God in prayer is a mirror-like reflection of our beliefs, and we sense intuitively that our beliefs are reinforced by our manner of calling out to God.

When someone who is considering the Apostolic Faith with a critical stance hears about certain litanies and prayers to the Mother of God, the angels, or the saints, there is so much that can be isolated and examined with microscopic precision. And if one does not see the forest for the trees, that analysis can be blinding, for one will come to conclusions that one would not have when one possesses a fuller sense of Tradition.

One can open one’s ears to prayers that echo in Apostolic Churches, and hear words such as the following:

“O Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us!”

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for Us Sinners, now and at the Hour of Our Death. Amen.”

These examples, taken from both Eastern and Western prayers, respectively, emphasize the holiness of the Blessed Virgin in a way that can make one think that she is being praised as though she were God Himself. This emphasis on Holiness has been used to make charges that God’s unique role as the fountain of all Holiness is erased by such prayers.

I thought on this one morning while at the Divine Liturgy. There is a section during our preparation for receiving the Divine Eucharist that resonated with this idea of missing the forest for the trees. For as I put my critical thinking cap on (which I should not do during such intimate moments, but old habits die hard), I heard familiar words as they might sound to my own former lex orandi, lex credendi, which was in keeping with the Westminster Standards. What did I hear from the mouth of my spiritual father?

“Let us be attentive! Holy Gifts to Holy People!”

The priest stood before the altar, holding the precious body and blood of Christ, and we were told that we were, as Holy Ones, to receive, Holy Things.

There was all of the proof that one might need to convict the Catholic of his idolatry towards the sacraments, or so the critique would run.

And oddly, I was participating with a tad bit too much of an appropriation of this critical mentality, for as I sang the response which I know by heart, these words left my heart and were proclaimed:

“One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the Glory of God the Father, Amen!”

It struck me in an ironic twist, that I could see these isolated words coming out as though the congregation (myself included) was issuing a rebuke to our priest. It would run something like this-“Wait a minute, you want to call the Eucharist a holy gift that is offered to God? And us, we’re more than just declared to be holy, but we are actually and substantially holy? No, only God is holy!”

So what is the significance of this interaction where the celebrant proclaims that there are holy gifts for holy people, and the congregation replies by stating that only one is holy, and that it is Jesus Christ? It obviously speaks beyond an either/or dichotomy. But it goes further than emphasizing that things are more complex than a surface consideration. The dialogue between celebrant and congregation prepares us to understand that the holiness on earth is really present, but that holiness is always and without exception intimately linked to Him who alone is Holy, who is everywhere present and filling all things, the treasury of blessings and giver of life. Indeed, every good and perfect gift comes down from above. And what do we have that we have not received? We therefore understand “who alone is Holy” as meaning that God is the only ultimate source of holiness, not as meaning that no one else is holy. We can lavish high praise onto those vessels of holiness without idolatry, for we see the mystery of union with God, and He is present in those who are united to Him.

And so it is only when one isolates and rips out prayers like the Hail Mary to subject them to an out of context analysis, that such appeals to her Holiness or her ability to mediate or to save or what have you can seem to conflict with who God is as the only Lord. It is only when foundational prayers that comprise the lex orandi like the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom are pitted against our veneration of the saints that our lex credendi can be called into question as idolatrous.

To close this brief reflection, I would make this sincere request-as you seek to dialogue with those who are Catholics or Orthodox, keep the forest in mind. Don’t read one prayer, read a rule of prayer. If you do that, you will come to see our lex orandi, lex credendi in a more accurate light.

Holy Martyr Theodore, Pray to God for Us!

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  1. Mr. Deane,

    Thank you for this article. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Divine Liturgy of a Syriac rite (unfortunately, the exact name of the rite escapes me at the moment) and the thing that struck me most was how Trinitarian it was. I wouldn’t expect it to be possible for somebody to attend this tradition on a weekly basis and not be aware of the doctrine.

    Not only that, but Catholics believe that it is not merely the Homily, or preaching, that teaches the faithful the doctrine of the Church but the entire liturgy, prayed that teaches the faithful the doctrine of the Church.

    That’s why you won’t often hear hour long sermons in a Catholic Church.

  2. Fr. Deacon,
    Thanks for your comment. The fullness of liturgical prayer is one thing that I think many Protestants need to appreciate. The prayers, when understood, teach so much about scripture and doctrine, as they relate to our life in Christ. Unfortunately many let these words pass over their hearts. Also, it’s common to find many Catholics who only stick with the mass/liturgy. Matins, Vespers, and the like make our liturgical experience even fuller, if we would join in on those services.

    In Christ,
    J. Andrew

  3. […] the way, I wrote on this same section of the liturgy here, and it was gratifying to hear this similar reflection from Fr. Maximos at this retreat. But I […]

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