I recently read an excellent essay entitled, “The Essentials of Orthodox Spirituality,” by an anonymous author who simply calls himself “a monk of the Eastern church.” This reading is in part preparation for a course on Christian spirituality that I teach, and in part from a genuine interest in the subject.
I found the monk’s section on the sacraments especially enlightening. The subtitle is “The Holy Mysteries,” and the monk contrasts the Orthodox emphasis on the mystery of these means of grace with the Catholic familiarity and openness in regards to the sacraments.
But it was the monk’s comment on Quakers that most surprised and delighted me. Let me quote:
“There is ‘one greater than the Temple' (Matt. 12:6), and greater than the Holy Mysteries. The scholastic axiom ‘Deus non alligator sacramentis’—‘God is not bound to the sacraments’—may have a Western origin, but expresses quite well the Eastern mind. What Orthodox would dare to assert that the members of the Society of Friends are deprived of the graces that the sacraments represent? The angel went down at regular times into the pool, and whosoever stepped in first after the troubling of the waters was made whole; but our Lord directly healed the paralytic who could not step in (John 5). This does not mean that a man could disregard, or slight, or despise, the channels of grace offered by the Church without endangering his soul. It means that no externals, however useful, are necessary to God, in the absolute sense of this word, and that there is no institution, however sacred, which God cannot dispense with” (in Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader, edited by Kenneth J. Collins, Baker, 2000, p. 115).
I feel affirmed in my own faith and renewed in the conviction that one of the callings of Friends is to give witness to the truth of the spiritual reality of the sacraments and God’s ultimate independence of any external means.