Thursday, September 12, 2019

On Folk Wisdom and Allegory

So this image has been making the rounds of late. And while I appreciate the symbolism applied to this very commonplace item, I think there's a bit of confusion that comes with such things.

People who come to the church as inquirers, children, and the just very curious often ask what such-and-such meaning something has in our services. Often the angels are brought in somehow (or almost as often, the Holy Spirit) as being participants in what is being discussed. I've heard everything from the most reasonable explanation to the most outlandish for why I might be doing most anything behind the altar.

I appreciate the sentiment. But I also think we need to separate the folk knowledge that is a very natural outgrowth of our reverence for God and His Church with the reality of things. Or, to be more specific, it is perfectly fine to highlight spiritual truths by pointing to the way things are configured, but those are often accidental (or at least not essential) to why something is the way it is. It's a venerable practice to point to the seasons or plants or animals or even architecture as a way of understanding the divine, His body, or the articles used in His worship. Less palatable is presenting causality and correlation where functionality and historical development is at the root of the configuration.

So if you want to take something like a censer or vestments or anything really and point out how X being connected to Y is sort of like the way [insert broader, more existential thing] connects to [another big picture idea thing], you need to be explicit that this is a method of instruction and not the reason why it is that way. Otherwise people assume (and quite rightly) that we have four chains, a pull ring, and a hook on our censers because we want to express holy ideas whilst we flail the thing around the church.

There's enough beauty in our faith that we don't need to gild every lily.


  1. They are indeed gilding every lily.

  2. ooops. used round plate on beheading of St. John.

  3. Orthodoxy is most practical. It is a step connecting us to the Old Testament flies and how they had to be dispelled from the constant sacrifices made daily. Well, that and all mentioned in this article. Lighten up, folks

  4. A case of prothesis creep. This crumb is the Theotokos, this crumb is John the Forerunner....