Not too many years ago the Abbess of a convent of the Russian Orthodox Church, a woman of righteous life, was delivering a sermon in the convent church on the feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God. With tears she entreated her nuns and the pilgrims who had come for the feast to accept entirely and wholeheartedly what the Church hands down to us, taking such pains to preserve this tradition sacredly all these centuries- and not to choose for oneself what is “important” and what is “dispensable”; for by thinking oneself wiser than the tradition, one may end by losing the tradition. Thus, when the Church tells us in her hymns and icons that the Apostles were miraculously gathered from the ends of the earth in order to be present at the repose and burial of the Mother of God, we as Orthodox Christians are not free to deny this or reinterpret it, but must believe as the Church hands it down to us, with simplicity of heart.
A young Western convert who had learned Russian was present when this sermon was delivered. He himself had thought about this very subject, having seen icons in the traditional iconographic style depicting the Apostles being transported on clouds to behold the Dormition of the Theotokos; and he had asked himself the question: are we actually to understand this “literally,” as a miraculous event, or is it only a “poetic” way of expressing the coming together of the Apostles for this event … or perhaps even an imaginative or “ideal” depiction of an event that never occurred in fact? (Such, indeed, are some of the questions with which “Orthodox theologians” occupy themselves in our days.) The words of the righteous Abbess therefore struck him to the heart, and he understood that there was something deeper to the reception and understanding of Orthodoxy than what our own mind and feelings tell us. In that instant the tradition was being handed down to him, not from books but from a living vessel which contained it; and it had to be received, not with mind or feelings only, but above all with the heart, which in this way began to receive its deeper training in Orthodoxy.
Later this young convert encountered, in person or through reading, many people who were learned in Orthodox theology. They were the “theologians” of our day, those who had been to Orthodox schools and become theological “experts.” They were usually quite eager to speak on what was Orthodox and what non-Orthodox, what was important and what secondary in Orthodoxy itself; and a number of them prided themselves on being “conservatives” or “traditionalists” in faith. But in none of them did he sense the authority of the simple Abbess who had spoken to his heart, unlearned as she was in such “theology.”
And the heart of this convert, still taking his baby steps in Orthodoxy, longed to know how to believe, which means also whom to believe. He was too much a person of his times and his own upbringing to be able simply to deny his own reasoning power and believe blindly everything he was told; and it is very evident that Orthodoxy does not at all demand this of one-the very writings of the Holy Fathers are a living memorial of the working of human reason enlightened by the grace of God. But it was also obvious that there was something very much lacking in the “theologians” of our day, who for all their logic and their knowledge of Patristic texts, did not convey the feeling or savor of Orthodoxy as well as a simple, theologically-uneducated Abbess. (Introduction to the Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birth-Giver of God by St. John Maximovitch)