‘Your reputation precedes you.’
‘Very nice to make your acquaintance.’
Or perhaps it isn’t.
The aura surrounding certain people is almost palpable—as if you could visibly see it or reach out and grasp it. Interestingly enough, this example from everyday life is very much akin to what we as Christians call ‘glory.’
As many Orthodox Christians are keenly aware, the ‘doxy’ of Orthodoxy (as we say it in English) comes from the ancient Greek δόξα. It is certainly appropriate to translate this as glory in many contexts, but the word itself—as with many other words, regardless of their root language—has a number of ways or contexts in which it can be both used and expressed.
For example, it can refer to an expectation, as in Herodotus: “All had turned out contrary to Croesus’ expectation, and he was in a great quandary” (The Histories 1.79.2).
It can be used to simply mean an opinion or judgment—especially in a positive or correct sense—as with Aristotle: “… there is no such thing as correctness of knowledge (since there is no such thing as error of knowledge), and correctness of opinion is truth; and at the same time everything that is an object of opinion is already determined” (Ethica Nicomachea 1142b, 10–14). Likewise, Orthodoxy itself is commonly defined as correct or straight (as with orthodontics or ‘straight teeth’) opinion or judgment.
In some cases, δόξα can even refer to a vision, as in a dream: “I would not heed the fancies of a slumbering brain” (Aeschylus, Agamemnon 275); “And as I slept a strange fancy came over me” (Euripides, Rhesus 780).
In another context, it can refer to the opinions held by some with regards to another person or group of people. In other words, to one’s reputation: “the Persians still retained the reputation of being invincible by sea” (Plato, Menexenus 241b); “[W]hen reputation was at stake, they never shrank from danger, but even lavished their private fortunes without stint” (Demosthenes, Against Leptines); “A gracious woman raises glory for a man, but a woman who hates righteous things is a throne of disgrace” (Prov. 11:16 LXX); “[W]oman is the glory of man” (1 Cor. 11:7).
And finally, δόξα is used to refer to the splendor, magnificence, or even the external appearance of God, along with his saints and angels: “[T]he glory of the Lord appeared in a cloud” (Ex. 16:10); “And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me” (Acts 22:11); “[T]he devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them” (Matt. 4:8); “Yet in like manner these men in their dreamings defile the flesh, reject authority, and revile the glorious ones” (Jude 8).
With all of this being kept in mind, what then is the glory of God? What is the ‘reputation’ that precedes him?
The beloved disciple tells us rightly that “God is love” (1 John 4:7–8). Love is the reputation which precedes the Lord of glory, and especially as both profoundly and uniquely revealed in Jesus Christ.
We should already know that the heavens and the furthest reaches of creation proclaim the glory or splendor of God (Ps. 18:1), but what if I told you that God’s reputation is also dependent upon his people; upon you and I? That to ‘be Orthodox’ is to bear forth the true reputation of God in our words and actions?
No doubt feminists would recoil at hearing Paul’s claim that “woman is the glory of man” (1 Cor. 11:7); how it is ‘backwards’ or ‘archaic’ of the apostle to claim that the behavior of a man’s wife is tantamount to his reputation—right? To jump to such a (trendy, yet novel) conclusion would be to miss the point that man himself is the “image and glory of God” in Paul’s very same breath (v. 7). If God is not offended to have man as his glory, why should any woman be offended to serve as the glory of her husband? Is this not an honor? Is this not a calling reserved only for the most treasured of God’s family? Was not the Mother of God herself such a woman, reversing the curse of the first Eve by becoming a second and true Eve who meekly responds, “let it be to me according to your word?” (Luke 1:38)
If we consider that we are all created in the image of God, and that our behavior serves as God’s glory—as his reputation, if you will—then it is incumbent upon all of us to take most-seriously such a lofty and even unthinkable calling. And this is what it means to ‘be Orthodox.’ The bumper sticker catchphrase ‘you might be the only Jesus someone encounters today’ could not ring more true. Therefore, it is the duty of all Christians—whether male or female—to walk in such a way as is befitting the glory of God. The last judgment will not hinge entirely on a correct exposition of doctrine—something which the demons both understand and fear (James 2:19).
Following along the same lines as the story of redemption—the salvation of a spotless bride through the death and resurrection of the bridegroom—the duty of every Christian woman is to honor her husband, the duty of every husband is to honor God, and the truth, splendor, and reputation of our long-suffering, self-sacrificial, and loving God will be made manifest unto the salvation of the world as a result.
And despite all of our sins, doubts, prejudices, and struggles, the one way we can ensure that this takes place is to exemplify the very reputation of our loving God:
Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.
—1 John 4:7–8