Broken pottery. Photo by Fr. Theophan
By Father Theophan
Saint Job of Pochaiv Orthodox Church
The clay was wedged completely, the pot was thrown evenly, it was dried slowly and thoroughly, it was bisqued correctly and glazed impeccably. It will be a perfect, beautiful, and functional pot.
Maybe the handle shrinks and twists funny, maybe the glaze mixes and fluxes unexpectedly, maybe a hidden imperfection responds to the higher firing temperature and decides to become a crack.
There are a thousand ways that pottery fails to live up to the potter’s expectation.
As both someone who has taught ceramics and as a priest, I am often asked, directly and indirectly, to provide assurance.
“If the walls are this thin, it won’t explode in the kiln, right?”
“If I keep the glaze off the foot, the glaze running won’t be a problem, right?”
“If I am a good person, I’ll get to heaven, right?”
I wish I could honestly give that kind of assurance, both for pots and for souls. But both remain shrouded in mystery, one from the side of the creator/potter, the other from the perspective of the created/pot.
There is no total assurance of a good pot, and the assurance of heaven is not mine for the giving. We’ve been given a lot: Scriptures, prophets, church fathers and mothers, inspired writings, good examples … bad examples … etc. Even more basically than that, we have been given existence and life, and no one wills themselves into existence, at least that I know of.
But we fail, even with all that we have. Sometimes it’s external, but more often it’s our response to external things, our attitudes, our reactions, our emotions.
Often our own habits and motives are hidden, even from ourselves. Judging ourselves is difficult and painful. Judging others is easier, but even less accurate and more hurtful. Truthfully, most of us don’t bother so much with self-examination and skip right to assessing others.
And we may indeed fail to gain a good end.
Just as an attentive potter does all their best in creating the pot, hoping for a good result, so our creator does all He can, respecting our free will, to bring us to a good end.
Potters, I can’t speak for all of them, but for the ones who get bitten by the bug, love to make their pots, they love their pots. They mourn when something goes wrong and it doesn’t turn out the way they had hoped.
This is the only eternal assurance I can give honestly: that the Great Potter knows each one of us, and loves each one of us, better, even, than we know and love ourselves. And that is very reassuring.