Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Friday, 9 December 2016

The God of Joshua

Throughout the book of Joshua; from the preparation of the invasion, crossing the Jordan, the destruction of Jericho, through to the capturing of the lands and violent conquests, one is faced with the wider question ‘Who is this God?’ This essay will discuss ways in which we can understand God’s will, character, and relationship with man, through the texts of Joshua, both in their literal contexts, as well as in relation to coherent Biblical themes. In doing so, the piece will concentrate on chapters 2 and 9 - discussing both the story of Rahab the harlot, and the covenant made with the Gibeonites, in the midst of destruction and genocide. 

In Joshua 2 we witness Joshua, ο υιός του Ναυή, sending spies from Shittim (2:1-2) to view the land at Jericho, before the city’s conquest.  They stay at a harlot’s house, ‘whose name was Rahab.’ (2:1) The King of Jericho demands Rahab to ‘bring forth the men’ (2:3) however she claims they had already left, having hidden them on her roof. Then, Rahab confesses the Lord of Israel to be ‘God in heaven above and on earth beneath,’ (2:11) of all lands and people. This affirmation of her belief in Yahweh, and her recognition of the land rightfully  belonging to Israel, is followed by an exchange of kindness, with the spies promising safety and deliverance from death providing she keeps to her oath of secrecy. One could argue this is simply a fair exchange of promises, with both parties taking the oath for personal gain, rather than necessarily being an act of kindness or love. One interpretation, stemming from the ‘documentary hypothesis,’ highlights the evolutionary process within the Israelite tradition. The tradition’s formation, and the Israelites’ experience and relationship with God, continuously moves from primitive to sophisticated stages. Thus, perhaps this passage followed by the violent texts within Joshua, reflect a state of primitivism. Chapters 2-12, in particular, speak of the raw violence of Israel, sanctioned by God, but this reflects a primitive notion of God within this specific historical context; a god of violence, tribal passion and competition. The reason for us being able to interpret in this way is due to the Israelite tradition progressing, unfolding and transforming throughout the Old Testament, and to an even greater extent as we move into the New Testament. Even within the book of Joshua, in Chapters 13-19, we find a calmer, more tedious report on land division. Furthermore, in Chapters 1 and 23-24, we are aware of a more sophisticated covenantal voice; a transformation of the war imagery found in the earlier tradition and understanding of God’s will. So, in this particular primitive context, one could argue this gratefulness towards, and acceptance of, Rahab, by God and his representatives, should be of important significance. 

According to Gregory of Elvira (370CE) the fact the spies stay at the prostitute’s house is no mistake or chance. It would seem unusual for two divinely inspired messengers to stay at a harlot’s house, an immoral and socially defiled woman. For Gregory, just as Hosea is commanded to accept a harlot as his wife (Hos 1:2) it is an indication of cleansing, preservation, of fulfilment, and that fundamentally the Lord accepts and saves all Who serve and follow Him with compassion and mercy. As Rahab abandons her own will, confesses God’s work on Israel’s behalf, she demonstrates the reality of the Lord’s selection of His people, asked to call all others to his salvation. (Is 49:6) As a member of Jericho’s poorest segments of society, her oath with, and acceptance by, God’s people is an opportunity for freedom and change of life; an opportunity to reject false ways or beliefs, worshipping the Creator Yahweh. For Saint John Chrysostom the chapter is centred on the importance of repentance and faith, which ensure Rahab’s salvation. Origen similarly notes every human could be considered a prostitute within their heart, living according to ones own desires and lusts, and so this passage offers hope for those in sin, opening the door of Yahweh’s salvation to all. Interestingly, as soon as a harlot converses with the Lord within the Gospels, anointing and washing His feet, confessing Him to be the Christ, she repents and is preserved to life (Lk 7:36-50) similarly to Rahab. For this reason Gregory of Elvina tells us that this simple example of compassion, repentance and love within the context of such darkness, is indeed a foretaste and foreshadowing of the coming realities, or could be characterised as pointing to a more coherent, sophisticated, fuller understanding of God’s character and will.
We witness a contextually different, yet similar account within chapter 9. ‘All the Kings who were beyond the Jordan..the Amorites the Canaanites, the Per’izzites, the Hivites and the Jeb’usites..gathered together with one accord to fight Joshua and Israel.’ (9:1-2) However the Gibeonites on the other hand (although acting in a cunning manner) seek to make a covenant with God’s people, offering them (albeit dry) bread. Joshua makes ‘peace with them’ (9:14) Beyond the fact the Gibeonites deceived Joshua, there is a willingness on his part to make peace with those who wish to accept God’s people and will, even though they are not part of his army or group. Again, for this primitive, tribal context this would seem rare, if not unusual. Joshua, having realised the Gibeonites had deceived him, still faithfully offers them life (as servants) in the community. Similarly to Rahab, they were exempted from death (and the ban put in place for cities in the land as opposed from distant lands) as they recognise the power of Yahweh. (9:9) The central difference between the stories of Rahab and the Gibeonites, is that Rahab is included fully into the community (6:25) as opposed to the Gibeonites who are saved yet are enslaved due to their faith without good example, their willingness to be part of God’s plan yet while falling into cunningness and fraud.

Although we are able, at this stage, to argue that both texts point to a God who saves those Who decide to follow and respect His will, we are still faced with a dilemma when regarding those other groups who are later conquered and killed. The Scriptures describe those who fight against Israel as having hardened hearts (11:20) thus no longer having the possibility to change, repent and accept God’s willingness for a relationship with them. Israel had been waiting for four-hundred years in order to rightfully conquer their land, (from the time it was promised to Abraham) as the sins of the Amorites and the enemies of Israel were not yet complete. (Gen 15:16) In other words God, ‘the Lord Most High, of great compassion, long-suffering, and very merciful’ (Prayer of Manasseh 7) withholds His judgement, until one has had every opportunity to repent and believe; the Gibeonites, and especially Rahab freely chose to follow God, Whose ‘strength is the source of righteousness,’ (Wis 12:16) and  ‘source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.’ (Heb 5:9) Regardless of whether we take the brutalities surrounding these texts as literal or metaphorical, we can conclude that each group is free to choose whether or not they want to accept the God of Israel, and His people’s rightfulness to the land.
A metaphorical understanding of this violent process, which we see unfolding in our chosen passages, wiping out the opposing settlements in order to take over the land, is that of a spiritual war, simultaneously highlighting the importance of one unified nation rather than several tribes, with those against Israel representing evil and the sinful passions. For Christians, this war is known as asceticism, with its purpose being to subdue these evil desires. Lawrence Farley, though not rejecting any literal understanding of the texts, underlines Israel’s call to unity in addition to God reiterating the theme of Him constantly being with, and offering strength to, His people. Throughout this period, the notion of being one united people would still have been difficult to comprehend, as tribal membership and their independence was of paramount importance. This call for pan-tribal unity under God is witnessed from the beginning of Joshua, crossing the Jordan. The twelve stones (4:9) make a single monument, as all tribes together experience God’s power, functioning as one nation. As Christians, we consider ourselves as the heirs of the victories found in Joshua, as the Church is the ‘commonwealth of Israel.’ (Eph 2:12) Following the Patristic approach, Farley draws to our attention the typological significance; as the people of God are led to victory in the promised land by הוֹשׁ֫וּעַ, Ἰησοῦς (Jesus) as Christ the Saviour then does within the New Testament. 
One could argue, such as Earl, that such methods of understanding are simply created due to our embarrassment to discuss a god who authorises violence, covering up the reality of the texts which convey divinely inspired war, that, for him should be taken purely literally.  Perhaps there is an element of this. However it is important to note that the Christian patristic understanding does not reject the literal worth of the passages (as Farley reiterates) yet draws on the literal, historical contexts to convey Who God is, His compassion and mercy (seen throughout the books of the Old Testament) preparing the reader for the Lord’s revelation witnessed in its fullness within the New Testament. With this in mind, Hawk proposes the idea of the text intentionally containing ‘detractions’ from the storyline, subverting the claims of genocidal violence. Rather, for Hawk, the text is thematically about the construction of the identity of God’s people, and of course the establishment of boundaries. Again, this approach does not reject the literal accuracy, but places the emphasis on the underlying and coherent themes.
To conclude, this essay has discussed ways in which the reader of Joshua, by concentrating on Chapters 2 and 9, is able to discern Who this God, revealed through the harlot Rahab and through the acceptance of the Amorites, is; His will, his relationship with Israel and all of humanity. In doing so, the piece has discussed human conceptions of the divine within such a primitive, tribal context, where God’s compassion and mercy is yet still visible to all who desire a relationship with Him. Even amidst such violence, Yahweh’s gift of freedom to man is apparent, giving groups the opportunity to peacefully unite with Israel, His people. Furthermore, through the writings of Farley and other scholars, the essay introduces the Patristic approach to the texts; with Joshua being of strong typological significance, directing us to the all-embracing Saviour Christ, Who reveals the fullness of God’s character in the New Testament following His incarnation. 




Sources:

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 2005, IVP, Illinois.
Brueggemann W 2012, The God of Joshua…Give or Take the Land (Accessed Online).
Coogan M 2000, Joshua in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Bloomsbury, London.
Farley L 2012, The Christian Old Testament, CP, New York.
Hamlin E.J 1983, Inheriting the Land, Eerdmans, Michigan.

The Orthodox Study Bible 2008, Thomas Nelson, California.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Orthodox Church in Britain


In light of the Holy Council taking place in June, this short article will discuss ways in which the Orthodox Church can move towards greater unity, and local inclusivity within the diaspora, and in particular the United Kingdom, in our efforts to strive for canonical exactness. 

Living in a country which has been without an ingrained local Orthodox tradition for centuries, leaves us with a dilemma. In our efforts to share the faith of the Church, do we try rediscovering ‘British Orthodoxy,’ its Liturgical traditions and practices, or do we base ourselves within the local parishes founded by ‘Ethnic’ communities?

Some may argue that for converts in particular, ethnic parishes do not provide sufficient cultural self-identification, and perhaps involve an unknown language. However, in reality, these are, and will remain the parishes with the most experience of Orthodoxy in this country, having peacefully and respectfully integrated into British society. Within our Archdiocese of Thyateira for example, we have witnessed positive changes take place recently, with most parishes having a priest who has grown up into the community, ethnically diverse congregations, and all publications, weekly sermons, offered to the people in English. Thus, rather than  converts constructing their own communities, distancing themselves from the already-established parishes, perhaps it is through their integration that we are able to build truly diverse, local, Orthodox churches in the diaspora, and then look at ways in which these communities can share a more united, communicative, synergetic relationship, as ‘one body in Christ.. individually members one of another.’ (Rom 12:5) 

In this way, converts and ‘cradle Orthodox’ learn from one another, can share experiences and grow together. This distances ourselves from the sinful heresy of  Εθνοφυλετισμός, Ethno-phyletism, denounced in Constantinople in 1872, when the city's Bulgarian community tried establishing their own separate diocese, based solely upon their ethnic identity. Simultaneously we must not confuse this with Φιλοπατρία, patriotism, as the latter simply implies loyalty and appreciation to one's nation. So, for example, some of the largest parishes across the country are Greek, under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, proudly serving the needs of the local Greek, Cypriot population, encouraging the use of the Ancient language of the Gospel, celebrating national holidays, and hosting cultural events. Such events, as well as other cultural, social events and traditions practiced by members of the local, diverse community should only be supported by the Church, so long as they involve integration and do not distance the parish from its primary, spiritual, intentions. It is in fact through festivals, open-days, fairs, and such events that the Orthodox Church is often known to locals, and is the first contact they have with us, in many cases leading to a a desire to know and experience more. 

Within the Diaspora it is however more difficult than one might expect to draw the line between these two opposing terms; Ethno-phyletism and healthy patriotism. Should matters of ethnicity interfere with the life of our Orthodox Churches within this country? Should we have separate Bishops depending on whether we attend a Greek, Russian, Romanian, Antiochian, or Exarchate parish? The answer, I would hope, is simple. Absolutely not. As we read in Saint Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek.. for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Gal 3:28) This fundamental Christian truth, that we are are united in Christ regardless of ethnicity, gender or ‘social group,’ is also reflected upon in our Church canons. The model of Church organisation that was formed during the first three centuries of Christianity, as Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev notes, was based on the principle of "one city-one bishop-one Church", which foresaw the assignment of a certain ecclesiastical territory to one concrete bishop. Therefore the Canons highlight the importance of one Bishop assigned to a geographical territory, as opposed to the current uncanonical state in the diaspora, where we find numerous Bishops in one area. 


Many of us were, perhaps unrealistically, expecting a more positive outcome regarding the topic of the diaspora at this years Holy and Great Synod. As it is well known, the issue of jurisdictions and Bishops is one of the major challenges for the Orthodox Church today, in the diaspora. The phenomenon is against the canonical tradition of the Church, as has been noted, but here in the United Kingdom we have Greek, Russian, Romanian and Antiochian Bishops, all responsible for their respective dioceses. The document released by the Synod affirms the importance of Episcopal Assemblies, (consisting of canonically recognised Bishops in each region) set up in order to work, through this 'transitional period,' towards greater unity, and cooperation until 'the appropriate time arrives when all the conditions exist in order to apply the canonical exactness.' 

In other words, with time, this fundamental issue will be resolved. However, as with all aspects of the Christian life, this ideal solution will only become reality with our own contributions and prayerful efforts, along with the work of the Episcopal Assemblies. Both the Clergy and Laity within the United Kingdom have a great responsibility and role to play, in striving for more practical cooperation, and a greater sense of unity, so that our 'one God and Father of us all' (Eph 4:6) may grant us one voice and one heart, glorifying His all-honourable and majestic Name. Without this unified voice and active cooperation in working towards this ideal canonical exactness, Orthodoxy will seem limiting and impractical to those who may feel called to the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ. 

There are many ways we are able to practically work together as One Church. There should be cooperation on three central levels; 1) Liturgical & Pastoral 2) Education & Youth 3) Events. 

Liturgically, parishes are able to work together by sharing service schedules (ensuring each city has frequent Liturgies shared between each of the communities) , priests (with the blessing of the relevant Bishop) should visit each others churches, sharing pastoral responsibilities when necessary, and conducting Pan-Orthodox Vespers at the appropriate time of the year. Essentially, there should be an Orthodox youth society, group or organisation set up in cities ( often through the local university) allowing the young members of our parishes to mix, organise talks, discussions and pilgrimages. Finally, joint events, such as choir concerts, talks, social nights, catechetical classes and Church music lessons should also be ways in which we grow as Orthodox Christians in this country towards our aims and hopes.

Finally, Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia (1840-1924), the spiritual father of Saint Paisios, notes that ‘the Church in the British isles will only begin to truly grow again when it begins to venerate its own saints.’  The veneration of the British Saints, especially recently, has indeed brought our communities together, with Pilgrimages to St’s Winefride and Cybi in Wales,  Lindisfarne, Saint Bertram in Llam, Iona, and other holy sites taking place, throughout the United Kingdom. 


To conclude, let us Orthodox Christians, both clergy and laity, respond to our Lord’s call for unity, in times of confusion, unsettledness, and discrimination; in times where many seek Christ, His Church’ salvific mysteries, and unified presence. The One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church here in Britain, and across the Orthodox Diaspora, has this responsibility, in our efforts towards canonical exactness. 

Sources:

- Alfeyev, Hilarion "The canonical territories of the local Orthodox churches – part I". (2006) Retrieved from : orthodoxytoday.org.
- Official Documents of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, ‘The Orthodox Diaspora,’ accessed through https://www.holycouncil.org/-/diaspora.
The Orthodox Diaspora,’ accessed through https://www.holycouncil.org/-/diaspora.

- Article within the 'Orthodox Outlook' Issue 122 (October/November) within the 'Letters to the Editor' Section.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon

The Council of Chalcedon concludes a number of key Christological debates taking place within the Early Church. We could say that four significant issues concerning the person of Christ are clarified: 1) Christ’s full deity is affirmed, rebuking Arius 2) Christ’s full humanity is affirmed, rebuking Apollinarius 3) Christ is one person, rebuking Nestorius and 4) Christ’s two natures (divine and human) remain distinct, rather than blurred together, refuting Eutyches. 

The Council follows on from Leo’s Tome, condemning Eutyches. The Council of Ephesus in 449 did not take any positive notice of Leo’s Tome, and in fact rejected his standpoint. Later however, the Emperor’s successor favoured Leo’s approach, and so this council took place in 451, reserving the decisions of Ephesus yet condemning Eutyches. Leo’s writings were read and approved, which was concluded by a revised confession of faith in order to unify the Empire, symbolising the clarified Orthodox doctrine and tradition of the Church. This is known as the Chalcedonian Definition. The definition affirms that Christ is ‘truly God… perfect in Godhead.. perfect in manhood.. begotten of the Father before the ages..born of the Virgin Mary’ with ‘the deity and humanity..not parted or divided into two persons but.. one person and one being.’ The ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ is ‘made known in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.’ 

As J.F Bethune-Baker writes, ‘in this definition the Church at length pronounced a final verdict on both extremes of Christological opinion, clearly repudiating Apollinarian, Nestorian and Eutychian teaching’ stating the relationship between the two natures in one Person is more fully expressed in the statements of both Cyril and Leo, to which, by recognition on this occasion of the Council, conciliar authority was given. The Council’s definition, along-with the writings of both Cyril and Leo affirm that the ‘temporal nativity in no way detracted from the divine and eternal nativity, and added nothing to it, but was solely concerned with the restoration if man and the need for the assumption of our nature by one whom sin could not stain nor death keep in his hold.’ In other words, the two natures are not confused, and do not affect each other. The fact Christ is born of the Theotokos for our salvation does not affect the fact He also proceeds from the Father, and is ‘eternally the same’ as is affirmed in the Divine Liturgy.

Richard Price and Mary Whitby note that by the time the Council was summoned by the Emperor Marcian, all were aware that the questions of the nature of Christian Orthodoxy, and the interpretation of this Tradition, were of critical importance at the time. All were in agreement that there was indeed one true Christian Tradition (from which deviation led to heresy) however what was not yet agreed on was what the Tradition should include. The authority of Scripture, as well as of the Nicene Creed and Cyril’s writings, were recognised and respected, however questions such as how one interprets the Nicene Creed, or to what extent Cyril’s writings (particularly his third letter to Nestorius) were authoritative, were at the forefront of the Holy Council. The authority of Nicaea was recognised by all in attendance, although the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, a revised version of Nicaea’s definition of faith introduced by imperial commissioners as a symbol of Orthodoxy, was heavily questioned. In fact, there is little indication this Creed of 381 would have been widely known and accepted by this stage, however generally the Bishops of Chalcedon emphatically accept it.This is the Faith of all… this is the Faith of the Orthodox.. We all believe accordingly,’ the Bishops affirmed, amidst controversy and uncertainty among the Egyptian and Roman groups in particular. 

As the Chalcedonian definition ‘was the result of a series of laborious compromises between the opposing parties’ the text initially presented at the Council used the terms of 433  ‘ἐκ δύο φύσεων’ (from two natures) which the Monophysites were prepared to accept, as it allowed them to simultaneously say ‘one nature after the union.’ The use of ‘two natures’ was balanced by the insistence on the unity of Christ; with the repeated expression ‘τὸν αὐτὸν’ (the same) intentionally underlining the unity of the subject of Christ, in all actions and places. The expression ‘in two natures’ (although not used by Cyril, was accepted in Antioch and the West) fundamentally constructed a clear distinction between φύσις and ὑπόστασις which had been lacking in earlier Christological discussion, thus needing to be clarified. 


The Council of Chalcedon therefore acted as a bridge - between the culmination and clarification of the Early Church’ vital Christological questions - and a new beginning giving way to Christian theologians being able to use proper, approved terms when designating both the unity and duality in Christ. 




Bibliography

Baker J.F 1942, An Introduction to the Early History of Christian Doctrine. Methuen, London.

Lane T, The Council of Chalcedon. Accessed from from: http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-28/461-council-of-chalcedon.html.

Meyendorff J 1975, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought. SVS, New York.

Price & Whitby 2009, Chalcedon in Context: Church Councils 400-700. LUP, Liverpool.

Monday, 7 November 2016

St Luke the Evangelist

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke (31-84AD) originated from Antioch of Syria, and was of Greek ethnicity. He was a doctor by profession, however was also an experienced artist. For this reason, alongside preaching the Gospel, he is known for painting some of the first icons of the Christ with His Most-Holy Mother, the Theotokos, as well as of the Apostles Peter and Paul.

Saint Luke was catechised by the Apostle Paul, who he met at Thebes, and from then on was also fully committed to preach and share the Gospel, travelling to Italy, Dalmatia, France and other areas of the Mediterranean. Not only did the Evangelist write the third Gospel of the New Testament, but also the Acts of the Apostles.

He is mentioned three times within the New Testament, with little information about his life. Although he is not considered one of the twelve Apostles, he acted, evangelised and lived as an Apostle, and closely worked with Paul. Their close, brotherly relationship is seen within Saint Paul's letters: "Λουκάς εστί μόνος μετ' εμού" Luke alone is with me (2 Tim 4:11) Luke is described as "αγαπητό" beloved (Col 4:14).

Saint Luke wrote the third Gospel around fifteen years following the Ascension of our Lord. Although he was not an eye-witness of Christ's life on earth (Luke 1:1-4) he certainly followed His teachings, learned from the earlier Apostles and their tradition, and through the illumination of the Holy Spirit carried this Christian Apostolic tradition, through his writings, example and life, onto the next generation of the faithful community.

Within the Acts of the Apostles, he describes the daily life for the Early Christian community of Jerusalem, emphasising the importance of the Holy Eucharist (in other words partaking of Holy Communion) as followers of Christ:

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers... and all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need... attending the temple together and breaking bread.. they partook of food with glad and generous hearts.' (Acts 2:42-47)

This unity and harmony which is described by the Apostle Luke is the implementation of Christ's commandments of love. According to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Christian life is summarised through the commandments of loving God and loving our neighbour. This particular passage from Acts, emphasises these two crucial commandments being fulfilled through the Liturgical life of the Church. In other words it is through our partaking of the Eucharist, having communion with God and our fellow Christians, that we are able to go out into the world to share the faith, love our fellows and assist those in need. It all begins here, at the Divine Liturgy. The Church' pastoral, philanthropic work flows from our starting point, the source of all we do; partaking of Christ Himself in the Eucharistic Assembly, as one unified body.



- Delivered to the Student Group of St Luke's Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Glasgow in Greek & English.

Sources:
 http://www.saint.gr/2759/saint.aspx
http://www.imconstantias.org.cy

Monday, 17 October 2016

The Holy Spirit: Saint Basil's Letter to Amphilochius

St Amphilochius was born in Caesarea in Cappadocia. It was in the year 373 that Amphilochius was ordained Bishop of Iconium, with St Basil, his spiritual father, passing away in 379 at the age of 49. Several theological challenges by 370 had been made sense of, particularly regarding the controversies surrounding Arius and Eustathius, and for this reason Basil was able to write on newly arising issues in a time of maturity, when able to teach with confidence from his ecclesiastical position in his episcopacy.(1) This short piece will discuss ways in which Basil’s letter to Amphilochius, with its differentiation between Ousia and Hypostasis, and implications on the Trinitarian Doctrine, was highly significant for Orthodox Christian Theology.


Saint Basil’s letter to Amphilochius, highlights the distinction between the key terms Ousia and HypostasisThe distinction is the same as that of the general and the particular, as for instance between a ‘living thing’ such as the animal and the particular man. Thus, when it comes to the Godhead - the Holy, Consubstantial and Undivided Trinity - St Basil notes that we confess one essence (so we do not have a variant definition of existence) while confessing a particular hypostasis so we do not confuse the persons of the one Godhead. We must have distinct perceptions of these Three Persons, of their characteristics as Father Son and Spirit, which forms our coherent perception of the ‘common’ Godhead. So these two terms, for St Basil, provide us with the essential link between God’s unity of Persons, but also their diversity of characteristics. 

Basil, criticising Sabellius’ teaching that God was single and indivisible, with three manifestations of one Person, provides the Church with the coherent understanding of one ουσία and three ὑπόστασιςOusia being the existence, essence or substantial entity of God, and Hypostasis signifying this essence in a particular mode, and the manner of being of each Person. Each of the divine hypostases is the Ousia, or Essence of the Godhead, determined by its appropriate, particular characteristics; the Father’s paternity, the Son’s Sonship, and the Spirit’s sanctification. (2)

The Holy Spirit, the ‘Comforter’ proceeds from the Father (John 15:26), ‘Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified’ (Symbol of Faith) Orthodox Christian doctrine, following the teaching of St Basil, confesses that God the Father is the eternal origin, and source of, the Holy Spirit, just as He is the Source of the Son. As we read within Basil’s letter to Amphilochius, there is a difference in the manner which the Spirit proceeds from the Father, from the way the Son is begotten and born from the Father. (3)  He particularly uses the term ‘sanctification’ when describing the work of the Holy Spirit, which he later characterises as the giver of life: ‘All things thirsting for holiness turn to Him… He waters them with His Life-Giving breath and helps them reach their proper fulfilment… He is the source of sanctification, spiritual light, Who gives illumination..and the illumination He gives is Himself.’  (4) Siding with Sabellius, one might argue that the Spirit of God (since it seems to have different roles or characteristics to that of the Father and Son) is simply a manifestation of Himself, or even one of his energies, or acts, rather than God Himself; the third person of the GodHead. Basil offers us a Scriptural answer to this question: ‘When the Lord established the Baptism of salvation, did He not clearly command His disciples to baptise all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?’ (5)

Thus we see that Basil’s letter to Amphilochius is essential, in the sense that it offers (as he expresses it) a ‘healthy’ account of our Trinitarian Doctrine, our conception of God. The letter, through its distinction between Ousia and Hypostasis offers a coherent understanding of the ‘union and fellowship’ (6)  between the Three Persons, their distinctive characteristics, all (and together) fundamentally necessary for our salvation. Taking Basil’s example of Baptism, it is notable through the reading of Scripture alone, we are unable to refer to the Father without the Son and Spirit, and vice-versa: ‘It is impossible to worship the Son except in the Holy Spirit; it is impossible to call upon the Father except in the Spirit of adoption.’ (7)  Saint Paul tells us that ‘As many of you who were baptised into Christ have put on Christ’ (Gal 3:27) while Saint Peter notes ‘God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 10:38) It is through the invocation of the Spirit’s name alone that, not only baptism, but the Christian Church and life is complete, restored and fulfilled. So, rather than a simple gift of God, or even manifestation of God, the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit is the Lord and Illuminator Himself, the Third Person of the Godhead,  for ‘there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit’ (1 Cor 12:4-6) (8) present everywhere, as God is of one essence (ουσία) though consisting of these three hypostasis. According to Stephen Hildebrand, the successful synthesis and understanding created by Basil was down to his Greek and Christian thought linked together. It was through his writings (between 360-378) that Christianity noticed a significant development regarding Trinitarian language and expression. (9)


Through summarising the chosen letter to Amphilochius, discussing the terminology of ousia and hypostasis, how the writer synthesises the unity of the Godhead as well as His three hypostases as different Persons, this short essay has highlighted the importance of Basil’s Trinitarian theology.


 1) Stephen Hildebrand, The Trinitarian Theology of Basil of Caesarea: A Synthesis of Greek Thought and Biblical Truth (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2007) 27-28.
2) Leo Donald Davis, The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787): Their History and Theology (Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1990) 112.
3) Holy Spirit, within the OCA’s online series: ‘Doctrine and Scripture,’ The Symbol of Faith: Volume 1. Accessed from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/doctrine-scripture/the-symbol-of-faith/holy-spirit.
4)  St Basil the Great (Translated by David Anderson) On the Holy Spirit (New York: SVS, 1980) 43.
5) St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 45.
6) St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 45.
7) St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 48.
8) St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 60-61.
9) Stephen Hildebrand, The Trinitarian Theology of Basil of Caesarea30-33.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

St Athanasius and the First Ecumenical Council

Saint Athanasius spent the early part of his ecclesiastical work as Alexander’s (Bishop of Alexandria) secretary, and in 325 became his Archdeacon. His writings proved to lead the way against the Arian controversy, and assisted Alexander, to a great extent, when attending the Nicene Council. His defence of the Nicene Council, our chosen text, would have been written between 346 and 356. Acacius (Arian) was Bishop of Caesarea by this point, and Eusebius of Nicomedia is not referred to as though still alive, having died in 342. Not only is it an attack on the Arian heresy, but also a criticism of their conduct during the Council; ‘caught whispering..and winking with their eyes.’

 A question one might ask regarding the work, career and theology of Athanasius, is to what extent he was motivated politically? The German scholar Eduard Schwartz for example, argues his motivations were purely political, and that his theological opinions surrounding the Council were simply pretexts to cover his desire for power. It could certainly be argued that Athanasius sought power, in the sense that he suppressed opposition within his diocese and was suspicious of the Emperor Constantius who challenged his imperial authority. However, the flaw in Schwartz’ argument, is the lack of realisation of how important theology was throughout this period, for the Early Church. These are undoubtedly spiritual matters affecting the life of the Church, with the central source for Athanasius’ decree on the Council of Nicaea being the Holy Scriptures. The reason for the Church exerting its power and authority is in order to preserve the Orthodox, Scriptural, Apostolic Faith, discerned and preached by the Council and its Bishops. It is also perhaps easy for us to misconceive the way in which the Christian faith and doctrine was linked to the Empire, and to the political situation under Constantine.

Athanasius, within his ‘Decree of the Council of Nicaea,’ rebukes the Arian notion of Christ being ‘a creature,’ or ‘belonging to us’ men, but is rather, according to him,‘other than’ all God-created things; thus defending the Orthodox position of the Council. His decree, written in 350/351AD, defends Nicene terminology, as it was accused of being non-Scriptural.    Separated from all other created beings, the incarnate Word is ‘Lord and Fashioner of all.’ For this reason, according to Athanasius, the Council declares Christ to be ‘of the substance of the Father,’ as He is ‘other than generated beings,’ ‘unalterable,’ ‘always existing,’ and eternally the same God.

Unlike the human relationship between Father and Son, Athanasius describes the relationship between these two persons of the consubstantial Trinity as inseparable, in the sense that they are of one substance, for ‘the Word is always in the Father and the Father in the Word.’ Interestingly, he explains this relationship further with the example of radiance in relation to light. The light (Father) as the source of the radiance (Son) shares the same substance, however simultaneously begets, and acts through (1 Cor 8:6) this radiance in every action, when sharing the light upon the world. 

St Athanasius’ writings during this period would certainly have been influenced by Origen’s, who’s writings had already stated the importance of Christ’s eternal nature. However, for Origen, because the works done by the Son are those of the Father, he assumed there was ‘absolutely no dissimilarity between the Father and the Son,’ while the Father, or first person, is the only one who is God in the fullest sense, whereas the Son is his δύναμις, power. Athanasius would instead describe the Son as the Father’s image, and the Father as the Source Who begets His Only-Begotten Word. They are of the ‘same substance,’ yet both identifiably different. (later to be clarified as two different persons) Nonetheless, Origen had previously noted that it was impossible for there to be a time when Christ, the Word and Wisdom of God, was not, and this view is approved of by Athanasius and taken further. As Athanasius later notes, Arianism undermines the Christian doctrine of God by presupposing that the Son (and the Holy Spirit ) is not eternal, which virtually reintroduces polytheism. The eternity of the Word and Son of God is essential for our understanding of salvation in Christ, for only ‘if the Mediator was Himself divine could man hope to re-establish fellowship with God.’ 


To conclude, Athanasius’ Decree of Nicaea affirms Christ as γεννηθέντα ού ποιηθέντα (Begotten not Made), as ομοούσιον του Πατρός (of the same being, or essence as the Father) and as true God. This short piece has discussed the relevant doctrine, Athanasius’ contribution at the time of, and following the Council, and ways in which he had been influenced by, and worked upon, Origen’s theology. 


Apart from the Primary Source (St Athanasius' Decree of Nicaea) the following sources were used:

Behr, J 2001, The Way to Nicaea, SVS, New York.
Hanson, R.P 2005, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, T&T, Edinburgh.
Jurgens, W.A 1970, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Liturgical Press, Minnesota.
Kelly, J. N. D 1968, Early Christian Doctrines, A&C, London.
Newman 1957, St Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids.

Online Articles:

 - Perry M 2003, Athanasius and his Influence at the Council of Nicaea, accessed from http://www.quodlibet.net/articles/perry-athanasius.shtml.
 - Origen, within the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, accessed from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/origen/.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Are they humble?

It was recently suggested to me that, simply by witnessing ones characteristics and manners, it can be understood whether or not one is humble. Although humility can undoubtedly be transforming on an outward level, and can be experienced or witnessed through external deeds, is it really as closely related to our characteristics and mannerisms as we often assume?

From the Old Testament, through to the Gospels and St Paul’s Epistles, we realise humility is a fundamental virtue. As a key element and example of Christ’s life, Christians are called to imitate His humility; seen in all its fullness on the Cross, as our Lord and God sacrifices Himself ‘for the life of the world,’ (John 6:51) emptying Himself, ‘taking the form of a servant.’ (Phil 2:7) 

Our Lord however, as the archetype of humility, seems to contradict some of our common misconceptions of humility; overturning ‘the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons’ saying ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer..’ (Matt 21:12-13) This would seem harsh, abrupt, emphatic, or rude, and therefore contrary to most common descriptions of humility. 

St John of Kronstadt describes humility as distancing ourselves from pride, which is often manifested in the judging of others, and our impatience or irritability when others oppose or annoy us. For St John, humility is purely based on our relationship with God, flowing through to our relationships with others, in our efforts to be patient, understanding, and fundamentally to love. Christ teaches us to serve, (Matt 20:25–28) to offer ourselves to the other, doing ‘nothing from selfishness or conceit.’ (Phil 2:3) Our Lord is the very definition of humbleness, not because of personal characteristics, but because He associates Himself with the lowest, cares about the least, becoming a true servant to all. 

Particularly within Church circles, we are quick to judge whether a priest, sister or brother is loud, quiet,  ‘show-offy,’ harsh, strict, too lenient, too soft, not passionate enough about the faith, crazy, lazy, too ‘rough’ or ‘theatrical.’ Often we associate humility with quietness, tenderness, or perhaps even lack of emotion, or energy. However, our Scriptures and teachings of the Saints do not speak of such humility based on characteristics or individual mannerisms at all, but rather something deeper, within the heart of man. As Christians, we are not called to act in the same way, converse with the same manner, speak with the same accent, or have the same personal characteristics. The Church unites us, and by doing so brings out all our individual personalities in their fullness, with this diversity of persons being a wonderful gift to Christ’s body, His Church. 

Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans is abundantly clear on this matter; ‘Though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another, we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them..’ (Rom 12:5-8)

Similarly, Saint Augustine, realising our various ways of humbly reaching out with love to our fellows, and knowing the importance of discretion, tells us; ‘If you keep silent, keep silent by love: if you speak, speak by love; if you correct, correct by love; if you pardon, pardon by love; let love be rooted in you, and from the root nothing but good can grow. Love and do what you will.’


For this reason, it is surely limiting, and contrary to our understanding of what humility is, when we often look for, and focus on certain outward behaviours. We are surrounded with such diverse personalities, characters, images of God, who can be equally humble, self-sacrificing, servants of God, in their own personal ways, within their own contexts and ways of expression. Both the loud, emotive, rather harsh Bishop, and the sedate, perhaps sombre monastic can equally treasure God’s wonderful, yet diverse gift and virtue of humility. May we also, through the sacramental life of His Church, and through our own prayerful struggle acquire this virtue; in our own personal contexts.