Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Friday, 26 December 2014

Christmas

Beneath the commercialism, decorations, food and joy of this festive period, lies the very meaning and truth of it all - Christ, the Son and incarnate Word of God lying in a stable, born of the holy Virgin Mary. Here lies the very foundation, and source of this special occasion, that is profoundly filled with love, joy and hope. Christmas is a time when families come together in appreciation, setting aside differences, frictions and disagreements: coming together in unity and spirit. This is the same joyous and transforming spirit that led the magi to the very light of the world, Jesus Christ, and the same spirit that led to the ceasefire ( known as the Christmas Truce ) in 1914, during the World War I. There is simply something special, perhaps indescribable and unexplainable about this time of year, as society is transformed. Many people throughout the year are often self-centred, caring for their own needs and desires rather than others, with the goal being self-gain and individual pride. However, at Christmas, we openly buy gifts and write cards, trying to please and comfort one another with this act of appreciation and love. Whether or not we recognise the foundation, and source of this unifying, reconciling Christmas spirit of love, we can all agree that something very special takes place over this holy period. Even though the mad rush of December, consisting of wrapping presents and writing cards, leads to quite a simple act of sharing a meal, and spending time together, there is something overwhelmingly fulfilling about it all.

Christmas day marks the realisation that the human condition, undoubtedly has its flaws so to speak, but can reach great heights of unity, reconciliation, and love. The Feast of the Nativity is a celebration of God becoming man, so that we, as images of God, can be united with Him in communion. Communion with God cannot be obtained without being in communion with our neighbours, and the Christmas celebration certainly brings us all together as one. For those who witness this, within their families and environments at Christmas time each year, it would surely make sense to follow this glowing star of Bethlehem all year round, transforming not only this short period, but their whole lives into a joyous path towards this light of righteousness. Surely we should all seek the source foundation of this Christmas Spirit, Who is Christ.

'Your birth, O Christ our God, dawned the light of knowledge upon the earth. For by Your birth those who adored stars, were taught by a star, to worship You, the Sun of Justice and to know You, Orient from on High, O Lord, Glory to You.'  - Apolytikion of the Feast of the Nativity



                                                       Merry Christmas

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Christ - the Only Begotten Son

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, in his Oration 29, gives a very interesting analogy of the sun and its light, enabling us to understand the relationship between Father and Son.

'The Sun is not prior to its light. Because time is not involved, they are to that extent unoriginate ... for the sources of time are not subject to time.' 

St Gregory highlights the Orthodox position, that the Son proceeds from the Father - however at the same time, he stresses the importance of Christ being unoriginate - in other words, existing from all eternity. Yes, the Father is the origin, but not in a timely, worldly way - rather, in a loving relational manner, that is transcendent of man's understanding. St Gregory writes that all we must know is that the Father begets the Son, but 'anything beyond this fact is hidden by a cloud and escapes your dull vision!'

'Can anyone be a father without beginning to be one?
Yes, one who did not begin his existence. What begins to exist begins to be a father..He is Father in the true sense.'

The Father is the union (ένωσις), begetting the Son, and pouring forth the Spirit, as light from light, true God from true God - such that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not separate gods, but One God; a coessential and undivided Trinity.

Many ask whether or not Christ existed from the beginning, if His Source is the Father. However Saint Gregory's reply to this question is a bold one..'What drivel?' This is a worldly question, which bears no understanding of God he argues - as 'being begotten coincides with existence, and is from the beginning.' 

One of the best ways to gain theological understanding, is often by reading into the services and hymns of the Church. One of the most significant hymns we hear within the Divine Liturgy, read before the Epistle, shows us how we understand Christ as the Only Begotten Son, and Word of God:


'Only begotten Son and Word of God who, being immortal, accepted for our salvation to take flesh from the holy mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, and without change became man. You were crucified, Christ our God, by death trampling on death, being One of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Save us.' (Translation used by the Archdiocese of Thyateira & Great Britain)

This is the faith of the Church, the belief we have about Christ our Lord and Saviour. It is somewhat of a credal statement, that was inserted into the Divine Liturgy at the time of Justinian, so that everyone, including catechuments could hear this proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ. This holy hymn affirms that we have the very faith of the Councils, of the fathers, and of the one Orthodox catholic Church. It contains, in a very concise form, the statement of Christian faith - confessing the divinity and humanity of Christ, Mary as the Θεοτόκος (God-bearer), as the one born of her is the incarnate Word of God - crucified for our sake and salvation.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Now


As sinners, we continuously miss the mark, and 'fall short of the glory of God' (Rom 3:23), however we must be reminded that Christ offers us all, the opportunity of a 'fresh start', a renewed life in Him led by the Spirit (Rom 8:14) which takes repentance and confession:
'Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.' (Acts 3:19)

We often forget that believing in Christ's death and resurrection, means that we believe in the defeat of good over evil, the life of the Spirit over the self-centred desires of the flesh, and the life of sacrificial love over selfishness and exploitation of our fellows.

As Saint Porphyrios said to his visitors, repentance should not begin at the start of the new year, at the beginning of the week, or even tomorrow.. but now. Now, is the perfect time for each and every Christian to get back up again, after falling into sin, and carry on fighting the good fight, (1 Tim 6:12) in faith and love. True repentance does not mean we cease to fall into temptations, but it does mean we cease to despair - continuously striving for Christ. As the Metropolitan Morphou said in a recent interview, the Resurrection is not simply a message, but an experience - and this is the way in which we experience the Risen Christ in our daily lives and struggles. It is only through His glorious resurrection that we are able to carry on, rising up and beyond our passions, struggles, and concerns, with the Lord granting us the opportunity of a new life and renewed communion with Him, through confession, participation of the Eucharist and fervent prayer. Even though life consists of the Cross, it also consists of participation in the joyous resurrection as we obtain a relationship with our Saviour. The experiential history of the Church has proven that Christ, the fulfiller, renewer and life-giver can turn anyone's life around, from imprisonment to true freedom, from illness to health, from fleshly passions to divine eros. Just as Christ gave the prostitutes and thieves the opportunity of forgiveness of sin and eternal life with Him, He also gives each of us this same opportunity of renewal and enlightenment. 

'And as Thou didst not reject the woman, who was a harlot and sinner like me, when she approached and touched Thee, so also be compassionate with me, a sinner..'  (St John Chrysostom's prayer before Holy Communion )

In Luke's account of the penitent harlot, the greatness of Christ's mercy is revealed. This repenting woman, who would probably be looked down and frowned upon by most members of society, was truly treated as a child of God, created in the image and likeness. She is an example to us all, as a sinner who knelt before Christ with boundless love and with sureness of faith that she would indeed be forgiven...'therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.' (Luke 7:47) Fr Vassilios Papavassiliou writes 'the harlot's contrition and love alone were sufficient for her salvation. All her sins were washed away in a moment.' This was her moment, where she turned her whole life around and not only accepted Christ into her heart, but Christ her saviour accepted her into His Kingdom.

A repentant is one who lives and experiences a taste of Resurrection and eternal life, as they humbly condemns his actions, admitting his unworthiness and sinfulness before God, thus crucifying pride and self-centredness:

' A penitent is a buyer of humility. Repentance is self-condemning reflection..is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to the sins...Repentance is purification of conscience. Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions.' (St John Climacus)

St John emphasises that this constant opportunity of renewed life in Christ takes place through crucified life - as without crucifixion, there is no resurrection. True repentance and confession takes us back to the state of baptism.. 'Repentance is the renewal of baptism.' 

One of the most moving passages of the Gospel must be that of the thief alongside Christ on the Cross.. 'Save us...Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom'.. with the Lord replying..'I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.' (Luke 23:39-43) Among other things, this beautiful passage highlights that the importance does not lie in the period of repentance, but the sincerity of our repentance and love for Christ. If we truly repent, Christ's compassion and love for His servants covers up all the wounds of sin and grants eternal life. The thief realises that the time to repent is now, 'as the Kingdom of God is at hand..' (Matt 3:2) 


Thursday, 11 December 2014

Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans

The letter to the Romans was probably written between AD 55-57, during the latter part of St Paul's third missionary journey (Acts 20:3-21:16), on his way to Corinth.

The central theme of the Epistle is God's righteousness revealed in Christ for our salvation (1:16,17). Righteousness is the basis of a faithful relationship between God and humanity. God Himself freely offers this living and growing relationship to all human beings, through Christ. St Paul shows this by discussing natural mortality, and the sinfulness of all ( 1:18-3:20), salvation through Christ alone, and not from the Law (3:21-4:25), new life in Christ through the sacrament of Baptism (5-7), new life in the Spirit through Chrismation (8), God's plan for Jews and Gentiles and their reconciliation in Christ (9-11), and finally Christian life in the Church and throughout the world (12-16).

The Apostle Paul's logic proceeds mainly from dichotomies ( two concepts are placed in opposition to each other ) and synergies ( two concepts work together ). Romans is certainly the most doctrinal, and logical epistles of Paul, and the only one he wrote to a church he had not yet visited.

St Paul highlights that a relationship with God transforms a Christian, empowering him or her to become the person intended by our Father in Heaven. A very important aspect of Romans ( and for Paul's letters in general ) is that 'there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon Him.' (Rom 10:12)

For example we see in Rom 9:1-5 that St Paul is distressed about his Jewish kinfolk, as they concentrate on their Law and believe they can achieve righteousness and salvation through that alone. Christ fulfils this law, and it is through faith and love for Him that one is righteous and united with God. The Apostle explains later in the epistle (Rom 9:30-10:4) that the gentiles have managed to attain this righteousness as they have followed the Lord in faith - and of course gentiles were looked down upon by the Jews; but Paul is telling us here that no matter where we are from, we can all be one in Christ. For Paul, and the entire Church, the goal is for every human being to be saved, and to see his fellows fail to understand that the Θεάνθρωπος, and Saviour Christ has not come down on earth to 'abolish the law and the Prophets.. but to fulfil them.' (Matthew 5:17) The gentiles have their own problems, such as immoral behaviour, and the Jews have a false sense and understanding of righteousness - but Paul assures all groups that even though we all have our issues, through grace we can be reconciled to God and be one with Him in communion:

'So we, through many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.' (Rom 12:5)

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Ministry in the Early Church

The apostles received the Gospel for our sakes from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus the Christ was sent from God. The Christ therefore is from God, and the apostles from Christ...They were in accordance with the appointed order of God's will. So, preaching in country and city, they appointed their firstfruits..by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should believe.'
- Clement, First Epistle to the Corinthians (c.96)

Clement stresses God's appointment of the orders of ministry within the Church, for we hear in the Scriptures 'I will establish their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith.' (Isaiah 60:17) Clement speaks of πρεσβύτεροι ( presbyters/elders ), επίσκοποι (bishops), and διάκονοι (deacons). In his writing, he explains that the only Christian ministers to be recognised were those appointed by the apostles, or by their successors ( in other words the direct link to the apostles gives the holy orders validity and stability - later to be known as apostolic succession )

The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles on Ministry
 - The Didache ( the documented teaching of the twelve apostles ) cannot be dated accurately , however its constant reference to St Matthew's Gospel suggest around c.90-100, with Syria being the possible area of origin. The didache would probably have contained the first account of the Eucharist, after those found in 1 Cor 11:23-5, and Mark 14:22-5.

The Didache warns us of false apostles and ministers of Christ - telling us that if an apostle tries to gain financially from a visit, or tries to overstay his welcome then he is false. If he were to preach things that he does not live by himself, then again he is false. A true apostle and preacher is one who gives to the needy,  and truly sacrifices himself for others. 'Break bread and give thanks..but whoso hath a dispute with his fellow, let him not come together with you.' This is very significant, as it is still an important teaching of the Church today, that we must 'love one another, that with one mind we may confess..' (Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom) It is important to remember that the Eucharistic Liturgy and celebration was often referred to as the 'meal of Love' in the Early Church. The Liturgy is above all, an act of love in communion. 

'Elect for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek and not covetous, and true and approved: for they also minister unto you the ministry of the prophets and teachers.' 


Again we see the importance of the Bishop within the Church, even in such an early apostolic writing. What is interesting, is the fact that they make no reference to presbyters/priests - however at the same time we should note that to this day, the Eucharistic Liturgy takes place in the name of the Bishop, and on his behalf. In the Early Church, the Liturgy would have often been celebrated in a city by the Bishop and his deacons - however with the Church gradually spreading, the Bishops had to ordain priests who would go out and celebrate the Eucharist in their names and on their behalf's. Saint Ignatius of Antioch makes it very clear that without either the physical presence, or blessing of a bishop, the Eucharist is invalid. It is through the bishop of the Church, that we are directly linked to Christ and His Apostles in the Holy Spirit.

'Let that Eucharist be considered valid which is under the Bishop...whatsoever he approves, that also is well-pleasing to God, that everything which you do may be secure and valid.' 
- Ignatius, to the Smyraeans, VIII

Saint Ignatius is the earliest author who insists on the threefold ministry of the Church:

'Give heed unto the Bishop, and the presbytery, and deacons.. Do nothing without the Bishop.'

It is clear, that from the very foundation of the Early Church, the threefold ministry has been visible. The Bishop is the leading member, the overseer, and the one with the greatest responsibility, authority and service - maintaining and insuring the truth and unity of the Orthodox faith. The priests (presbyters) of the Church, are those who assisted the Bishop when needed in the Early Church - as is the case today in the Orthodox Church. Priests were, and are needed in order to head and lead local congregations. They preside at the celebration of the Liturgy, but do so as a representative of the Bishop, who has the authority and validates each and every service & sacrament. Deacons have always assisted the Bishops in good deeds and works of charity, as well as assisting at the celebration of the Liturgy and other services. In addition to the bishops, priests and deacons who comprise the central ordained ministries in the Church, the Orthodox tradition gives special blessings to particular ministries of sub-deacons and readers (with readers also seen in Early Church writings).

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Scripture and Tradition

For the next few blog posts, I am honoured to be in dialogue with Alexis, a good friend and president of the university Christian Orthodox society. He regularly blogs about theological issues, which you can find at http://alexis-florides.blogspot.co.uk/. In these ensuing discussions, we will attempt to explain and defend our positions on various topics, in some sense articulating what our denomination holds to be true of Christianity. We hope that through this process we and you will grow in faith, understanding and the ability to listen to views contrary to our/your own. It should be an interesting experiment, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we will. (Nathan Hood )
God is categorically distinct from the world. That means that the categories we use to understand creation cannot be applied to God without them being radically redefined in relation to Him. God is not just different from objects and beings, but is has an uncompromisingly different existence, as God is not only the source of our being but the fullness of being itself. Language breaks down in application to the divine, as it is stretched beyond its capacity when used to refer to that which is other to the concepts we know from our worldly environment. This entails that created objects by themselves cannot by their very existence reveal the glory, holiness and majesty of God, as they have a fundamentally different character to the one and unique God. Moreover, as our cognitive and emotional capacities have been corrupted by evil, sin and suffering, they are unable to perceive the presence of Yahweh within the world without change. Thus, due to the categorical difference and effects of creation’s falleness, there is a gap between God and humanity.
This void was broken and bridged by the Word of God. The eternal Word, creator and sovereign over all creation, held nothing for himself before the Father, taking on human flesh and dwelling among us. He did this to save the world, bringing light to darkness, overthrowing the power of death through His life, death and resurrection. He has come to transform the creation to how it ought to be: glorifying and enjoying God. We can participate in this dramatic change by confessing Jesus, the Word, is Lord. In doing so, we are opened to His radical, dynamic and pulsing love, overhauling our past selves to live in union with Him. In being united to Christ, we partake in His death to sin and victory over death in the resurrection, thus giving us eternal life. Moreover, this restores the relationship between us and God, as our sin is paid for in full by the blood of Jesus, the only innocent human. This is the gap between God and humanity bridged; Jesus is ‘God with us’, the new temple, and in His saving action and union with us the fullness of God is brought forth into our lives. It is only in the gift of Himself do we have a) knowledge of God b) a right relationship with God.
Yet we are still created beings, who cannot listen to God without mediation (indeed, the ancient Jews were so terrified of the presence of God they tied a rope to the high priest when he would enter the inner sanctum, in case he died from touching the ark of the covenant by accident!). Whilst the human nature of Jesus has ascended to heaven to receive all due honour and glory until the parousia/end times, we are brought into union with Him by the activity of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit draws us into this relationship through various instruments. One such gift is the Scriptures. We call them the Word of God because they are witnesses to the life giving Word, Jesus. They have no value in themselves: their purpose is to testify to the glory of God and pointing to the salvation found in Christ, communicated by faith. They are inspired by the Spirit for this purpose. As such, they possess authority on all Christian life, as they reveal the Word sufficiently to humanity. Authored by God, they guide us into salvation, and in doing so transform our lives in uniting us to the Word. As such, the Scriptures have a key role within the life of the Church, as the not only communicate to us the wonder of Christ, but are a dialogue between us and God, an address which calls us to even greater union with Jesus in the dynamism of the Holy Spirit which inevitably gives us new life.
‘Tradition’ is the corpus of the covenant community’s experience and reflection upon the upturning grace of the Word. It is also a gift of the Spirit, who guides the body of Christ into greater truth and love in their walk with God. This means that tradition is an interpretative practice: it is not the revelation (the Word) nor a witness to the Word (Scripture) but an interpretation of that witness. It offers us a hermeneutic for approaching the ineffable yet immanent God. It is guided by the Spirit, such as at the Council of Nicea (325 C.E.) where bishops from all over the Roman Empire gathered to clarify whether Christ was divine or not. Led by the Spirit, the assembly favoured the interpretation that Jesus is God, and that He is of one substance with the Father.
However, tradition is human interpretation of the witness the Scriptures provide of the Word. It may be guided by the grace of the Spirit, but it is still the categorisation of revelation by fallible human minds. And as its source is non-divine, it does not derive the same authority as Scripture, for the precisely the fact that human tradition can err and not testify to the Word. Whilst Scripture was also written by humans with minds prone to sin, the Holy Spirit breathed their words, providing the circumstances and context for the author to witness to Christ. By contrast, tradition is a response: whilst it may be guided by the Spirit, this guiding is not equivalent to the inspiration of biblical texts, as it is an interpretation of that already given. Jesus actions affirm this: whilst He would not alter one iota of the Law and prophets, recognising that they were an address from God, He continually reprimanded the Pharisees for displacing faith in God for adherence to human regulations and tradition. Their interpretation of how to respond to God was misplaced, and hence did not honour Yahweh. Hence, Scripture must be normative of tradition, as it cannot fall into sin, and it is only that which further enables the preaching of the Word which is valid tradition. Thus, it is an interpretative matrix, not the Word itself – that title belongs to Christ, and the instrument He uses, the Scriptures.
- Nathan Hood


It is with great pleasure that my good friend (fellow theology student, and devout & active member of the Presbyterian church) Nathan, and I will be sharing a series of joint blog posts, discussing certain theological, and in particular ecclesiological matters. (Our first one being Scripture and Tradition) We hope they are of interest, and will enforce a better understanding and appreciation of each others traditions. Nathan and I both actively, and humbly give much of our time to our churches, and this is a great opportunity to share and discuss the ways in which we grow within our Christian communities and spiritual lives, following Christ: our Way, Truth and Life (John 14:6) in dialogue and love. (1 John 4:8) 
Please visit Nathan's blog at:



'Divine revelation is spread among men and preserved in the Church by two channels - Holy Tradition, and Holy Scripture.'
(Catechism of St Philaret of Moscow)

Holy Tradition is the doctrine of faith, the law of God, the sacraments, and the ritual that is handed down by the true believers and worshippers of God, by word and example from one to another - from generation to generation.

The Church of the Living God, as 'the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim 3:15) is the sure repository of Holy Tradition. All believers are united by the Holy Tradition of faith, and form the 'body of Christ' (1 Cor 12:12). St Irenaeus highlights that the truth can only be found within the Church, and it is Holy Tradition that guarantees this truth and validity:

'We ought not to seek among others the truth, which we may have for asking from the Church; for in her, as in a rich treasure-house, the Apostles have laid up in its fullness all that pertains to the truth, so that whosoever seeketh may receive from her the food of life. She is the door of life.'

Holy Scripture is books written by the Spirit of God through men, sanctified by God, called Prophets and Apostles. These books are commonly termed 'the Bible' (Βίβλος), signifying that these sacred books deserve attention before all others. 

Which is more ancient, Holy Tradition or Holy Scripture?

The original, and most ancient instrument for spreading divine revelation is Holy Tradition. From Adam to Moses there were no sacred books. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself delivered His divine doctrine and ordinances to His disciples by word and example - not by writing. The same method was followed by the Apostles at first, spreading the faith and establishing the Church of Christ. This emphasises the necessity of Tradition. Books can be made available to a small part of mankind, but tradition to all. 

'So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word or mouth or by letter.' (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

Through the Holy Scriptures, divine revelation is preserved. We read the words of the Prophets and the Apostles, as if we were living and listening with them. 

Why is tradition necessary?

Holy Tradition is what acts as our guide to the right understanding of the Scriptures, and is needed for the right ministration of the Sacraments and the preservation of the sacred rites and liturgical life of the Church.

'Of the doctrines and injunctions kept by the Church, some we have from written instruction, but some we have received from apostolical tradition, by succession...For instance let us mention before all else the very first and commonest act of Christians, that they who trust in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ should sign themselves with the sign of the Cross.. to turn to the east in prayer..the words of invocation in the change of the Eucharistic bread and of the cup of blessing..Are they not all from this unpublished and private teaching, which our Fathers kept..'   

Saint Basil the Great here highlights the importance of Holy Tradition, passed down from Christ's apostles on Pentecost (Acts 2) , to the Church's fathers and teachers; preserving the orthodox apostolic teaching, worship and practice. 

The fullness of the true faith and doctrine is much too vast to be held in the consciousness of isolated members of the Church. Nathan argues that tradition is 'human interpretation of the witness of Scriptures', however it is clear from the Church's history that the Holy Spirit has been deposited from generation to generation, safeguarding and preserving the true orthodox faith and apostolic teaching - what the Orthodox Church refers to as Holy Tradition. This is not human interpretation; but rather the  very act of the Holy Spirit through time. 

Does Scripture oppose Tradition?
The Holy Scriptures are one of the sources of Tradition. The problem lies in the fact that at the time of the reformation, the western church tried to oppose and separate scripture to tradition. No such opposition should exist! Scripture and tradition belong to the one life of the Church, moved by the same Holy,  Life-Giving and guiding Spirit. It is important to remember that the canon of holy books, which affirms their inspired character is established by Tradition. The inspired nature of Scripture can only be established and guaranteed by our Mother Church. Saint Cyprian of Carthage boldly states 'he can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.' 

The Bible cannot be separate from the Church. The Holy Spirit guides the life of the Church, with its councils - declaring truth. Tradition is both the past and present - it is the never ending work of the Spirit, revealed to the Prophets of the Old Testament, consecrated through the incarnation of the Logos, and remains active in the purification, illumination and theosis of the faithful within Christ's body. The Scriptures are divinely inspired and infallible, not because they are historically or scientifically accurate, but because they are theologically true; and it is through the living Tradition of the Church that we understand these theological truths, and the correct meanings of the texts. This is why the Orthodox Church emphasises the importance of reading the Scriptures within the eucharistic body of Christ. Even though they are divinely inspired, the interpretive operation of the Holy Spirit is lost when one cuts themselves off from the Church and its tradition. It is within the Church, as a loving communion, that we are led to truth, and unity with Christ. Without this tradition, which has preserved, and continues to preserve the faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, protecting Christ's body from heretical teaching, granting us the fruits of the Holy Spirit through the sacramental work of the Church, a pure and loving relationship with God would be unattainable. 

- Alexis Florides

Monday, 8 December 2014

Ex Nihilo


The biblical teaching of the creation of the world from nothing (ex nihilo) by a perfectly positive and free act of God, is central to the Church's thought and life. 

'First of all, you must believe that there is one God Who created and completed all things, and made all things out of nothing and brought them into existence. He contains the whole, but He alone cannot be contained.' 
 - St Irenaeus of Lyon

The dogma of 'Ex Nihilo' helps us understand the relationship between God and the world, as it highlights that God, by His uncreated energy, created the world out of no necessity, but by His will and love. 

'I am the Lord Who performs all things. I alone stretched forth the heavens and established the earth.' 
 - Isaiah 44:24

St Irenaeus, while combatting heresies, emphasised the biblical teaching that the one and only God Who revealed Himself to and through the prophets, and became incarnate through the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, is indeed the same God Who made the world without the need of a creaturely intermediary...'for it is a property of God's omnipotence to have no need of other tools in order to create the things He calls into existence.' ( Theophilus of Antioch ) The dogma of Ex Nihilo is the guarantee that God is the Creator, neither by necessity, nor by essence , but by His divine energy and will. The world is a result of His uncreated and loving energy. It is this world itself, and no other, that our Almighty Father Has created - a world which is both material and immaterial, visible and invisible, changeable with cycles of seasons, winds, currents and moons. 

'Learn o man, of His works, of the change of seasons according to their times, and cycles of winds, and the orderly path of elements, and the orderly course of days and nights, and months and years..and of periods of abundance of sudden cloudbursts, of the multitude of movements of the heavenly bodies..' 
 - Theophilus

God's Creation is exactly how He wants it. He is alone immortal by nature, and His creatures and creation have the opportunity of becoming immortal by His grace. This immortality consists in the resurrection of the world, and the making of time incorruptible - as attested to by the resurrection of the full human nature of Christ. (Luke 24:39, John 20:24-29)

Of course the formation of evil affects this good Creation which has been provided for us out of love. The making of the world is good (Gen 1:10),  but it is the fallen state of affairs within this world that is debased. God, along with His uncreated energy and creation is perfect - and so it is important to remember that salvation does not mean being saved from this world ( which is indeed a gift ) , but from evil which lurks within it. (1 Cor 15:26) Matter is holy - hence we venerate the holy icons of the Lord and His Saints, we see the work of the Holy Spirit in relics and within the goodness of mankind, and we see the beauty and tranquility which this world provides us. For this reason we believe in the resurrection and fulfilment of our bodies, as they are temples of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 6:19-20) The Creation, and this life which we have been granted, is an expression of God's love and energy. It's beauty is indescribable, and its gifts are innumerable - and for this reason, as human beings created in the image and likeness of the Lord, we must surely want to continue living in communion with our Creator, who is able to bring us out of non-existence into being, and out of death into eternal life.

Sources: 'The Ancestral Sin' ,  by John S. Romanides

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Christ and Man

'If you wish to know how great man is, don't turn your eyes to the thrones of the kings or the palaces of the great men, look up to the throne of God and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Glory.'
 - St John Chrysostom

For an Atheist, the concrete man is raw material, however this raw material is always in the process of becoming , known as evolution. In other words it is as raw material that man exists, but he is to be set up against a certain number of visions; following what he should become, and what he wants to achieve. Man is always something ahead of us, a goal which we move towards and attempt to fulfil. Whether you are a biologist, or a theologian ( or both ) the end of man will always be improvement, transformation, and looking to the future. Humanity is forever changing and reshaping, ultimately to achieve a goal, and a purpose. 

Christianity sets man as the final value, but not simply idealistically or abstractly. Christ is the fulfilment, the purpose and the goal. He is what we are called to become. When we say that Christ is indeed fully man, we affirm that to be united with God does not take away, or change the nature of mankind; but we fulfil our purpose and human nature. This is where man is revealed in his full potential and possibility. Man becomes truly human, only when united with God infinitely and inseparably, so that the fullness of the Godhead will abide in the flesh. 'I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh..' (Acts 2:17) 

Are we, as sinners, incapable of achieving this goal of unity with God?

The Church makes it very clear that our vocation is to become partakers of the divine nature ( the Church is the place where the Holy Spirit has taken abode, dwelling in each of us - 1 Cor 3:16 ), united in one life with Christ. By participation, grace and loving communion with Christ we become sons of the Father through grace. We are of course all sinners, and unworthy of this communion (Rom 3:23), however Saint Irenaeus of Lyon highlights that we are simply immature, and unable to eat the solid bread of immortality. The Lord came down on earth in a way we are able to see and understand - we would not have been able to withstand God's presence in all His glory. 'For this reason, the one who was the perfect bread of the Father offered himself to us as milk for children.' Our Lord and Saviour, in this way, re-builds the broken bridge between divinity and humanity, giving us the opportunity through this milk, of being able to partake of the bread of immortality. (1 Cor 3:2) Through spiritual growth, we can pass through this stage of immaturity and reach the true goal of man - theosis, complete unity with the Source of Life and Love. Christ makes this a reality, and this goal of mankind possible and attainable. 

Sources : 'God and Man', Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
                ' Against Heresies - Book IV, Chapter 38 ' ,  St Irenaeus of Lyon

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Reflecting on the Church - Part 1


  • We often use the term 'Church' vaguely, without much thought or understanding. Sometimes we may put too much emphasis on the Church as a visible organisation, or at times we may question how necessary the Church is for salvation and for a relationship with Christ. I will compose a few posts consisting of thoughts on the Church; this piece being the first of the short series. The following 'Reflecting on the Church' post will be a short debate/dialogue with a fellow blogger, theology student and friend on the importance of Scripture and Holy Tradition within the Church. 


'He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother'..
 - St Cyprian of Carthage

St Cyprian asserts that it is only within the Church, as our Mother, and as the body of Christ, that we can have a full and pure relationship with God, our 'Father in Heaven.' (Matt 6:9) The invocation and descent of the Holy Spirit upon all human beings, and the apostolic way of making the content of the Scripture explicit on the basis of its sacramental and spiritual application in the lives of the faithful ( in other words Holy Tradition) cannot exist and take place outwith the community of the faithful - the Church. The Holy Tradition of the Church, as revelatory work of the Holy Spirit carried out and transmitted through time, ensures stability, validity, and orthodox apostolic teaching of the Scriptures, within Christ's body.

'The Church is the dialogue of God with the faithful through Christ in the Holy Spirit..'
 - Dimitru Staniloae

Although Christ, our Saviour and Lord, died, rose again, and  ascending into Heaven, He is not separated from His humanity, but remains in it. The light of the resurrection of Christ lights the Church, and the joy of the resurrection , which is the triumph over death, fills it. The risen Lord lives with us; with the life of the Church being a mysterious life in Christ. Christians bear that name precisely because they belong to Christ, and live in Christ - in His body. Christ did not simply approach humanity, but became one with it. The Church is this unity of life with Him - hence Saint Paul describes this unity by comparing it with the relations between a bride and bridegroom. The Church consists of perfect unity of life, with everlasting fullness. The Church is life in Christ, and as Christians, Christ is indeed within us : 'It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.' (Gal 2:20) The Church is the work of the Incarnation of Christ - deifying human nature ( with Christ being fully human and fully divine ). The body of Christ also requires the work of the Holy Spirit. In the form of tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and the world on the day of Pentecost - it is through the Holy Spirit by which we become children of the Father, revealing Christ within us. Really, there can be no satisfactory definition of the Church, but one recognises what the Church is and means when participating in this life in Christ, and experiencing it by grace. We must remember that the Church, in its essence as a divine-human entity, belongs to the realm of the divine. A very important and popular phrase is that the Church is in this world, but not of it!

'Christians must live in this world, but they are not of this world. As the Father sent Christ into this world to minister, so He sends believers to be ministers in the world'
- Titus (3:1-8) Commenting on John 17:14-18

The true life of the Church, lifts us up into the spiritual realm, making us citizens of the heavenly world. This is the life of faith, 'the conviction of things not seen' (Heb 11:1) Everyone who approaches this opportunity of life in Christ will experience this reality of the inner, hidden man - our ecclesial mode of existence, which transcends our biological and worldly mode of existence.

'Let us Love one another, that with one mind we may confess'
 - Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom

So far, we have understood the Church to be the Kingdom of God, experienced on earth. The Kingdom of God is a divine reality, of God's presence through Christ and the Holy Spirit. (Rom 14:17) As Christians, we participate in the Lord's Kingdom through the sacramental mysteries of the faith. Even though Christ's rule will come at the end of time, with the Lord filling all creation, 'all, and in all' (Col 3:11), within Christ's body we can truly experience this joy to come through our communion with Him.  Abba Evagrius writes 'the Kingdom of God is knowledge of the Holy Trinity,' and within the Divine Liturgy we hear the important words 'Let us Love one another' in order to confess this faith.. of our Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is significant that we hear this command, as there is no discrepancy between dogma and love, or between faith and works. 'Whoever says I love God and hates his brother is a liar.' (St John the Evangelist) This is where we see the Church as a reflection of the Holy Trinity, as we should love one another as one united body of Christ, just as our God is Trinity; an eternal, united and loving relationship. (1 John 4:8)  Love is what defines the Church, as we are one united communion under the Triune God.



Sources : 'The Orthodox Church' by Sergius Bulgakov
                'Journey to the Kingdom' by Vassilios Papavassiliou
                ' The Experience of God' by Dimitru Staniloae
                 oca.org ( Orthodox Church in America )

Friday, 5 December 2014

Galatians 1

In Saint Paul's Epistle to the Galatians,  he affirms the true Gospel of Christ, as a result of false teachers claiming that Christians must follow the laws of the Old Covenant. So, Paul writes to the people of Galatia in order to call them back to the true faith in Christ. He does this by defending his Apostolic authority, discussing the gift of the Holy Spirit within the Church, explaining the Cross of Christ and the life of Faith.

Galatians 1 :
St Paul asserts his authority as a chosen Apostle of God, highlighting that The true Gospel which he preaches is 'not according to man', but has come about through the revelation of Christ. The false teachers had argued that Paul was not a true apostle, and so St Paul reassures his faithful of Galatia that the source of his apostleship is God, and this is confirmed by his founding of the Galatian churches, as well as the fact he had witnessed Christ in person.

 - This group who were perverting the message of the true Gospel would certainly have had Jewish affiliations, as they were in favour of circumcision and the laws of the Old Covenant, however they were also believers of Christ in that they were preaching a gospel. The Apostle Paul therefore stresses the importance of recognising the true 'good news' of Christ, and His Orthodox Church. St Paul emphasises that although many declare themselves as apostles, we can easily verify who are true apostles of Christ, and consequently easily recognise the true Orthodox Church.

Verses 13-17 highlight that people are called to God and to His Church through grace, rather than according to their former conduct ( good or bad ). Paul, whom God called in mercy, received grace from Ananias' hands ( Ananias being a disciple of Christ, Acts 9:10-19) and the waters of Baptism. The separation from the womb in v.15 refers not to St Paul's physical birth, but to the Lord's calling, to apostolic ministry before he was even born ( Ps 138:15, 16, Is 49:1, Jer 1:5, Lk 1:35). God's will transcends time, and so His intentions for a person may lie hidden for years but are eventually realised and take place when the time is right.
In verses 18-20 we read that Paul submits himself to the Church and his fellow apostles. He unites the apostleship of the Church, highlighting the importance of the same teaching of the Gospel preached throughout the Church, by her divinely inspired apostles and teachers.


Thursday, 27 November 2014

Social Trinitarianism


Social Trinitarianism is the application of the Trinitarian doctrine to the practice of human relationships. The Triune doctrine of God, ‘encourages us to discover our roles as we participate in God.’ These roles, or relationships, within a loving communion (the Christian community) are a reflection of Trinitarian communion. In this essay I will show that it is necessary for us to base social trinitarianism on patristic teaching, elaborated upon, and explained by writers such as Zizioulas, Florensky and Staniloae. These Orthodox theologians, (even though their writings differ to an extent) share the important principle of divine-human communion as their ‘fundamental axiom’ for their application of the Trinitarian doctrine to human relationships. This essay will highlight that it is only through a loving relationship and communion with the Triune God, (this communion being the spiritual life within the Church as a eucharistic body) that we can then see and reflect upon our relationships as human beings in light of the consubstantial and undivided Trinity. I will briefly discuss, and refute, the rationalistic approach - emphasising that we cannot base our understanding of the Trinity and its social implications on human reason and logic, but rather on our personal communion with God. For this reason, I will use Florensky’s letter ‘On Triunity’, followed by the writings of Zizioulas and Staniloae.

For Florensky, the word ὁμοούσιος (homoousios), meaning consubstantiality, is at the very centre of Christian life. The Baptismal formula..’in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit’ is ‘unquestionably the unfolding of the word homoousios.’ Christian life-understanding grows from consubstantiality, as it is an expression of this antinomic seed of faith, in the Triune God. We say ‘in the name’, rather than ‘in the names’ - highlighting that there is indeed One consubstantial and undivided God. The formula of one essence and three hypostases (which is proclaimed by St Basil the Great in his 38th Epistle, as well as St Gregory of Nyssa in his ‘Great Cathechism’) is important in that it identifies and distinguishes the two terms. However Florensky argues we cannot describe with words or with reason, the ‘ineffable depth of mystery : how one and the same thing is both countable and evades counting..’  

When discussing the Trinitarian theology of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria and St Gregory of Nazianzus Florensky writes that reason could never have arrived at this possibility of unity in Trinity, and Trinity in unity. It is through their faith, and relationship with the Trinity, that they were guided to the knowledge of Truth. Rational constructions do not bring any Trinitarian understanding - so our knowledge must be divinely inspired, and transcend mathematical reason. We need ‘something new, something unheard-of and higher.’ Knowledge of the Trinity and our understanding of our human relations in reflection of the Triune God, is found not in human reason, but is obtained from a ‘higher step.’This is reaching the highest form of understanding; which Florensky names ‘Christian-life understanding’. However, reason, understood as the processes of thought and the laws of logic, is the foundation of Western philosophy, with its roots in both Aristotle and Aquinas,as well as Descartes - and it upon this modern philosophy of reason that much of western social trinitarianism is based: 

In the modern, German theological tradition, knowledge of God is seen as a problem, that has to be solved within the limits of human reason and comprehensibility - as opposed to a mystery that should be revered above and beyond human thought. This position reflects a way of thinking that is specific to modernity. The issue here is, that the human being (along with his limitations) is at the very centre of the problem solving, rather than the spiritual communal mode of existence, which is transcendent - because a communion with the very Triune God is obtained. It is important to remember that theology is indeed a mystery, and its function is to bring to light this mystery of the Truth - God. We cannot solve it as if it were a mystery in the contemporary sense.

Florensky urges us to go beyond rationality, and reach this step of faith which is ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ ( Heb 11:1 ) For Florensky, faith in the Triune God is truth itself. We do not possess the truth. God is The Truth. When a person puts all their trust in, and places their heart in God, then they become one with Truth. This is when we are true images of God, and as a Christian community reflect the relational love within the Trinity. The main definition of social Trinitarianism is the application of the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, to personal and human relationships; this is the purest and clearest form of relationship - a full communion with God, (which leads to communion and love within humanity) the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6) ‘Human beings are called to rise above all mechanisms of egoism and live their vocation of communion.’

‘The communal life of the Church, reflecting the Triune God, is the way in which we gain the ability to ‘hear, accept, and know the Truth in its inherent shining, not in the natural light of human reason.’ ( Vladimir Lossky)
Liturgical and spiritual life of the Church is the heart of human activity for Florensky, Zizioulas and the fathers, ( ‘homo liturgus' as Florensky writes). Without this spiritual mode of existence or ‘ecclesial’   way of life (which transcends human reason and restrictiveness) we do not fulfil our very purpose and potential, as images of God. It is through our life in communion with God that we attain the Truth - and we encounter the ‘other world’, or rather the True and eternal ‘world’, of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Social Trinitarianism is based upon core Trinitarian theology: God as one divine being, as Three Persons. These personal properties are relational, and there is περιχώρησις ( mutual indwelling of  the Three Persons ), and coinherence. (John 17:20-21)  Zizioulas elaborates on the theology of the Cappadocian Fathers, telling us that the Divine persons are three individualities in One being - and the Eucharistic body of the Church is analogous to this. We are all unique individuals, as one body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27), just as the Holy Trinity is one in essence, yet undivided. Zizioulas emphasises that there is no true being without communion; nothing exists as an individual in itself - and so being a person means to be in relation, communion and in community. As a reflection of the divine Persons of the Trinity, we should open up to the other, or as Zizioulas puts it - ‘ekstasis’ (going out of one’s self). ‘The idea of ekstasis signifies that God is love’ and is directly connected to both the Trinity and our goal as images of God ( apparent in the writings of St Maximus the confessor and St Dionysius).
Within the Christian community itself, our relationships should be analogous to the divine relations of the Trinity. Like Zizioulas, Staniloae’s view of the Triune God and His reflection within our daily lives and community, is fully communal as ‘God is Love.’ (1 John 4:8) The Trinity is the very origin of Love. Staniloae highlights that Love finds its explanation in the fact that as relational, communal human beings, we are created in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity. He indicates the ‘inner coherence of dogmatic truth’ (Kallistos Ware, from the foreword) and the significance of the Trinitarian dogma for the personal life of Christians. By elaborating on St Dionysios the Areopagite’s view, he tells us that only a God Who is relational, and personal, can explain the reality of human relations - and Staniloae’s writings show us that relationships such as fatherhood and sonship, are brought to perfection through the work of the divine Spirit. In other words, our relationships receive a spiritual quality through the consubstantial and undivided Trinity. It is within this eternal and infinite loving communion of the Godhead, that we are assured of communion with God and with one another. This is the very foundation of our spiritual growth.  ‘The revelation of the Trinity, occasioned by the incarnation and earthly activity of the Son, has no other purpose than to draw us after grace, to draw us through the Holy Spirit into the filial relationship the Son has with the Father.’ Consequently, through these acts of revelation which save and deify, we are raised ‘up into the communion with the persons of the Holy Trinity.’ Saint Basil the Great says that in the persons of the Holy Trinity ‘a continuous and infinite community’ is visible - and of course the Church, Christ’s body, is analogous to this.

Yannaras also highlights how our human relations reflect the Trinitarian doctrine : ’Our participation and communion in the energies of God acquaints us with the otherness of the Three personal hypostases.’  Just as every human being has common energies, such as the capacity to love and to create, it is through these energies that we understand what it means to be human beings as a whole. Yet, at the same time, all human beings express themselves in unique ways, or modes. Hence we characterise mode of existence as personal; and we can relate to this as human beings, made in the image and likeness of God. He imparts being and life to the whole world, calling us in loving relationship and erotic communion.

In the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, before the recital of the Creed, we sing ‘Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided.’ As a communion of people, as the one body of Christ, we are ‘called to acquire the relationship of love and unity we find in the Trinity.’ ‘We may all be one, as He and the Father are One.’ (John 17:21)

To conclude, the Orthodox theologians cited in this essay, arrive at a similar conclusion (although from different approaches, depending on context). In keeping with the overall argument of this essay, they agree that our relationships within the Christian community (as a spiritual and ecclesial way of life) are indeed a reflection of the persons of the Holy Trinity - one Godhead. ‘The perspectives offered..route to the same conclusion…it is only through an identification with communion that truth can be reconciled with ontology,’ and only through this can we truly compare, and make an analogous link from the Triune God, to our human relations within the Church.




Bibliography:

Florensky, P 1997, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, New Jersey : Princeton Press, p. 41-47.
Zizioulas, D 1985, Being as Communion, London : DLT , p. 53,91-92.
Papavasilliou V 2012, Journey to the Kingdom, Brewster : Paraclete Press, p. 99.
Yannaras, C 2005, On the absence and unknowability of God, London : T&T Clark, p.84-85.
Staniloae, D 1998, The Experience of God, Brookline : HC, p.245-249.
Papanikolaou, A - in The Cambridge Companion to The Trinity, 2011, Cambridge:CUP, p.253.
Boff, L 1988, Trinity and Society, New York :Orbis, p.236.
Dempsey, M 2011, Trinity and Election in Contemporary Theology, Cambridge:Eerdmans, p.23, 242-243.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Eucharist in the Early Church

Κυριακόν Δείπνον - The Lord’s Meal (1 Cor 11:20)
Αναμνησεις - Memorial (Mark 14:22-25) and Synoptic parallels
Ευχαριστία - Thanksgiving/to give thanks - 1 Cor 10:6, 1 Cor 11:24

Αγάπη - Feast of Love - 1 Cor 11:17, Jude 12
Κοινωνία - Communion - 1 Cor 10:16

Pliny to Trajan ( non-Christian account)  : It is meal that Christians have together. They assemble as Christians, make an oath not to break their word, not to commit a crime or do any wrong,  and promise to keep the commandments before they partake of the meal.  ( this is probably because of the context, as Christians were being accused of a number of crimes such as canabilism, and other sexual acts, so they make an oath, stating that they do not harm anyone) This account also speaks of the Liturgy of the Word, and the eating of 'harmless food' on a separate occasion, being the Liturgy and celebration of the Eucharist.

Ignatius of Antioch: Letter to the Romans 7
St Ignatius' theology certainly matches the theology of Irenaeus, telling us that as followers of Christ, we drink Christ’s incorruptible blood,  and partake in the meal of Love.  
‘I take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who is the seed of David; and for drink I want his blood, which is incorruptible love.’

Justin Martyr - First Apology 65-67

Justin describes the Liturgical life of the Church - consisting of preaching ( a sermon which was quite often morally based ), intercessory prayers, the kiss of peace (reconciling each others mistakes, before approaching the Holy Gifts on the Altar) and he uses the phrase ‘the one Presiding’ - probably to explain the role of the clergyman to non-Christians. 
  • Justin puts an emphasis on having to keep the commandments, in order to partake of the Eucharist
  • He also stresses the importance of ‘Amen’ during the Eucharistic Liturgy
  • While the consecrated bread and wine is distributed, a collection takes place for the orphans and so on, and then the deacons would distribute the Holy gifts out to the faithful who are unable to attend the Liturgy.
  • Justin says that it is indeed the flesh and blood of Christ, and should not be shared with non-Christians.
  • The Eucharist unfolds everything that God does and keeps doing for us, and of course links Heaven with earth.

Irenaeus - Against the Heresies 4.17.5
The Eucharist gives back the fruits of the Creation to God, as we receive back the fruits of the new creation, in other words Christ.

Christ dwells among us, and in this continual exchange we return the gifts back to God, and He sends down His life-giving gifts. St Irenaeus of Lyon highlights that Holy Communion is a pure sacrifice of thanksgiving, without blood. Irenaeus draws many sources  of his time regarding the Eucharist together, concluding that it is a sacrifice of salvation, a memorial of the things that have not yet happened - in other words a foretaste of the very Kingdom of God, awaiting the eternal feast with Christ.

Hippolytus describes meetings which involve people celebrating the meal of the Lord in a very controversial and unorthodox way - with the basis of the meeting to show off who has the money and means to bring the best of food and wine ( and this is why we read St Paul complaining about this non-Eucharistic Lord’s supper that is going on within some communities)  This of course created problems, as there was no sharing taking place, it was simply a competitive feast - far from the truth of the Eucharist. This is why Bishops had to emphasise that without their blessing, the Lord’s supper is not valid. Church order was, and is essential, because people were losing site of the truth of the Eucharist. A Eucharist which points out distinctions of rich and poor and does not bring the community together has something very much wrong with it.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Pneumatology - St Gregory of Nazianzus & Hendrikus Berkhof

Gregory of Nazianzus, and Hendrikus Berkhof on Pneumatology
( ‘Theological Orations’ & ’Spirit and Participation' )
  • All Quotation marks refer to the relative text
Saint Gregory’s Homily highlights that the Holy Spirit is indeed the third person of the Holy Trinity, in perfect unity with the Father and Son as One Godhead. There is no deficiency, but rather mutual relation between the Spirit, and the Father and Son - in other words perfect and undivided  ‘relations one to another’, within the Triune God. The Spirit is consubstantial - as He is God and (referring to the Persons of the Holy Trinity) ‘springs from the same Source.’  From the Spirit ‘comes our new birth’ leading to new creation and a full knowledge of God.  St Gregory realises that there appears to be a lack of Scriptural reference to pneumatology, however he clarifies that the manifestation of the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit is indeed present within the Gospels, and throughout the life of Christ on earth. ‘He is baptised; the Spirit bears witness. He is tempted; the Spirit leads Him up. He works miracles; the Spirit accompanies Him..’ For Gregory, the Spirit has appeared to us in fullness and clarity, through the incarnation of the Logos (the Saviour and second person of the Holy Trinity). ‘Now the Spirit dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself (Oratio 31.26) 


Hendrikus Berkhof asks three central questions regarding pneumatology, the first being :
  1. From what perspective do we gain access to the essence of the Spirit?

Liberal protestantism begins from the common content, and structure of a person’s spiritual life, however both the Orthodox and R.Catholic Churches will argue that the very essence of the Holy Spirit works through the Church, from generation to generation - and this is exactly what Church tradition is. Tradition is the depositing of the Holy Spirit through time, passed down through the Bishops by Apostolic succession. Saint Gregory of Nazianzus would argue that the Holy Spirit is best known and is seen in fullness within the Church, the body of Christ, as opposed to beginning our understanding of the Holy Spirit through our own personal thought and reflection ( even though the Holy Spirit does indeed dwell in us all (1 Cor 3:16), but especially when we are in unity, and communion with one another within the Church).  It is within the Eucharistic community that we truly experience and witness the Holy Spirit acting, as the παράκλητος (paraclete) - our Comforter. 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Does it make sense to talk of Christian Orthodoxy before Constantine?

In this essay, I will argue that it does indeed make sense to talk of Christian Orthodoxy before Constantine. There is a clear ‘true and life-giving faith, which the Church received from the apostles and which She transmits to her children’[1] united as one Eucharistic communion. This essay will highlight that Christian Orthodoxy is ensured and safeguarded in the early Church, by the Eucharist itself, which preserves the true faith and unity within the one body of Christ. Firstly, I will introduce Irenaeus’ writings which discern Orthodoxy, by the unbreakable and infallible holy apostolic Tradition of the Church – explaining that this Tradition is the deposit of the Holy Spirit through time. This will lead to my discussion on the Eucharistic assembly of Christ, being the eternal communion of the Church that keeps Her united, as one faith and one body.
Perhaps the most obvious place in which we may discern the presence of the notion of Orthodoxy in early patristic literature, is in the writings of St Irenaeus of Lyon, in the year 180AD:
‘All who wish to see the truth have at hand and can perceive the tradition of the apostles made manifest in all the world in the whole Church and we are able to enumerate those who were appointed bishops in the churches by the apostles and their successors down to our time..’[2]
Irenaeus highlights that Orthodoxy is ensured through apostolic succession – in that the correct and holy teaching of the Church is handed down from generation to generation, through the Holy Spirit. He has this clear concept of Orthodoxy, and from this concept it is therefore possible to speak about Christian Orthodoxy in the early Church. This holy Tradition preserves the Church’s validity and apostolicity – guarding it from heresy. Irenaeus believes in ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’ (which is proclaimed in the Nicene Creed, over 100 years later at the First Ecumenical Council) telling us that ‘the Church, having received this preaching, and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points of doctrine just as if she had but one soul.’[3]
 In this period, the Church, as one body (1 Cor 12:27) proclaims the one Gospel of truth in unity and harmony, regardless of location – as it continues to do so today. The Early Church’s members ‘were encouraged to think of themselves as an extended family’[4] – all ‘one in Christ Jesus.’ (Gal 3:28) The fact that several doctrines had not yet been officially clarified and refined in the early Church, is simply an issue of time and theological discussion. ‘It was the development and refinement of these proper beliefs ( referring to the apostolic teachings and tradition in the Early Church) that ultimately led to the orthodox doctrine of Christ as fully God and fully man..and to the doctrine of the Trinity.’[5] These refinements and clarifications gradually took place through the life of the Church, especially in reply to heresies – however the fundamental Orthodox faith is founded upon and derives from Christ Himself, through His apostles on Pentecost. Orthodoxy (meaning correct faith and worship) is passed on by the Holy Spirit, which is bestowed upon the apostles, through to the early Church and its bishops. This can be seen through the Church’s consistency during this period, as the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit is deposited to the teachers, martyrs and saints. (1 Cor 12:28) Founded by Christ and His apostles, the Church is indeed Orthodox as it carries and bears the right doctrines, the true teaching and worship. ‘For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth.’[6]
The apostles of Christ, who ‘were filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:4) through to today’s bishops, do not simply possess authority but also charisma by virtue of their ordination. Clement introduces us to this process, as ‘God sends Christ – Christ sends the apostles – the apostles transmit the message of Christ’[7] by establishing the visible Church. The bishops uphold and carry the Orthodox faith with them in the early Church, and Saint Ignatius of Antioch emphasises their great importance. ‘As many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are the bishop’[8] for the bishops who are successors of the holy apostles, are representatives of Christ Himself. The bishop therefore validates the Eucharist and the preaching of the Orthodox faith, and through the bishop’s consent and blessing the Church is able to carry out its work and mission in this period of growth. ‘Do nothing without the bishop.’[9]
‘Following the instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ..the apostles went with the assurance of the Holy Spirit to announce everywhere the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. In the various villages and cities they proclaimed the word..and established bishops and deacons (Επισκόπους και Διακόνους) for the future believers.’[10]
We may ask ourselves why this Holy Tradition, (the deposit of the Holy Spirit) passed on through time, is so important, and what connection it has to being sure of Christian Orthodoxy? Is this apostolic Tradition, which Irenaeus promotes, necessarily scriptural? ‘It is clear that the deposit of the Tradition which was revealed to the prophets in the Old Testament, was consecrated in the incarnation of the Word, and is active in the purification, illumination and theosis of the faithful in the Church.’[11] The Holy Tradition is not separate or different from the Holy Scriptures – but is contained in them, and is identical to the entire manifestation of the Church. The Tradition, and the deposit of true faith only exists within the Church – as Christ is the vine in which the branches abide and bear fruit. For this reason Christ is fully present and can be understood within the Holy Scriptures, only when we read and interpret them within the Church.[12] This is why Irenaeus argues that those who turn away from Christ’s Church, and its holy apostolic tradition ‘are neither nourished into life..nor do they enjoy that most limpid fountain which issues from the body of Christ; but they dig for themselves broken cisterns (Jer 2:13) out of earthly trenches..fleeing from the faith of the Church..rejecting the Spirit, that they may not be instructed.’ [13]
Throughout history, heresies have often appeared from certain individuals who, rather egoistically, believe that they are being called to, and chosen for a certain position, in order to share their personal ideas and views. Irenaeus warns us of this and tells us that we must not seek truth from individuals, but from the divine proof of the Church, ‘since the apostles, like a rich man depositing his money in a bank, delivered into her hands in the fullest measure the whole truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life.’[14]
This Orthodox unity which is being spoken of in this period’s patristic writings is not only a visible, historical unity, but primarily a Eucharistic unity. The Church is united in communion ‘as we are one’ (John 17:11). It is the Eucharistic unity that refutes and surpasses the ideas of separation and antagonism between the early Christian groups (for example various pagan converts, alongside Jewish Christian groups). ‘Only if we regard the Eucharist as the revelation of the Church in her ideal and historical unity, and the bishop first and foremost as the leader and head of the eucharist assembly which unites the Church of God in space and time, do we recognise in each of these their profound ecclesiological content.’[15] Rather than viewing the Eucharist as simply one of the seven sacraments, and simply a means to salvation, Zizioulas highlights that it is indeed ‘the very expression of salvation which essentially consists in the union of man with God and Christ.’[16] This is the true eternal unity of the Church, which can be seen in this early period. The unity of faith is a presupposition of this greater Eucharistic unity. If the various Christians and churches do not recognise themselves as united in faith, they would not have been united in communion. ‘Only during the sacrament of the divine Eucharist do we have a certain perceptible portrayal of the mystic union and incorporation of Christ with the faithful members of His body who are in communion with Him.’[17] Not only is the early Church united by an abstract isomorphism of beliefs, but when we speak of Orthodoxy we are talking about true, real-life unity in Christ.
This can be seen by looking at the worship of the early Church. Worship, of course, consists of prayers, scriptural readings and hymns – however at the centre of it all is the ‘Giving Thanks,’ (Ευχαριστία).[18] ‘And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread.’(Acts 2:42) Regular participation in the Eucharistic meal  'was a hallmark of the earliest communities.’[19] The Eucharistic celebration, because it is the communion of the united body of Christ, is only partaken by baptised followers of the Lord in the early Church. The Eucharist gathers all Christians into one heavenly assembly, reflecting the Kingdom of God. (Heb 12:22-24) For this reason, confession and reconciliation precedes the celebration, as communion in Christ means love. In fact during this period, the fellowship meal is referred to as ‘Αγάπη’ – divine love. It is the ‘Φάρμακον Αθανασίας,[20] and ‘love incorruptible.’[21]
Although early Christian worship takes place in various communities and in family homes, the participation in the ‘eschatological banquet in which Jesus and his followers would share when he returns in glory’[22] means that the whole Church comes together, receiving the ‘body and blood of the Lord’ (1 Cor 11:27) in communion, in a united orthodox faith, and in love. ‘The Church has always felt herself united..in faith, in love, in the one baptism, in the holiness of life’ but of course all these things are ‘incorporated in the Eucharist.’[23]
Regardless of background or location, the early Church is seen to be one family in Christ – who share in the one Orthodox faith, and in the Eucharistic cup of salvation and love. The early fathers of the Church emphasise that the union and equality of Jewish and Gentile Christian believers is this mystery which is revealed in the Gospel.[24] ‘There is one body and one spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.’[25]
To conclude, I have shown through the writings of Irenaeus and other early fathers, as well as from the holy Scriptures and other sources, that it does make sense to talk of Christian Orthodoxy before Constantine – within the one Eucharistic body of Christ, through its Holy apostolic Tradition.
Bibliography:
A New Eusebius, 1987, London:SPCK, p 109-118.
Davidson, I, 2005, The Birth of the ChurchOxford:Monarch Books, 112.
Ehrman,B 2003, Lost ChristianitiesOxford:OUP, 151.
Karmiris,J 1960, Summary of the Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church (in Greek), 80.
Mackinnon, J 1936, From Christ to ConstantineLondon:Longmans,214-215.
Romanides, J 2004, An Outline of Orthodox Patristic DogmaticsRollinsford:ORI, 89-91.
Zizioulas, J 1985, Being as Communion, London : DLT , p. 173.
Zizioulas, J 2001, Eucharist, Bishop, Church, Boston:Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Introduction.




[1] Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.1.


[2] Irenaeus, III.3.1


[3] Irenaeus, I.3


[4] Ivor J.Davidson, The Birth of the Church (Oxford:Monarch Books, 2005) 112.


[5] Bart D.Ehrman, Lost Christianities (Oxford:OUP, 2003) 151.


[6]  Irenaeus, III.38.I


[7] John Zizioulas, Being as Communion (London:DLT, 2004) 173.


[8] Eph.6.


 [9] Philad.7.


[10] I Clement 42:2-4.


[11] John Romanides, An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics (Rollinsford:ORI,2004) 89-90.


[12] Romanides, An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics, 89-91.


[13] Irenaeus, III.38.I


[14] Irenaeus, III.4.1


[15] John Zizioulas, Eucharist, Bishop, Church (Boston:Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001) Introduction.


[16] Zizioulas, Eucharist, Bishop, Church, Introduction.


[17] Karmiris, Summary of the Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church (in Greek), (1960) 80.


[18] Davidson, The Birth of the Church, 117-120.


[19] Davidson, The Birth of the Church, 121.


[20] Eph.20.


[21] Rom.7.


[22] Davidson, The Birth of the Church, 122.


[23] Zizioulas, Eucharist, Bishop, Church, Introduction.


[24] James Mackinnon, From Christ to Constantine (London:Longmans,1936) 214-215.



Eph 4.4-6.