Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

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.


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 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.
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.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Ecclesiology - Early Church

Ecclesiology - Thinking about the Church - its nature, role, structure, practice - and working with both theological convictions and historical realities.

St Clement of Rome, in his First epistle to Corinthians, 42:1-4 (c.96),  argues fiercely for unity in the Church. He writes on the distinct roles (the clergy) , with emphasis on a clear apostolic origin - which is seen as one of the first direct claims for apostolic succession. He writes that from Christ comes the Apostles,then the Bishops.. The Church as 'the New Israel' is modelled after the Old Israel, with reference to the Old Testament Scriptures.
St Ignatius of Antioch, in his letter to the Ephesians (c.110) tells us that unity is guaranteed through obedience to the Bishop:
‘Christ is the mind of the Father, just as the bishops appointed throughout the world are in the mind of Christ..your council of presbyters..’
His letter to the Magnesians also highlights this. As our Lord and Saviour Christ did nothing without the Father, you must not do anything without the bishops and presbyters he writes. 
In his letter to the Smyrnaeuans (c.110) : 'Only the Eucharist which is under the authority of the bishop is valid - and nobody must do anything without the blessing of the bishop'

The Didache (c.110) gives a manual of church order - and reflects on the Church’s nature, as communion:
‘Just as this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and then was gathered together and was made one, so may your church be gathered together from the end of the earth into your kingdom’ ( a reflective prayer at the Eucharist )

Epistle to Diognetus explains the Church to outsiders.
This is where we read that Christians dwell in the world but are not of it:
‘The soul is locked up in the body, but it holds the body together; and .. Christians are detained in the world as if in a prison…’

Justin Martyr - writes to the emperor explaining that Christians differ with regards to belief, but can only act out of goodness within society and will indeed be a benefit to his empire. 

St Irenaeus of Lyons - reacting to Gnostic and Marcionite heresy, stresses that unbroken truth is grounded in Scripture and Apostolic Succession.

He links the unity of the Church, with the fact that it carries The Truth. It is unified as one body of Christ, because it is the Truth. Furthermore, we also see a comparison between the Virgin Mary, and Eve - emphasising a fulfilment in the life of the Theotokos, a renewal , a new life brought through the incarnation of her Son and God, Christ. The Mother of God covers up the deep wounds that Eve had brought upon humanity.

St Cyprian of Carthage (d.258)

‘There is one head, one source, one mother, boundlessly fruitful….
of her womb we are born, by her milk we are nourished, by her breath we are quickened.’
‘If you leave the Church of Christ you will be an alien, an outcast..’
‘To break the peace and concord of the Church is to go against Christ.’
An extract from the 'Unity of the Catholic Church' (c.251) 

Origen of Alexandria (d.254)

Origen proclaims that the Church is bound up mysteriously with Christ - and uses images from his allegorical reading of Scripture, the bride, temple, ark,  jerusalem, city, vine , and vineyard - to describe the nature and meaning of the Church.

Council of Constantinople (381) ...' We believe in one , Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.' 

One - Unity, and truth - as we have read from Irenaeus, the Church is one because it is the Truth.
Holy - Body of Christ, His Eucharistic Body
Catholic - Universal, for all nations
Apostolic - Succession of truth, guaranteed by the work of the Holy Spirit through time, from generation to generation through bishops (Apostolic Succession) and their deacons and presbyters.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Christology : Cyril of Alexandria

Cyril of Alexandria, and John Macquarrie on Christology
( ‘Scholia on the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten & ’Problems of Christology’ )
  • All Quotation marks refer to the relative text, unless written otherwise

St Cyril of Alexandria, systematically explains to us the nature of Christ - the incarnate Word, and Emmanuel. Perhaps the name ‘Emmanuel’ best describes St Cyril’s Christology - as it highlights that God is with us; not because ‘there was a time when the Son was not’ (Arius), but because ‘He was made in our condition, i.e in human nature, without forsaking His own nature, for the Word of God is unchangeable in nature.’ Christ, the Emmanuel Who ‘took hold of the seed of Abraham’, Who is perfect in His both divine and human natures, distributes His goodness and fullness to the somewhat empty and unfulfilled human being. St Cyril emphasises Christ indeed being God, in one essence with the Father..’for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.’ (1 Cor 8:6) His piece of writing certainly reflects the Orthodox Christological position, that is officially expressed in both the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon - emphasising the fully divine and fully human natures of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and how He is indeed the eternal Son and Word of God, consubstantial with the Father. ‘I and the Father are one.’ ( John 10:30 ) Saint Cyril tells us that God Himself, has taken on human flesh and ‘become man, in order for us to become like God.’ (Cyril’s commentary on John 12:1) In other words the Lord gives us the opportunity, through His incarnation, to attain the full likeness of God - becoming one with Him. 

John Macquarrie on the other hand, deals with Christology that is centred around the historical Christ - and he discusses the problems that arise, with regard to both the theological and historical views on the person and nature of Jesus. Macquarrie argues that Peter’s confession heralded the start of Christology, and that it is this period of time that consisted of the clearest Christology, as it is when Jesus Himself was on this earth. St Cyril would argue that even though Christ lived on earth for a short period of time, He is very much present in every Christian’s life, and just as Peter and all the Apostles confessed His Holy name and had a loving relationship with Him (being the Source of Love and Life ) so can we today. It is important to remember that the apostles and servants of Christ did not obtain an understanding of Him through intellect - but primarily through their relationship with Him, and their strong belief and love for Him. I certainly agree with Macquarrie that early Christology, the Councils of the Early Church, and the Apostles teaching on Christ is far more accurate, and it is from these early clarifications and confessions of Orthodox Christology ( Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon ) that we have the ability to speak of Christ today. St Gregory of Nazianzus tells us that through history, we see a gradual revelation of God taking place, through Scriptures, Christ’s Church, and His Apostles and Saints - and this is what we can observe in the field of Christology.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Intercessions of the Saints

Asking the Saints to pray for us, is prefigured in the New Testament. Saint Paul often asks his fellow Christian Ephesians, Thessalonians, Colossians and Romans to pray for him :

'Brethren, pray for us' (1 Thes 5:25)

'And pray for us also, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison' (Col 4:3)

'I appeal to you brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.' (Rom 15:30-31)

The Saints are those who are in full communion with God : alive or physically dead - known or unknown. Fr Zacharias of Essex tells us that eternal life is a continuation of our loving relationship with Christ, with the only difference being that this relationship is fuller, and clearer. This means that the Saints who have passed away physically are indeed in full communion with Christ;  so just as we would ask our Christian friends ( who are physically present ) for their prayers and strength, we should certainly do the same with the Saints who lived and struggled, following the Lord, having reached the goal which is sanctification and unity with the Source of Life. (1 Cor 1:30) As humble servants of God, the Saints, through history, have shown us 'the way' (John 14:6) in which we should live a life in Christ, through their teaching, asceticism, struggle and miraculous lives. As an elder from the Holy Mountain said, the Saints are our solar lights in times of darkness, who lead us on the right path to Christ, The 'Light of the World.' (John 8:12) In our spiritual lives, we do not make decisions, and live according to our own judgements, but we take advice from our fellow Christians and struggle, pray and learn as a communion of people in one body (Rom 12:5). The Saints are examples to us all - that as sinners and unworthy servants of God, we can indeed trample down upon death (Paschal Troparion) with the Risen Christ, and live with Him in eternal communion and unity. From their example, we are given hope and reassurance that through 'fighting the good fight of faith' (1 Tim 6:12) our hearts can be cleansed, and our spirits can be renewed, (Psalm 50) no matter how sinful we are.

As St Basil writes, the Saints are our 'common friends of the human race, strong ambassadors and collaborators in fervent prayer.'  ( Letter 360 )

'We should seek intercessions and the fervent prayers of the saints because they have special boldness (parresia) before God.' St John Chrysostom

Monday, 3 November 2014

Circumcision - the Galatian Perspective

 - This short essay was written for the Course 'Paul and his Letters'
It is written from the perspective of the Galatian church and its people, considering circumcision. 

This piece of writing will explain why Paul’s letter has changed our minds entirely, as well as clarifying the meaning of our true faith in Christ - with regards to circumcision and the law, in light of visiting missionaries. Even though the decision to be circumcised is seen as a ‘safe option’, and would be seen as a sensible (pagan) offering, we are certain of our convictions, and put all our trust in the God of Abraham, of Moses, and of the good news preached by our Pastor Paul. Morally and pastorally, Paul has rightly persuaded us not to be circumcised. However his opponents were in favour of the idea, as it is part of the Law. Circumcision is a clear teaching of Moses ( the mouthpiece of the legislations from God ) but Paul solves this dilemma by explaining that the promise to the people of God was made before the Law of Moses, and is eternal for all nations. Therefore, circumcision does not in any way affect this promise, which has always had priority. 

‘You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.’ ( Gen 17:11 )
The missionaries who visited us in Galatia, were in favour of circumcision as the act had been commanded by God, through Abraham and Moses, and was a sacrifice pleasing to Him. For these heretical teachers, this was a way in which we obtained our salvation, however we have understood from Paul’s letter that this goes against true life in Christ - which is a life of freedom and love. Christ, through our Apostle Paul has transformed us and through him we have experienced Christ’s presence, and have grown in faith and communion with one another. Previously, we lived rather corrupt and immoral lives, however Paul has put us on the right path; and for this reason we trust his holy teachings. He has taught us that we are all sons of Abraham, because we have faith in the same God - Christ. Like Abraham, we are willing to give up everything for God and entrust ourselves to ‘Our Father’ ( Matt 6:9 ) in Heaven. However, we realise now that giving everything to God does not involve rules and regulations as such, but rather faith and love. Abraham himself, even though he was commanded to be circumcised, was justified by his faith and not by any physical act. His faith and trust in God occurred before his circumcision, highlighting that the act is the seal, as opposed to the cause of salvation. Circumcision did not play any part in his justification - it was his relationship and faithfulness to God the Word. The act was simply a temporary sign of faith ( ‘και σημείον ελαβεν περιτομής σφραγίδα της δικαιοσύνης της πίστεως της εν τη ακροβυστια,΄ Rom 4:11). The promise that was handed down to Abraham, applies to all human beings, regardless of physical differences. The Old Testament Scriptures foretell and lead us up to the incarnation of the Logos, and we see the promises of the prophets and the law being fulfilled in Christ Jesus. 

The law was our temporary childminder, leading up to the Incarnation of Christ. This temporary guide is no longer needed as we have Christ, Who sets us free from the necessities of the Law. Paganism is centred around rituals, and practice - as opposed to true spiritual life in Christ - so perhaps we should not dwell on practical laws, rather on our relationship with the Lord and Saviour. 

For Paul, freedom is the outcome of Christ’s work - and so he encourages us to cherish and abide in this freedom. In effect, we would be returning to our old condition of slavery, serving ‘the weak and base elements’ ( Gal 4:9 ) It is important to remember that Paul had brought the Gospel of Christ to our people of Galatia, as God’s representative ( Gal 1:15 ) so we must pay attention to his message. The Apostle Paul warns us that if we accept circumcision, we will not be fulfilled spiritually. This unnecessary act does not bring us the promise of inheritance, or freedom - we either choose to receive ‘all things’ ( 2 Peter 1:3 ) by Christ’s divine grace and power , or nothing at all by ignoring the Lord and adhering to the law. If we were to accept circumcision, then we would be Jewish and should therefore be subject to the law in its entirety. ( Gal 3:10 ) By becoming a Jew, we go back to the state of childhood, just like the child of Abraham, in a pre-Christ state. In Christ, ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek’ ( Gal 3:28 ) - however if we cast ourselves away from the Lord and Saviour, then barriers do exist and we revert back into our fallen state, without the Grace of God. The Church is one body of Christ ( 1 Cor 12 ) - a unified and undivided communion. In order to emphasise this, Paul highlights that Christianity is not centred around restrictive practices, and Jewish exclusiveness - but rather centred on faith in Christ, Who has broken these ethnic barriers. ‘All the nations of the earth shall be blessed.’ ( Gen 22:18 ) By giving the gentiles the ability to avoid circumcision, and food restrictions , this allows the Church to grow in freedom and - bridging a gap between the Jewish and pagan world. The heretical groups have told us that no gentile could call themselves a Christian unless they had first become a Jew, by submitting to circumcision and accepting the obligations of the law. Paul however, clarifies that membership of the Christian Church has nothing to do with observing the laws. Being a Christian is about rising above these dry laws , and fully committing ourselves to Christ. It is only through the Spirit, descending upon us, that we can act out of virtue and love. 

Chrysostom uses an analogy of choosing athletes, based on the basis of their skin colour. ‘So when a person is to be enrolled in the new covenant, the lack of these bodily trappings does no harm, just as they do no good if they be present.’ ‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any value, but faith working through love.’ ( Gen 5:6 ) We are told by Paul that if we wish to fulfil the law, of the Lord of hosts ( Mal 1:11 ) then we do this not by the act of circumcision, but in love. ( Gal 5:14 ) A simple physical act is meaningless, as it cannot change the state of our souls and hearts - however a spiritual life in Christ would truly cleanse us from our sins, as we await His salvation and great mercy. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ ( Matt 5:8 ) Therefore, it is in our spiritual interest to ‘walk by the Spirit’ rather than by the desires and interests of our flesh. ( Gal 5:16 ) Through Paul’s guidance, we proclaim that the seed which was promised to Abraham is indeed Christ ( Gen 3:16 ), and through Him we are granted a new life and creation, in freedom and in virtue. The new and eternal covenant ( Jer 32:40 ) surpasses all the laws and rules that mankind has been constrained to - and for this reason we urge our fellow Christians to not dwell on physical or ethnic differences such as circumcision, but rather concentrate on Christ, and our lives with Him, as one body.

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture - Galatians 2005, Illinois : IVP, p. 73.
Kuula, K 2003, The Law, the Covenant and God’s Plan, Helsinki : FES, p. 143-147.
Neil, W 1967, The Letter of Paul to the Galatians, Cambridge : CUP, p. 11-12.
Tarazi, P 1994, Galatians a Commentary, Crestwood : SVS, p. 265-270.
Wright, T 2009, Justification - God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, London : SPCK, p.104.