Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Holy Mountain

Mount Athos, 'the mountain of divine ascent', described as 'the highest place on earth' by Metropolitan Nikolaos, is unquestionably one of the most remarkable, unworldly, monastic, ascetic and uplifting areas of the world, 'yet its highest peak is humility'. The way of life, the peninsula's characteristics, and every detail is based upon the essential virtue of humility, with its exaltation flowing from this. 


Though nowadays, through media, we are able to see vigils, processions, even feasts or talks taking place within the Athonite Peninsula, it is important to remember the majority of monastics living on the Holy Mountain do so insignificantly; with minimal recognition,  yet lead a life filled with repentance and unceasing prayer incorporating the entire world, in stillness and isolation. The uniqueness of Athos is found here; rather than in its richness and popularity. The monk's endless offering to God on behalf of all, in peacefulness, tranquility and humility, in a natural environment is where the Holy Mountain can claim its otherness in comparison to the rest of the world. For through humility, Mount Athos can indeed be known and experienced as 'the highest place on earth.'




Monday, 28 December 2015

Apostle Stephen the Protomartyr

Saint Stephen, related to the Apostle Paul, was an early Christian convert from among the Hellenistic Jews. He was one of the first seven deacons to be ordained by the Apostles, serving the Church in Jerusalem. Known as 'the starting point of the martyrs,' Stephen was taken outside Jerusalem's walls and stoned to death. Saint Paul was in fact present, and the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Theologian witnessed his martyrdom from a nearby hill. The Holy Spirit worked through the Archdeacon Stephen in powerful ways, enabling him to perform miracles, and boldly confess the true faith in Christ.

Initially, Stephen's body was left at the location of his death, however Gamaliel, a teacher of the Apostles Barnabas and Paul, took the body to be properly buried. His burial place was soon forgotten, until 415 when Gamaliel appeared to a priest (fr Lucian) revealing to him the place of his burial. Father Lucian found the Apostles relics, which produced a sweet fragrance and were then taken to Jerusalem, where many were healed through their sanctity.

The Saint, as well as being commemorated on December the 27th, is also remembered on January the 4th, the Synaxis of the seventy Apostles. This holy servant of God, reminds us of the importance of boldness of faith, obediently sharing the Gospel with authority and humility. His speech, leading to his martyrdom, is centred on the teaching that God is not only present within one temple, but is everywhere. It also emphasises Jesus Christ's fulfilment of the law given to Moses. His love for God and neighbour was apparent, in his forgiveness towards those who persecuted him, as well as his voluntary death in the name of Christ; 'the way, the truth and the life.' (John 14:6) May the Apostle and Archdeacon Stephen confidently guide us, along with the ever-shining star of Bethlehem, towards the 'Sun of righteousness,' our eternal God.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

The Joy of Christmas

'Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people.' (Luke 2:10)

As Christmas day passes, the world is offered an opportunity to reflect upon the importance of joy in our lives. Students return home and are united with their families, people exchange wishes, gifts, share food and wine, and dedicate time for one another in order to celebrate this unique and festive day. Following particularly distressing and painful moments throughout the year; with terrorism, war and instability at the forefront of the world's affairs, the festive season offers glimmers of hope, unity and reconciliation. 



Though many choose to remain ignorant or are unaware, this day of joy is not founded on trees, reindeer and consumerism; but on God becoming man - the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This self-sacrifical act of love; God descending among us, offering and sharing His eternal joy and peace, is the very source of Christmas' everlasting celebratory spirit. Christmas, through its message and witness to the truth, offers humanity the only solution to our disastrous problems. The notions of giving to others, sharing, and rejoicing are not coincidentally practiced on this day, but are grounded on the very foundation of this feast. God becomes man not to punish us, or remind us of our mistakes and errors, but to unite with us in communion. The coming together at a Christmas table, the sharing of the food, and the setting aside of differences is nothing less than a very small taste of this universal and cosmic reality of God's presence among us. We should however, realise that in order for us to live our daily lives in peace, with 'good will toward men' (Luke 2:14) we must warmly accept Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, into our hearts and homes, bearing and sharing His self-sacrifical love continually. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, reminds us that peace and joy only come from God, and we are invited, especially on this day celebrating His birth and offering to us, to freely choose this way of life, distancing ourselves from the catastrophic traps of self-gain, discrimination and pride; all sources of evil. Instead, as the Ecumenical Patriarch's encyclical suggests, we are urged by our 'Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace,' (Is 9:6) humbly born in a stable, as a refugee Himself, to coexist with one another in harmony and joy, imitating Him, 'the Light of the World.' (John 8:12) 

Merry Christmas! 

Friday, 18 December 2015

The Soul for Aquinas and St Augustine

For Saint Augustine of Hippo, ensoulment is the basis of all life, and is directly linked to man's intellect. 'I see nothing else besides the soul, except God, in which I believe intellect to exist,' he writes. The soul also distinguishes animate from inanimate. Our senses are a result of the soul's existence, and this, for him, proves the immortality of the soul:

 'Do you think that he who does not live, can perceive and feel? It cannot be. It results then, that the soul lives ever.... 'Nor has it power to exercise sense, unless it lives. Therefore the soul always lives.'

At the time of physical death, Augustine confirms that 'the soul may be conducted out of the body unharmed, and guided to a place where it cannot be extinguished.' 

Science is eternal for Augustine - for what exists and is unchangeable must be eternal. Nothing in which an eternal thing exists, can be non-eternal or mortal. When we reason it cannot be the body, as when the mind thinks in contrast to bodily desires and needs it can turn away and reject them. He agues that nothing pertaining to the body is eternal, therefore cannot help the eternal mind, striving to understand beyond time and material. Without science, one simply cannot reason, for thought is 'right reasoning moving from the certain to the investigation of the uncertain.' Science is the knowledge of all things; and this proves, for Augustine, that the human mind and soul always lives. 

Over the course of his writings, Augustine does make a slight, yet important change to his views on the soul. Initially, the emphasis is on reason, and the soul ruling the human body. However, latterly, he places more importance on the unity of the body and soul; believing that the human being consists of a rational soul, controlling the body. He writes, the 'soul which has a body does not make two persons, but one human being.' Therefore there is a clear understanding of psychosomatic unity. He does continuously remain true to his platonic understanding of forms, where abstract ideas reside. There is evidently a clear distinction between material and immaterial substances; body and soul.

Thomas Aquinas, held similar views regarding the separable body and soul; material and immaterial. He does however take an Aristotelian viewpoint,with the idea of the soul being able to be abstractly separate from the body. For Aquinas, one argument in favour of the soul's immortality is the fact we can think abstractly about ideas out-with or beyond material substances around us. This is, for him, evidence of the soul being able to exist without attachment to the material world.  Aquinas argues that the soul, being a spiritual and immaterial entity, does not depend on matter and can exist separately from the body. He believes that human existence, in its perfect and ideal form, is in the dual nature of body and soul which relates to his belief in the resurrection. 

To conclude, although Aquinas discusses the sole from a different (Aristotelian) perspective, he certainly uses Augustinian theology in order to argue for the immortality and vitalness of the God-given soul. He offers Saint Augustine's understanding of the soul's nature, as 'the first principle of life of those things which live: for we call living things animate and those things which have no life, inanimate.' 



Sources:
Melanie Dorn, Augustine v Aquinas, in 'atanystreetcorner.wordpress.com.'
Aquinas, Summa Theologica, First Part Questions 75-76.
Augustine, Soliloquies, Book II.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Body



This short piece will introduce key views on the body, in accordance with Christian writers; such as Saint Augustine (and his influence on reformed theologians such as Calvin), Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and the well received 'Theology of the Body' written by Pope John Paul II. The post will argue that the body is indeed holy, created by God as a gift to man for the means of glorification and unification with Him.

For Saint Augustine, the body is always treated in the context of a comparison with the soul. The dialectical polarities of soul-body, immortal-mortal, rational-irrational are rhetorical antithesis; giving us a clear picture of Augustine's model of man's structure. Fr R.J O'Connell argues that his anthropology is centred on the view that 'the soul is the man' (an opinion repeated from Plotinus) and 'the body is an instrument.. put at our service for a certain time.' For St Augustine, 'the highest good of the body is not its desires, nor absence of pain, nor its strength, not its beauty.. but indeed, the soul.' 'The very presence of the soul offers the body all that which excels.. namely, life.' So, as psychosomatic human beings, we cannot physically live without our souls. The soul gives necessary life to the body. Significantly,  Augustine had suggested that the resurrected body would be entirely spiritual. In his reconsiderations however, he modifies this view to suggest that corruptibility would not be a feature of the resurrected body, whereas the substance of the flesh would survive. These developments towards a more positive perception of embodiment occurred during the early 5th century. Also in this period, Augustine begins to re-evaluate the relation between body and soul. Augustine had affirmed in 'On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis' that the created nature of the soul means that it wishes to be in a body “just as it is natural for us to wish to live.” (Gen. lit. 7. 27.38). By the final book, he concludes that the disembodied human soul is incapable of enjoying the vision of God, where it remains separate from the human body.
Augustine latterly acknowledges that the source of evil is not matter, or the human body, but rather a movement of the will.  For Augustine, the Fall represented “a fracture of the original unity and harmony between body and soul that characterised the first human beings.” For Augustine, sin had immediate effects on the body. At the moment of their sin, Adam and Eve experienced what Augustine called the “concupiscence of the flesh”. In turn, this caused the first humans to feel ashamed of their nakedness. The bodies of Adam and Eve now became subject to disease and death. They also became subject to sexual desire, which Augustine viewed as evil.

 The idea that the soul is inherently more valuable than the body is associated with Augustine, who seemed to stand against all that is material, particularly the baseness of sex. Peter Brown has pointed out that it was not so much the body itself that was problematic for Saint Augustine, but rather he stressed the body's tendency to need discipline or control. 

Asceticism is very important in regards to the Christian understanding of the human body. For Augustine, asceticism and productive suffering for Christ is 'the fruit of love, not of insensibility.' So, through our struggle and strive for the holy, the body can be used purely for the good. The reason for our need of asceticism is due to the tremendous energy contained in the body - an energy which must be retained and made available for the Spirit. Saint Augustine therefore stresses the fact that we are called to bond the body's activities within the whole human being. As the body is quite literally included in salvation, the Christian cannot avoid the difficult task of integrating his or her sexuality; but rather use this gift in our task of glorifying, and uniting with our great God and Saviour. For many this is of course offering our sexuality to marriage, and to the creation of a family; where as for others it is totally sacrificed for God, transforming this energy into prayer, writing, and generally offering our time and efforts to Christ's body.  It is vital to remember we are eternally 'members of Christ,' and not merely 'as spirits.' (1 Cor 6:15) This is why Saint Paul rhetorically asks, 'shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitution? Never!'

Influenced by Augustine, John Calvin unfortunately picked out the cynical and negative aspects of his theology - leading to the view of the body as the primary source of human wickedness. According to Calvin, the body, as 'the prison of the soul'  prevents us from recognising God. Even though the act of sex is a clear act of love between spouses, and leads to new life and the building of the family, Calvin views it as a shameful act. One of the only positive attitudes we find in his writings on the body, is the fact he agrees with it providing opportunity for obedience (as well as offering the opportunity for the sinful inclinations of the flesh). 

Pope John Paul II, gave a series of lectures between 1979 and 1984 titled 'Theology of the Body.' He interestingly delves into the writings of Kant, Descartes and other philosophers in order to share a balanced reflection on the creation of man (as male and female) as a sexual being. He concludes that the body can never be reduced to mere matter, and is capable of 'making visible what is invisible' as Christopher West writes, reviewing the Papal lectures. 'The body is created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God and thus to be a sign of it.' Therefore the human body is in fact an expression of God's love, purpose and mystery. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts granted to man is to bring life to this world, through the unity of two persons in loving communion. Pope John's culmination of his 'Theology of the Body' refers to the relation between agape and eros. Through the mystery of the incarnate person and the biblical analogy of spousal love, John Paul's catechesis highlights God's plan for human life - from origin to eschaton. 

Saint Gregory of Nyssa emphasises the body's holiness, and God-given sovereignty as 'man's form is upright, and extends aloft towards heaven.' The very upright structure of man's body marks the fact that the human being is truly bound to God's Kingdom, and his whole life should be one leading to His eternal glory and union with his Creator. This follows the Scriptural teaching of Saint Paul - that the body is indeed the temple of the Holy Spirit, so we are therefore called to glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor 6:19-20). The Lord's will is the sanctification of both our bodies and souls, so that we may completely unite with Him. For this, we need to struggle for self-control, abstinence, humility, and primarily honour and respect for God's holy creation of the human body. I think it is important we remember that the imago dei incorporates the body - as it makes reference to the human person as a whole. For our Lord to affirm that we are indeed created in His image (Gen 1:27), means that the body is fundamentally good, and holy. We are fallen and imperfect, but Christ, perfect man and perfect God offers us the opportunity to give our whole selves; body and soul, eternally to Christ our God. 



Sources:
- Miles, Augustine on the Body.
- John Paul II, Theology of the Body.
- Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man.

- R.J. O'Connell, St Augustine's Early Theory of Man.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Transhumanism

Transhumanists consider our species' integration with technology as an extension of the creative tools used by our ancestors, as they are seen to have built the first steps towards the advancement of human knowledge, ability and discovery. Their claim is that humanity has continued to develop both physiologically and intellectually through biological, social and technological evolution. 

The technological advances of our day would be unthinkable to previous generations. As a geeky plane-spotter, I significantly remember my father reminding me of my grandfather's amazement, gazing up at the sky in the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus, wondering what on earth this 'big bird' was; of course it was an aircraft. The question is, how far does technology have to take humanity? The issue lies in the fact that transhumanists often strive for a transhuman, even post-human phase of existence, in which humans are in control of their own evolution. In such a phase, natural evolution would be replaced with deliberate change - with the desire to go beyond our human means, into a new technological realm of existence. We currently live in a world of pacemakers, retinal implants, and various other technological advances; but many would argue that the transhumanist movement awaits the day we are able to transfer our mind to a computer, so that we live on after the bodily death. This rather concerning concept is, in my opinion, a secular way of trying to defeat death. A method trying to overcome death through technology, and without God, Our Creator and true defeater of death, is disastrous and impossible.

Likewise, the desire and thirst for human development without any clear end, meaning, or purpose, can be catastrophic as it is centred on self gain, supremacy, and lacks the very objective of human existence; love. Love, the greatest virtue (1 Cor 13:13), and fulfilment of the law (Rom 13:10) binds God and man together in relationship; and only through this communal, personal relationship can man achieve his full potential and complete development. God 'so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son.. not to condemn, but to save the world.' (John 3:16, 12:47) Although the development of technology is undoubtedly beneficial, the Christian faith highlights that man's destiny cannot be met without Christ - our renewer, saviour and Lord. St Athanasius the Great writes: 'God has been pleased to bring down His own wisdom to creatures so that what has come to be may also be wise.' Humanity's wisdom is God's; it is Christ. As Panayiotis Nellas writes 'For as our own reason (logos) is an image of the true Logos of the Son of God, so the wisdom that has been created in us, whereby we possess the power to know and to think, is likewise an image of His true Wisdom; and so by virtue of our human wisdom we are capable of receiving the Wisdom of the Creator.' 

The human being can only achieve true wisdom, knowledge, development and fulfilment of his potential through our Archetype, the incarnate Logos. Nellas tells us that 'the fathers stress deification is union with Christ, because it is precisely union with the Archetype which leads man to his fulfilment.' Returning back to our topic, transhumanism promotes an unjust, unrealistic, unnatural desire to oppose the unavoidable human processes and realities of pain, bodily and mental imperfections, and physical death. The movement is in favour of ideologies such as Abolitionism (based upon a perceived obligation to eliminate any suffering or imperfections) and immortalism (radical life extension and immortality through the means of technology). 

Founded by Julian Huxley in 1927, Transhumanism proposes that human nature is capable of transcending itself as a species. Like Christianity, it at least respects the intrinsic dignity of the human person, and its goal is, as we have seen, to push the human race to the highest possible point; however its desire has no clear and secure path, purpose or meaning - and realistically it is impossible for man to transcend himself, with his own limited capabilities. Matthew Zaro Fisher for example, in 'More Human than the Human' argues that transhumanism can be compared to Hesychasm, due to the similar concept of transcendance. This is an absurd comparison. One has to do with the soul, with man's relationship with God, indeed transcending cares of this world, offering prayer and ones whole life to Christ. On the other hand, we have a movement based upon technological advancements, created by the human mind (therefore not transcending humanity, but still being very much part of this world). It may improve our human capabilities or distort our natural behaviour and environment (depending on the use of the particular technology) but will not in any way transcend our human existence and condition. The human being is in control, and this means there is no room for trusting God, acquiring His grace, and distorts our mission in the world, as carriers of His eternal and boundless love. 

The 'better world,' hoped for by transhumanists, unrealistically opposes Christ's promise of His eternal and everlasting Kingdom, of which our life on earth is a foretaste, of this joy to come. We grow in wisdom and in love towards our end and fulfilment of human life, not by intellectual advancements of the human brain, but by delving into the heart within us, (1 Cor 3:16) in communion with one another.


Monday, 7 December 2015

The Christology of the Sixth Ecumenical Council - Tackling Monothelitism

In Saint John's Gospel, we find Christ stating that He has given His disciples a share in God's glory, and the opportunity of union with Him (John 17:22-23). Saint Paul also tells us that Christ shares in our poverty, that we may share in the riches of His divinity (2 Cor 8:9). In order for us to truly unite with God, sharing in His glory, it follows that we must be deified. Saint Athanasius famously summed up the purpose of the Incarnation, by writing 'God became human that we might be made god.' If this theosis (complete union with God) is possible, Jesus Christ must therefore be both fully God, and fully man. Only God, the Creator of all, can save humanity; and to participate in and with Him in communion, He must also be truly human. 

Each heresy faced by the Church undermines some part of this essential affirmation. Each holy council defends this truth; and the Sixth council is no exception. In this instance, the Church was faced with monothelitism - the idea that Jesus has only one will. Scripture alone makes it abundantly clear that our Saviour indeed has distinct wills - both a human and a divine (John 6:38, Luke 22:42). Monothelitism was an attempt to make a compromise with the Monophysites. The heresy claimed that although Christ had two natures, He nevertheless acted as God alone; not as a human. In other words, His divine nature made all the decisions and His human nature simply carried these decisions out. 

The Sixth Ecumenical Council thus had to affirm that Christ has two natures with two activities. As God, He works miracles, Rises from the dead and ascends into Heaven; and as Man, performs ordinary acts of daily life. The important point, is that each nature exercises its own free will. Each has a specific task to perform, and they do so without working against each other. Of course, the two distinct natures (and related to them, activities) are united in the one divine Person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

One might argue that the Council, in order to anathemise the heresy, yet incorporate monothelitists back into the Church, offered a position that was 'merely monothelitist' in disguise. Before we make a concluding reply to this claim, let us analyse the context of the Council, the people involved, and its affirmations:

Sergius, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople between 610-638, created a Christological formula in order to please both the Chalcedonians and the Monophysites. ( See http://alexis-florides.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/the-fifth-council-553.html  ) He insists, in his 'Ecthesis,' that the Lord has two natures incarnated within a single will. Although Emperor Heraclius (who had been supported by Sergius in the past) was hesitant to sign off Sergius' work, he eventually approved it in 638; thus defining monothelitism as the official, imperial doctrine of the Christian faith. This of course sparked great controversy, before, and following its official implementation. Sergius in fact passed away in 638, however at the time of the Ecumenical Council, Macarius I (Patriarch of Antioch from 656-681) represented the monotheletist position. He was condemned, with the rejection of the heresy being widely accepted by the Church's universal hierarchy, and a letter was read on behalf of Pope Agatho asserting the Church's traditional belief that Christ has two wills; divine and human.

This was not a sudden change in position by the Church; quite the contrary. This had been a brewing issue within theological circles, and the Sixth Ecumenical Council can be seen as the culmination of the clear, Orthodox, affirmation of doctrine. We are able to see a number of examples of Hierarchs within the Church declaring themselves in opposition to the heretical ecthesis, and in particular the monothelestic writings of Pope Honorius, whose teachings were anathemised. The Bishops of Cyprus, independent of any Patriarch, held a synod on the 29th May 643, against the ecthesis - leading to their release of a letter sharing their concern on the matter. Similarly, in 646, the Bishops of Africa held a council, with the primates of Numidia, Byzacene and Mauritania sending a joint complaint to Pope Theodore of Rome. So, with the clear, divinely inspired, desire to overthrow such ideas, the Council took place under the reign of Saint Constantine the New in 680. As we have already highlighted, the Council's main affirmation was that Christ has both a divine will, and a human will; thus the heresy of monothelitism denies the human will, and nature of the Lord. The Council states that 'Jesus Christ possesses two energies and two wills' but 'the human will is in subjection to his divine and all-powerful will.' This is where one might question whether or not this undermines Christ's human nature, as monothelitism does. It is important to note that this subjection of the human will to His divine will is a willing subjection; it voluntarily follows the divine will. Thus, in no way does this affirmation undermine the human will; but rather clarifies the two, and explains the relation between them. 


To conclude, the Sixth Ecumenical Council confirms that the doctrine of Christ's two natures and wills is indeed 'in accordance with the true faith and with the Apostolic teachings' as written in its declaration, and therefore monothelitism must not be accepted and should be condemned by the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church - the body of our Lord and Saviour. Claims about the Council's affirmation being merely monothelitism in disguise are simply invalid; as the Church makes its doctrine abundantly clear regarding the two wills, following the belief in Jesus Christ's two natures. 

Main Sources:
 - Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin, 1997) 
 - Catholic Encyclopedia


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

What place should Christology have in the articulation of a theological anthropology?

I will argue that Christ is perfect man, Who lives perfectly, showing us what it means to be human. Not only does He reveal God to us; he also reveals humanity to us. Thus, Christology should be central to Theological Anthropology, as Christ rebuilds the bridge between humanity and divinity. He not only reveals God’s character and will to us, but also simultaneously reveals what it means to be fully human, in communion with our Creator. In arguing this, I will concentrate on patristic writings such as St Maximus the Confessor, St Athanasius the Great and other writings centred on the fundamental link between Christology and the understanding of man and his salvation. The essay will also highlight how Jesus Christ, through His teaching, acts, and example, found in the Gospels, shows us who we are, and who we aim to be. He does so by being identifiable to us, as flesh, and by going through human pain, suffering and death on the cross. However, the essay will also emphasise how Christ, as our Risen Lord and God, exalts man and directs Him to his  divine capabilities and purpose.

Saint Athanasius, Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria proclaim, that ‘God became man so that men might become gods.’ In other words, the incarnation of the Word - God descending down to humanity, dying on the cross, raising from the dead and granting us life - is essential in understanding that the goal of man is, to have complete unity with our Creator.  From a Patristic point of view, we cannot separate Theological anthropology from Christology. Our faith and life in the Θεάνθρωπος (God-Man) leads to a fuller understanding of who we are. St Maximus the Confessor for example, stresses that all human beings participate in Christ, insofar as they come from, and have been created by Him, in His image. It is only through our participation in Jesus Christ that we are who we are. The Risen Lord frees man from death, slavery and sin; and our human freedom is nothing less than an expression of our participation in His divine life. He has taken on human nature, as both a priest and victim, out of love, re-establishing our relationship with God. ‘The body of Christ was of the same substance as that of all man.. and he died according to the common lot of his equals..’

Within the Gospels and Saint Paul’s epistles we are frequently reminded that, in Christ, we see the first true man - not broken, nor fallen, but without sin. Pontius Pilate, perhaps without realising it, proclaims this truth, when condemning the Lord to death: ‘Behold the Man.’ (John 19:5) Similarly, we see that Jesus is indeed the true image, (Col 1:15) as ‘He reflects the Glory of God.’ (Heb 1:3) This is precisely what we are called to be; by growing in faith, and following His commandments, we ‘are changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another.’ (2 Cor 3:18) Saint Maximus the Confessor clearly believes that Christ, as the archetypal image,  is essential in understanding God’s greatest and most powerful gift to man - freedom. Freedom is of course fundamentally important to our understanding of man within theology. For Maximus, it is only through Christ, the Word, that man possesses ‘η κάτα φἠσιν αυτοεξουσιότης,’ a freedom of nature, in conformity with divine freedom. This divine freedom can only lead to goodness, as it comes from the resemblance of God. Man is inseparable from God because he reflects Christ’s ‘cosmic role.’ We, as human beings, created in the Lord’s image, receive our very free existence from the Word, according to Saint Maximus. Without the Logos, a creature would be in a state of non-being. The Word gives each man a κίνησις, something to move towards, or an aim and direction;  and it is only in this striving to find our Creator, through the true image, that man can succeed.

‘If you wish to know how great man is, do not turn your eyes towards the thrones of the kings or the places of the great man, look towards the throne of God and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Glory.’ St John Chrysostom

If we desire to understand humanity’s holiness, worth and potential, then let us not look to the cares and possessions of this world, but to Christ, Who points us to our divine purpose. All academic fields point to humanity’s evolvement and development. Man, as raw material, is always in the process of becoming; for natural science this is known as natural evolution, and for social science this is our evolving society. We, as human beings, therefore constantly strive to grow, and are set up against certain visions for the future. Christianity, as Metropolitan Anthony argues, also sets man with future visions, and the desire to continuously improve, renew and evolve towards an end. However, the difference (in centring our understanding of man on Christ, rather than other methods) is that Christianity does not do this idealistically or abstractly. We have a real man before us - Jesus Christ. Metropolitan Anthony writes, ‘in Christ we have a vision - concrete, real, historical.. of what we are called to become in our reality, in our historicity and in our becoming.’ Without having the Saviour of mankind at the centre of theological anthropology, our understanding would be, to say the least, limited. One reason for this, would be the fact that as human beings, we often have our sights solely set on material, bodily pursuits. The ‘compassionate and gracious’ (Ps 103:8) Lord, as ‘God and Father of all’ (Eph 4:6) grabs our attention and offers salvation through His instrument - the incarnate Word; a physical person. He takes on a human body in order to make Himself known to us; and for us to unite with Him. Crucially, it is only through the incarnation that man can truly relate to God. This is what Saint Athanasius the Great calls God solving the ‘Divine Dilemma’ of our salvation. It is only through Christ, the incarnate Word of God, that man is saved. This was the solution of the dilemma; the Word of God taking on a human body, as the instrument in order to offer it to death, and in this way conquer death, offering us everlasting life: 

‘The God Word of the all-good Father did not neglect the race of human beings, created by himself, which was going to corruption, but he blotted out the death which had occurred through the offering of his own body, and correcting their carelessness… restoring every aspect of human beings by his own power.’ St Athanasius the Great

Man, created by God for union and eternity, is brought out of his fallen state of death by Christ. According to the Church Fathers, such as John of Damascus, the restoration of the lost image takes place only through Christ. John’s Christology, affirms that Christ is required to take on all limitations of human experience in order to heal what had been damaged by death and sin. The Lord endures a broad range of human experiences and limitations, such as hunger, pain and of course ultimately, death. Through the incarnation of the God-Word (Θεού Λόγου), death itself is trampled upon, and we are granted the resurrection of life, ‘for as by a human being came death, by a human being has come also the resurrection of the dead; for as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ (1 Cor 15:21-22) For this reason, it is undoubtedly crucial to place Jesus Christ, as the fulfiller, renewer, and humanity’s source of life, at the centre of theological anthropology. Rowan Williams in fact states that if the dogma of Christ’s life, death, and rising, does not offer us the discovery of who we are, then it will have ‘failed to do its job.’ Each and every man is seen in his fullness of being, through the Word. Theological Anthropology needs a mutual understanding of both God, and of man; Christ alone provides unity between us, bringing us both ‘to friendship and concord.’ Saint Irenaeus, like John and Athanasius, affirms the teaching of the Church’s fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, by stating that the incarnate Word of God passes through all stages of human life, restoring to all, communion with Him.

By looking at the catechesis of the Christian Church, we can perhaps show how vital it is to place christology at the centre of theological anthropology, in three ways: 1) Christ teaches us what it means to be human; 2) He shows us what it means to be human; 3) He makes it possible for us to be human.  Jesus, through His parables and acts, teaches us what it means to be truly human, by His complete unity with God, the Father. His parables convey eternal truths and teachings, crucial for our human lives and relationships. For example, the parable of the Pharisee and Publican, essentially teaches us that we, as human beings, fulfil our purpose and potential not through pride and exaltation, but ascend towards God through humility and repentance. Through His acts, we see that man can only reach the highest point of love through utmost sacrifice and humility. Saint Philaret, in his catechism, gives us an example of such an act; remembering ‘how Jesus Christ on the cross prayed for His enemies, pray likewise for ours; and we thus crucify the affection of anger.’ Here we see the connection between Christ’s act, His teaching, and how they can transform our own acts and mentality, in our struggle to becoming fully human like Him. Jesus, offering us this potential, restores the image of fallen humanity (Luke 19:10), emphasising that a fulfilled human life, is a divine, theocentric life, following God’s commandments of love. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart..’ (Luke 10:27)  Christ’s entire life is a life of humility, self-sacrifice, and kenotic (Phil 2:7) love; so His human life is certainly the ideal, example to all. His temptations, as well as His suffering and death, are a reminder that our struggles, pains and afflictions lead to resurrection and joy. Man is taught to defeat, and rise up against all evil and death, through Christ. Saint Nikolaj Velimirović underlines the fact that the Lord, through His incarnation had to show man four things, in order for man to realise his potential and true purpose, in relation to God. The first is humility, followed by the fatherly love of God towards man, the royal freedom He has granted us, and His power. The Lord, as perfect man, therefore teaches and shows us what it means to be human, in that man is truly bound to God, and can share in Christ’s relationship with the Father. With Him, and in Him, we are God’s children. To be human, in light of Christ, means to be reconciled, forgiven and renewed; as He puts sin upon Himself, placing us back in communion with our Creator.

The salvation of man (yet another important theme within theological anthropology), fully relies on Christology. As previously mentioned, the fathers speak of the ultimate aim of God’s plan as man’s deification; that man ‘might participate in the whole God..by God becoming man’ Salvation and deification supposes a double movement: a divine movement towards man, requiring God to be partakable of by creation, and a human movement towards God. The essence of Maximus’ Christology is that this synergy only takes place through Christ, as ‘The hypostatic union of these two movements’ is in the incarnate Word. Thus, the hypostatic union (the union of Christ’s humanity and divinity in one hypostasis, as the reality that supports all else) has not only to do with Jesus’ two natures, but to do with how we understand man and his salvation. The perfectly human ‘mode of existence’ is restored and brought to salvation and fullness in Christ alone. Our understanding of Christ, and life in Him, implies and emphasises that man is fundamentally good. Essentially, for Saint Maximus, man’s salvation and deification is natural; not in the sense that we can achieve it on our own, but in the sense that man is created to be united with God, of Whom he is the image. Crucially, for us to have this good, divine inclination as human beings, and to be able to know the transcendent God, means He Himself has descended to us. ‘The meeting of the two movements is fully and hypostatically accomplished in the Incarnate Word.’ It is, then, through the acceptance of this meeting between humanity and divinity that we are able to come to a clearer understanding of theological anthropology; our understanding of man in relation to God.

Metropolitan Anthony, the former head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain, interestingly points out that an important part of claiming Christ to be the perfect man, is the fact He identifies Himself with every human being. Jesus Christ, in His acceptance of our human situation, accepts us in our frailties, and in our miseries. He Himself was born, rejected, tired, abandoned and hated - but of course most importantly, died. Although many may romantically cover up His violent and harsh death, the truth is that it was very real, and reflects our own prayer in pain; ‘My God, my God why have thou forsaken me?’ (Matt 27:46) The tragedy of man is Godlessness, but God Himself, through His incarnation and death participates in this. Jesus becomes one of us, in the most horrid, dark sense. This is the measure of His solidarity. He accepts everything that we are, even our Godlessness and death. Only through this bold realisation of Christ’s true humanity, can we understand man in relation to God. Without Christology, and in particular the understanding of Jesus’ humanity, we are unable to explain human pain, suffering and death in light of God. Moreover, we are unable to speak of our ability to rise above mortality and death, living in eternal communion with God, without His divinity. 

Christology should be central to Theological Anthropology, as Christ, the incarnate Word ‘accomplishes the true human destiny..He unites man to God.’ The essay has argued that in Christ, we have anthropophany; the true revelation of man. Only in the person of Jesus, we find unity between humanity and divinity; and the true meaning and purpose of human life. John Zizioulas, the Metropolitan of Pergamon, writes that ‘man exists truly in unbroken relationship with God,’ but as the essay has highlighted, it is Christ Who offers man this relationship and understanding of His Creator. I have expressed the position that God’s will, purpose, and nature are made known through the person of Jesus; with His incarnation, His death and resurrection, as well as His human life, teaching and acts, offering us a clearer understanding of who we are, and who we ought to be as men. 









Bibliography:

Βελιμίροβιτς Ν 2010, Θεός επι γης, Άνθωπος εν ουρανώ, Athens, p.69-70.
Bloom, A  2004, God and Man, London : DLT, p. 81-89.
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.19.6, in A New Eusebius 1987, London: SPCK, p.119.
Meyendorff, J 1969, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought, Washington: Corpus, p.104-115.
Saint Athanasius, 2011, On the IncarnationNew York: SVS, p.37-39.
Saint Philaret, The Longer Catechism of the Orthodox Catholic Eastern Church, p.211.
Twombly, C 2015, Perichoresis and Personhood, Eugene: PTMS, p.97-99.
Williams, R 2007, On Christian TheologyOxford: Blackwell p.82.





Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Hesychasm

Ησυχασμός, from ησυχία (stillness, silence, and rest) is the mystical tradition of prayer, based on Christ's instruction to 'enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray.' (Matthew 6:6) Hesychasm has been the process of retiring inwards, closing off all other senses and cares, in order to fervently pray 'in secret,' leading to experiential knowledge of God. This short piece will discuss the origins of the Hesychast movement, its practices, its central role in Byzantine monasticism and spirituality, and its controversy within the Byzantine Empire. Finally, in the concluding paragraph, I will emphasise the inseparability between hesychastic mysticism and the theology of the Church.

Metropolitan Kallistos, in 'Act out of Stillness,' summarises the history and meaning of the hesychastic practice, in three concise points.  Firstly, it refers to the solitary life. Secondly it is the practice of inner prayer, aiming for union with God on the highest level, beyond concepts, or even images and language. This description is seen in Saint Maximus the Confessor's writings (580-662) as well as within the writings of Evagrius Ponticus (345-399) and the later work of Saint Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022). Finally, this quest for union with God is found through the prayer of the heart; the Jesus Prayer. 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,' with the earliest reference to the prayer found in Saint Diadochos of Photiki's work, which is included in the Philokalia.

The basic term appears as early as the 4th century, in Saint John Chrysostom, along with the Cappadocian and Desert fathers. In Egypt, the frequently used term is 'Anchoretism,' from αναχώρησις, meaning to withdraw, depart, or withdraw. Justinian himself treated both the terms 'Hesychasm' and 'Anchoretism' as interchangeable terms. Thus, Hesychasm has strong links with, and connotations of asceticism, hermitage, and of course, monasticism. The term Hesychasm is used often in the well known work of Saint John; 'The Ladder of Divine Ascent.' 

Saint John Climacus speaks of stillness as 'the accurate knowledge and management of one's feelings and perceptions. Stillness of soul is the accurate knowledge of one's thoughts and is an unassailable mind'  For Saint John, it is a state of being all Christians are called to acquire in the presence of God. Those who philosophise about God are full of distractions and thoughts, all centred on the human mind; however for the hesychast, we are truly in God's presence in silence. The former consider theories of God, but the latter know Him personally, and experientially, as Lord and Father. Hesychasm is therefore not a movement exclusive to monastics and hermits, but in a way, should be followed by every Christian, for we are all called to know and love God personally. If we, as Christians are called to not conform to this world (Romans 12:2) then this means we should be able to reject external distractions and noisiness, in solitude and peace.

'The start of stillness is the rejection of all noisiness as something that will trouble the depths of the soul..' St John Climacus

Is Hesychasm then, a rejection and hatred of this world? One key principle of monastic solitude is in fact leaving this world, not out of hatred for it, but rather that we may one day return to it with perfect love and peacefulness. Saint John writes, 'The Solitary runs away from everyone, but does so without hatred, just as another runs towards the crowd, even if without enthusiasm.' 

Hesychasm is therefore an invitation to be at peace with ones self, in prayer, solitude and love. The hesychast does not have to find himself in a desert, or rural area, as one who keeps this prayerful way of life can truly be at peace anywhere. The reason for leading such a life, follows Saint Paul's teaching, that we should be in a state of prayer unceasingly. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

'Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with you every breath. Then you will appreciate the value of stillness.' 

Here, Saint John, referring to the Jesus prayer, highlights the fact that every minute of our lives should be sanctified, in prayer, peacefulness, content, and above all used to glorify Christ.

Though, as I have argued, Hesychasm follows Holy Scripture and its goal is unquestionably holy and inseparable to the teachings of the Christian Church, it has been, and remains controversial. The Hesychast controversy within the Byzantine Empire was centred on a number of factors, surrounding the friction between Saint Gregory of Palamas and Barlaam. It was in a way, an opposition of two cultures; the Latin culture represented by Barlaam, and the Byzantine Greek culture, represented by Gregory Palamas. However, it was not simply a struggle between ecclesiastical movements, but also philosophical ones; Aristotelianism and Platonism. Furthermore, as is the case today within the Orthodox Church, there was clearly an antagonism, between the two ecclesiastical parties of monastics, and more 'secular,' perhaps less 'pious' clergy. Father Andrew Louth, interestingly takes the view that the controversy between Gregory and Barlaam was not so much centred on a friction between the Latin West and Byzantine spirituality, but rather a dispute about how we reach knowledge of God. Barlaam is seen holding the view that we acquire knowledge of God through intellect, while Saint Gregory is concerned with the experience of God through prayer.

Saint Gregory's viewpoint was definitely shared by the Byzantine monastic order. Prayer was, and still is, the essential activity of the monk, in his quest and thirst for God. Evagrius writes, 'Disctractionless prayer is the mind's highest achievement.. the mind ascending toward God.' Rather than intellectual thought, prayer is the mind's 'proper occupation' for Evagrius. For this reason, the Jesus prayer began to, and still does, dominate Eastern monasticism, as the essential element of Byzantine hesychasm. Does this way of life and prayer, with its basis of personal ascetical efforts, contradict the work of God's grace? Meyendroff states that hesychasm is 'based on the synergy of human effort and grace.' It is therefore a two-way relationship; with man struggling against his passions and distractions in contemplative prayer and ascesis, only with the constant help and strength of God's grace. Saint Isaac of Ninevah tells us that 'when the Spirit establishes his dwelling in man, he can no longer stop praying.. for the Spirit never ceases praying in him. Rather than an act centred on the self, it is 'an uninterrupted service of God.' (St John Climacus)

To conclude, this piece has briefly discussed the origins and practices of Hesychasm, along with the controversies surrounding it. Although it could be argued that it has stimulated a somewhat extreme sense of Christian piety and asceticism, we must not disregard the fact that its basis and inspiration has been, and is, man recovering his original destiny in Christ. It is a path of synergy, to true freedom from the slavery of evil, participating in Christ's very kingdom 'within us' (Luke 17:20-21) leading to knowledge and love of God. This is essentially routed in the belief that God became man, for us to unite with Him - affirmed in the doctrines of the Ecumenical councils.  The incarnate Word assumes human nature, as the New Adam (1 Cor 15:22) in order for us to reach the pinnacle of this life, the ladder of divine ascent; the summit of virtue: '..Now at last, after all that has been said, there remains that triad, faith, hope and love, binding and securing the union of all,' (St John Climacus) Fr Vassilios Papavassiliou beautifully writes, 'Mysticism is never separated from dogma and theology. The purpose of both doctrine and mysticism is to know the true God, Who is Love.' 


Sources:
Vassilios Papavassiliou, Thirty Steps to Heaven - the Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life (Chesterton: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2013)
St John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent (New York: Paulist Press, 1982)
Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (Washington: Corpus, 1969)
Kallistos Ware, Act out of Stillness: The influence of Fourteenth-centry Hesychasm on Byzantine and Slav Civilisation (Toronto: Hellenic Canadian Association of Constantinople, 1995)







Monday, 9 November 2015

The Ecological Vision of the Ecumenical Patriarch

The majority of people ignore or overlook the fact that the ecological crisis is deeply rooted in theology. His all-holiness Bartholomew, throughout his Patriarchal ministry, has urged humanity, and in particular the Christian faithful, to protect God's creation. Μετάνοια, or repentance, is not limited to doctrinal or theoretical aspects of the Church's teaching. The mistreatment of nature is a sin, and so we are called to transform our mentalities (with regards to consumerism, pollution and carelessness) in repentance, as it is our Christian obligation to do so. The Patriarch has been the leading religious figure in pressurising the global community to realising this. For Bartholomew, the Church cannot be faithful to her mission without a serious involvement in the protection of God's creation from the damage inflicted on it by human selfishness and greed. 

The Orthodox Church affirms that without a profound spiritual transformation of the human being, there is no hope of saving our natural environment. With greed, self-centredness, overconsumption, and a lack of cooperation, it is clear that our sinful interventions threaten our God-given planet with destruction. In order to truly reach and achieve the spiritual transformation needed, Bartholomew urges all religious communities to cooperate, together with scientists, politicians and ethicists in order to tackle this ecological crisis. His all-holiness writes:

'The solution to the ecological problem is not only a matter of science, technology and politics, but also, and perhaps primarily, a matter of radical change of mind.. a new ethos.' 

Even though we have scientific proof of the damage being done to our planet, we need to make a change of heart, and a shift of mind. The Ecumenical Patriarch states that even though this century has been one of immense scientific progress, it has simultaneously been a period of extreme destruction and damage. Science of course informs us about the world, but it 'cannot reach the depths of our soul and mind,' which is where real change, repentance and love takes place. 



The Orthodox Church's involvement in the protection of the natural environment is a matter of faithfulness to her tradition, and to her very nature. John Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamon, tells us that two aspects of the Church's teaching and life, testify to this. Firstly, the centrality of the Holy Eucharist for Christian existence, and secondly, the ascetical tradition. The Eucharist reminds us that the human being is the 'priest of creation,' in that we are called to take the world into our hands as a gift, and refer it back to our Giver, with thankfulness - ευχαριστία. As the world is passed on through our human hands, of course changes will take place, but each transformation that takes place must be shared in love, and refer back to the Creator. Such transformations might be science, art, culture and other beneficial fields; but not acts which result in carelessness and destruction of nature. The ascetical tradition of the Church reminds us of the fact we should strive to free ourselves from selfishness. We often mistakingly understand ourselves as the possessors of nature, rather than eucharistic beings, who should offer everything back to God.


Our Christian faith is centred on the holiness of human life, granted to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. Following His commandments, in preserving human life and nature, we are called to share this message of protection, respect, dignity and cooperation, and act upon it, following the example of his all-holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew. Fr Thomas Kocherry, an Indian priest, social activist and lawyer, writes:

'As a religious leader, Patriarch Bartholomew gives meaning to Jesus Christ even today. Through his work, Jesus is still alive and risen. Environmental awareness and social justice go together. His all-holiness has taught the world that an institutional Church has relevance...'

With our Patriarch of Constantinople leading world faith groups in raising awareness of climate change, and influencing Pope Francis' recent encyclical on the environment, he is indeed an example to us all in making our own personal efforts in tackling global warming, with repentance and love for God and His creation.


Main Source:
John Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer - The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2009) 

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Ecumenical Patriarch in London

Following this summary of Monday nights event, there will be an additional post dedicated to our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, successor of Saint Andrew the Apostle. 

The Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visited London this week, in response to an official invitation by His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Justin Welby. As part of his visit to the United Kingdom, our Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain organised a Gala Dinner in his honour, at the Marriott Hotel in Central London, following a Doxology at the Cathedral of Agia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Bayswater.

All the clergy, and lay leaders of our Holy Archdiocese were present; with around six-hundred attendees sharing a meal with His All-Holiness, as well as our Archbishop Gregorios, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh, Elisey, and other representatives from both the Coptic and Roman Catholic churches. Furthermore, the High Commissioner of Cyprus, Euripides Evripiades was present, along with the Ambassador of Greece, Konstantinos Bikas, in addition to several other dignitaries and leaders.

Following our Archbishop Gregorios' welcome, Mr Marios Minaides, the Chairman of the Association of Greek Orthodox Communities in Great Britain, spoke of our Patriarch's wonderful efforts to promote the protection of God's creation. Mr Minaides emphasised how we, as Orthodox Christians, can only admire and embrace His All-Holiness' respect for the environment, his promotion of world peace, reconciliation, and religious freedom, and of course his overall contribution to, and love for, Christ's Church.

During the event, the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop of Canterbury stressed the importance of sharing a meal together; uniting one another in friendship and understanding, celebrating the shared belief and trust in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Following on from His All-Holiness' earlier speech at the Cathedral, Welby importantly stated that although there are several differences between the Orthodox Church and the Anglican communion, we must not be concerned with what is unfinished, but trust that God will, in time, complete and fulfil what we ourselves have failed to complete.

The successful, and well-organised evening, consisting of the Doxology in Agia Sophia, and the Gala Dinner in the Marriott, was a way of giving the faithful an opportunity to pray with, greet, and joyfully share a meal with His All-Holiness - the spiritual leader of our Mother Church. As a Biblical Eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople, our active Archdiocese, through this event, highlighted that its efforts to serve the faithful of Great Britain continue to bear fruit; with all its diverse, inclusive and welcoming communities gathered together in Christ, upholding and celebrating our living Byzantine, Constantinopolitan ecclesiastical tradition, in the United Kingdom.


Please visit Protopresbyter Anastasios Salapatas' post on the event for more photographs (as well as information in Greek) :
http://anastasiosds.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/blog-post_3.html


Friday, 30 October 2015

St Maximus the Confessor - The Divine Liturgy

Saint Maximus the Confessor writes his commentary on the Liturgy in order to stress the importance of it for monastic life, to correct a trend which had little use for Eucharistic piety. His commentary remains an important source for reflection on the Byzantine Divine Liturgy.

Saint Maximus approaches the liturgy on two levels. The ‘γενικώς’ (general) and the ‘ιδικώς’ (particular). The general level refers to the mystery of salvation to the whole cosmos. This method is typological, and refers the Liturgy to each individual analogically. An example of this, is the Holy Church of God, where the Liturgy takes place, being ‘a figure and image of the world, which is composed of visible and invisible things. ‘It’s sanctuary is the world above, allotted to the powers above’ reminding us of of the sky. Saint Maximus makes the Church building symbolic of the individual, on this ‘Journey to the Kingdom’ as Fr Vassilios Papavassiliou writes, where Heaven and Earth meet. Similarly, St Maximus’ interpretation of the first procession, with the Gospel, the Bishop and his clergy, is that the Hierarch’s entrance into the Sanctuary represents the first coming into the world of Christ, the Son of God. Again, we see his two-fold understanding of the central act of worship. The reading of the Gospel, the descent of the bishop from the throne, and the expulsion of the catechumens symbolise the second coming of the Lord. Therefore, on the ‘particular’ level, the Liturgy shuts off the visible world, ‘getting rid of thoughts which will incline towards the earth, turning the mind to a vision of spiritual things.’ The Great Entrance of the Holy (but un-consecrated) Gifts, emphasises that these are indeed a foretaste of the Kingdom. Hence the clergy sing ‘May the Lord God remember all of you in His Kingdom.’


For Saint Maximus the Confessor, the ‘general’ history of salvation becomes, through the Liturgy, a ‘particular,’ or mystical history. ‘Each soul expresses the saving plan of God. Thus the Eucharist represents the mystical ascension of the soul, to contemplation of God, and so to union with Him.’ Maximus (unlike Dionysius) pays particular attention to the economy of salvation, as he sees the Divine Liturgy as representing all salvation history, from the incarnation to the world yet to come. It is certainly a timeless, unifying, mystical communion and connection, between Heaven and Earth, between the living and the dead. If the Church is communion in Christ, then the Liturgy is the central act of the Church. 

‘Man is what he eats’ Fuerbach famously writes. That cannot be more true for Orthodox Christians, celebrating, and partaking in, the Liturgy. Through the Divine Liturgy we become one with Christ, the source of love and life. We can pray to the Lord, read, write and use other forms of worship to connect with the Divine, however the Liturgy is unique in that God is fully , physically present, as we, the Church, partake in Him, in communion with our fellow Christians. As Alexander Schmemann writes, the Eucharist is divine love made food, made life for man.’ O taste and see how gracious the Lord is!’ (Psalm 34:8) Therefore the Λειτουργία unites the Church in love - in communion. 

The Divine Liturgy, described by Saint Maximus, is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the whole Church, into the dimension of the Kingdom. It is a separation from the world. We often think that Christianity should be more appealing and contemporary, and should reflect the cultural and musical tastes of our time, however Maximus would highlight that in accepting this view, we forget that Christ and His Kingdom is ‘not of this world’ (John 18:36). The early Christians realised that in order to become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20) they must ascend to Heaven with Christ; with this ascension being ‘the very condition of their mission in the world, of their ministry to the world.’ The Divine Liturgy is therefore an ascension, and once Christians have participated in it, their aim is to share and reflect this Heavenly and eternal worship, glorifying the Triune God, through joyful, loving and self-sacrificial acts.

Why would Saint Maximus be writing this to monastics in particular? The Mystagogia reveals the eschatological meaning of human existence. As Fr Ciprian Streza writes, ‘The Mystagogia keeps a perfect balance between liturgical life, dogmatic expression and ascetical experience of the Church.’ Maximus succeeds in giving monastic ascesis a liturgical connotation, by recommending the liturgical worship of the Church to the monks as a basis for mystical ascension. Thus, St. Maximus portrays the Eucharistic celebration as the ongoing accomplishment of eschatology, that can be experienced in all its depth only by those who have prepared themselves through ascesis and transformed themselves into the image of Christ through grace. Only by personal, sacramental and ascetic realisation,  and participation in the Liturgy can man open himself through love, the sum of all virtues, towards God and towards his neighbour. The Liturgy, for Maximus, is the fulfilment of the purpose of man’s existence; ‘Offering you your own from your own - in all things and for all things.’ (Prayer of Consecration)

Sources:
 - St Germanus of Constantinople, On the Divine Liturgy - St Maximus the Confessor (New York:SVS, 1984) 39.
 - R.Bornert, “L’anaphore dans la spiritualite liturgique de Byzance: le temoignage des commentaires mystagogiques du vile au xve siècle” Eucharisties d’Orient et d’Occident (Paris,1970) 245.
 - Alexander Schmemann, The World as Sacrament (London: DLT, 1965) 17.
- Alexander Schmemann, The World as Sacrament (London: DLT, 1965) 32.


Monday, 26 October 2015

Saint John of Damascus on the Veneration of Icons

'Veneration [προσκύνησης, proskynesis] is a symbol of submission and of honour. And we recognise different sorts of it – first, that by way of worship [λατρεία,latreia], which we present only to the God who is by nature to be worshipped; then that which is presented because of the God who is by nature to be worshipped to his friends and servants -- as an angel was venerated by Joshua the son of Nun and by Daniel – or to places that belong to God – as David says, ‘Let us venerate this place, where his feet have stood’ – or to things dedicated to him...'

Saint John highlights that we only worship God (Luke 4:8) , but venerate, revere and honour His holiness through His blessed people and creation. In the same way, Saint John stresses the importance of Iconography; as a means of worshipping our Lord and God, through the icon, depicting our Saviour, or one of His Saints. It is of course important to remember that each time we venerate a Saint, asking for their intercessions, we are glorifying Christ, our Saviour and the fulfiller of all. By recognising and venerating the holiness of a human person, we acknowledge our Lord's magnificence, mercy and the gifts He has bestowed upon His people. The Church, always points us to Christ - and one of the ways it does so, is through its icons and Saints. If we read the daily hymns, commemorating the Saints, Martyrs and Apostles of Christ's Holy Church, we find that the words always flow back to Him Who is the source of sanctification and of love, which has been acquired by the specific saint of God;

'..Holy one, great Martyr Demetrios, invoke Christ God for us, that He may grant us His great mercy.' (Todays Apolytikion, commemorating the Great Martyr, Saint Demetrios)


'The genuine friend of Christ, Porphyrios, O Faithful, let us honour, who was filled with all the gifts of Grace from childhood ...Glory to Him Who gave you might, Glory to Him Who sanctified you, Glory to Him Who operates through you, healings for all.' (Apolytikion of Saint Porphyrios, recently numbered among the Saints) 


Saint John describes how the incarnation of God has truly blessed man and all of creation, meaning we can worship our Creator through reverencing His 'matter,' as it was through God's very incarnation (becoming matter) that salvation is offered to mankind:

'When God has appeared by means of flesh and dwelt with human beings, I image that of God which is seen. I do not worship matter, but I venerate the creator [demiourgos] of matter, the one who became matter for my sake and undertook to dwell in matter and through matter worked my salvation.'

Christ, through His incarnation, dwells among us, within matter, and acts through the human person to bless, forgive and save. In a similar way, the Gospels for example, are made of text, however we look through the text and words in order to understand the Theology, the meaning and truth of the passages.  Saint John emphatically writes:

'The ink and all-holy book of the Gospels – are they not matter? Or the life-bringing table which supplies us with the bread of life – is it not matter? Or the gold and silver from which crosses and pyxes and chalices are fashioned – are they not matter? Or, before all these, the body and blood of my Lord – are they not matter?' 

Therefore, our Creator and God clearly works through matter. In fact, 'the invisible things of God are perceived, being understood from the creation of the world by means of the things that have been made,’ (Rom 1:20) and so, as St John writes, 'we see images in created things that signify to us dimly reflections of the divine.' The holy icons of Christ, His Mother and Saints, are a reflection of, and window into, the divine Kingdom. Icons, just as the Risen Christ is witnessed and seen transfigured, make the incomprehensible comprehensible. By bowing down before an icon, we are doing so before our very Lord, as it reminds us of Him, and brings our attention and prayerful selves to Him:

'Images were put there for remembrance – not being honoured as gods, but rather being honoured as bringing a remembrance of the working of God.'


As Saint John concludes, 'We venerate your image. We venerate all that is yours -– your servants, your friends, and, before them, your mother the Theotokos.'



- All quotes from St John of Damascus, First Discourse against those who slander the holy images unless quoted otherwise.