Система Orphus
The Orthodox Church
(Church History)

by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware)

От редакции сайта

Данная публикация преследует учебные цели в рамках курса "Религиозная лексика английского языка" для студентов и аспирантов ПСТГУ. Этим вызвана маркировка отдельных слов и выражений в тексте и прочие элементы публикации, не принадлежащие автору текста митрополиту Каллисту. Желающих ознакомиться с трудом митрополита Каллиста, не отвлекаясь на сделанные нами филологические пометки, мы отсылаем к источнику данной публикации.

From the site editor

This publication pursues philological teaching purposes as part of a course in English religious vocabulary and discourse taught to undergraduate and postgraduate students of St. Tikhon's Orthodox University for the Humanities. Therefore this publication contains elements (links, words and phrases in bold type, etc) which do not belong to the original text and its author, Metropolitan Kallistos. Those who wish to read this book for purposes other than philological without distractions we refer to the source of this publication.


God and man

"In His unbounded love, God became what we are that He might make us what He is" (Saint Irenaeus, died 202).

God in Trinity

Our social programme, said the Russian thinker Fedorov, is the dogma of the Trinity. Orthodoxy believes most passionately that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not a piece of ‘high theology’ reserved for the professional scholar, but something that has a living, practical importance for every Christian. Man, so the Bible teaches, is made in the image of God, and to Christians God means the Trinity: thus it is only in the light of the dogma of the Trinity that man can understand who he is and what God intends him to be. Our private lives, our personal relations, and all our plans of forming a Christian society depend upon a right theology of the Trinity. ‘Between the Trinity and Hell there lies no other choice (V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 66). As an Anglican writer has put it: ‘In this doctrine is summed up the new way of thinking about God, in the power of which the fishermen went out to convert the Greco-Roman world. It marks a saving revolution in human thought (D. J. Chitty, ‘The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity told to the Children,’ in Sobornost, series 4, no. 5, 1961, p. 241).

The basic elements in the Orthodox doctrine of God have already been mentioned in the first part of this book, so that here they will only be summarized briefly:

1. God is absolutely transcendent. ‘No single thing of all that is created has or ever will have even the slightest communion with the supreme nature or nearness to it (Gregory Palamas, P.G. 150, 1176c (quoted on p. 77)). This absolute transcendence Orthodoxy safeguards by its emphatic use of the ‘way of negation,’ of ‘apophatic’ theology. Positive or ‘cataphatic’ theology — the ‘way of affirmation’ — must always be balanced and corrected by the employment of negative language. Our positive statements about God — that He is good, wise, just and so on — are true as far as they go, yet they cannot adequately describe the inner nature of the deity. These positive statements, said John of Damascus, reveal ‘not the nature, but the things around the nature.’ ‘That there is a God is clear; but what He is by essence and nature, this is altogether beyond our comprehension and knowledge (On the Orthodox Faith, 1, 4 (P.G. 94, 800B, 797B)).

2. God, although absolutely transcendent, is not cut off from the world which He has made. God is above and outside His creation, yet He also exists within it. As a much used Orthodox prayer puts it: ‘Thou art everywhere and finest all things.’ Orthodoxy therefore distinguishes between God’s essence and His energies, thus safeguarding both divine transcendence and divine immanence: God’s essence remains unapproachable, but His energies come down to us. God’s energies, which are God Himself, permeate all His creation, and we experience them in the form of deifying grace and divine light. Truly our God is a God who hides Himself, yet He is also a God who acts — the God of history, intervening directly in concrete situations.

3. God is personal, that is to say, Trinitarian. This God who acts is not only a God of energies, but a personal God. When man participates in the divine energies, he is not overwhelmed by some vague and nameless power, but he is brought face to face with a person. Nor is this all: God is not simply a single person confined within his own being, but a Trinity of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom ‘dwells’ in the other two, by virtue of a perpetual movement of love. God is not only a unity but a union.

4. Our God is an Incarnate God. God has come down to man, not only through His energies, but in His own person. The Second Person of the Trinity, ‘true God from true God,’ was made man: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). A closer union than this between God and His creation there could not be. God Himself became one of His creatures (For the first and second of these four points, see pp. 72-9; for the third and fourth points, see pp. 28-37).

Those brought up in other traditions have sometimes found it difficult to accept the Orthodox emphasis on apophatic theology and the distinction between essence and energies; but apart from these two matters, Orthodox agree in their doctrine of God with the overwhelming majority of all who call themselves Christians. Monophysites and Lutherans, Nestorians and Roman Catholics, Calvinists, Anglicans, and Orthodox: all alike worship One God in Three Persons and confess Christ as Incarnate Son of God (In the past hundred years, under the influence of ‘Modernism,’ many Protestants have virtually abandoned the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. Thus when I speak here of Calvinists, Lutherans, and Anglicans, I have in mind those who still respect the classical Protestant formularies of the sixteenth century).

Yet there is one point in the doctrine of God the Trinity over which east and west part company — the filioque. We have already seen how decisive a part this one word played in the unhappy fragmentation of Christendom. But granted that the filioque is important historically, does it really matter from a theological point of view? Many people today — not excluding many Orthodox — find the whole dispute so technical and obscure that they are tempted to dismiss it as utterly trivial. From the viewpoint of traditional Orthodox theology there can be but one rejoinder to this: technical and obscure it undoubtedly is, like most questions of Trinitarian theology; but it is not trivial. Since belief in the Trinity lies at the very heart of the Christian faith, a tiny difference in Trinitarian theology is bound to have repercussions upon every aspect of Christian life and thought. Let us try therefore to understand some of the issues involved in the filioque dispute.

One essence in three persons. God is one and God is three: the Holy Trinity is a mystery of unity in diversity, and of diversity in unity. Father, Son, and Spirit are ‘one in essence’ (homoousios), yet each is distinguished from the other two by personal characteristics. ‘The divine is indivisible in its divisions (Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 31, 14). for the persons are ‘united yet not confused, distinct yet not divided’ (John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith, 1, 8 (P.G. 94, 809A)); ‘both the distinction and the union alike are paradoxical’ (Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 25, 17).

But if each of the persons is distinct, what holds the Holy Trinity together? Here the Orthodox Church, following the Cappadocian Fathers, answers that there is one God because there is one Father. In the language of theology, the Father is the ‘cause’ or ‘source’ of Godhead, He is the principle (arche) of unity among the three; and it is in this sense that Orthodoxy talks of the ‘monarchy’ of the Father. The other two persons trace their origin to the Father and are defined in terms of their relation to Him. The Father is the source of Godhead, born of none and proceeding from none; the Son is born of the Father from all eternity (‘before all ages,’ as the Creed says); the Spirit proceeds from the Father from all eternity.

It is at this point that Roman Catholic theology begins to disagree. According to Roman theology, the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son; and this means that the Father ceases to be the unique source of Godhead, since the Son also is a source. Since the principle of unity in the Godhead can no longer be the person of the Father, Rome finds its principle of unity in the substance or essence which all three persons share. In Orthodoxy the principle of God’s unity is personal, in Roman Catholicism it is not.

But what is meant by the term ‘proceed?’ Unless this is properly understood, nothing is understood. The Church believes that Christ underwent two births, the one eternal, the other at a particular point in time: he was born of the Father ‘before all ages,’ and born of the Virgin Mary in the days of Herod, King of Judaea, and of Augustus, Emperor of Rome. In the same way a firm distinction must be drawn between the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit, and the temporal mission, the sending of the Spirit to the world: the one concerns the relations existing from all eternity within the Godhead, the other concerns the relation of God to creation. Thus when the west says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and when Orthodoxy says that He proceeds from the Father alone, both sides are referring not to the outward action of the Trinity towards creation, but to certain eternal relations within the Godhead — relations which existed before ever the world was. But Orthodoxy, while disagreeing with the west over the eternal procession of the Spirit, agrees with the west in saying that, so far as the mission of the Spirit to the world is concerned, He is sent by the Son, and is indeed the ‘Spirit of the Son.’

The Orthodox position is based on John 15:26, where Christ says: ‘When the Comforter has come, whom I will send to you from the Father — the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father — he will bear witness to me.’ Christ sends the Spirit, but the Spirit proceeds from the Father: so the Bible teaches, and so Orthodoxy believes. What Orthodoxy does not teach, and what the Bible never says, is that the Spirit proceeds from the Son.

An eternal procession from Father and Son: such is the western position. An eternal procession of the Spirit from the Father alone, a temporal mission from the Son: such was the position upheld by Saint Photius against the west. But Byzantine writers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries — most notably Gregory of Cyprus, Patriarch of Constantinople from 1283 to 1289, and Gregory Palamas — went somewhat further than Photius, in an attempt to bridge the gulf between east and west. They were willing to allow not only a temporal mission, but an eternal manifestation of the Holy Spirit by the Son. While Photius had spoken only of a temporal relation between Son and Spirit, they admitted an eternal relation. Yet on the essential point the two Gregories agreed with Photius: the Spirit is manifested by the Son, but does not proceed from the Son. The Father is the unique origin, source, and cause of Godhead.

Such in outline are the positions taken up by either side; let us now consider the Orthodox objections to the western position. The filioque leads either to ditheism or to semi-Sabellianism (Sabellius, a heretic of the second century, regarded Father, Son, and Spirit not as three distinct persons, but simply as varying ‘modes’ or ‘aspects’ of the deity). If the Son as well as the Father is an arche, a principle or source of Godhead, are there then (the Orthodox asked) two independent sources, two separate principles in the Trinity? Obviously not, since this would be tantamount to belief in two Gods; and so the Reunion Councils of Lyons (1274) and Florence (1438-1439) were most careful to state that the Spirit proceeds from Father and Son ‘as from one principle,’ tanquam ex (or ab) uno principio. From the Orthodox point of view, however, this is equally objectionable: ditheism is avoided, but the persons of Father and Son are merged and confused. The Cappadocians regarded the ‘monarchy’ as the distinctive characteristic of the Father: He alone is a principle or arche within the Trinity. But western theology ascribes the distinctive characteristic of the Father to the Son as well, thus fusing the two persons into one; and what else is this but ‘Sabellius reborn, or rather some semi-Sabellian monster,’ as Saint Photius put it? (P.G. 102, 289B).

Let us look more carefully at this charge of semi-Sabellianism. Orthodox Trinitarian theology has a personal principle of unity, but the west finds its unitary principle in the essence of God. In Latin Scholastic theology, so it seems to Orthodox, the persons are overshadowed by the common nature, and God is thought of not so much in concrete and personal terms, but as an essence in which various relations are distinguished. This way of thinking about God comes to full development in Thomas Aquinas, who went so far as to identify the persons with the relations: personae sunt ipsae relationes (Summa Theologica, 1, question 40, article 2). Orthodox thinkers find this a very meagre idea of personality. The relations, they would say, are not the persons — they are the personal characteristics of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and (as Gregory Palamas put it) ‘personal characteristics do not constitute the person, but they characterize the person’ (Quoted in J. Meyendorff, Introduction a 1’etude de Gregoire Palamas, Paris, 1959, p. 294). The relations, while designating the persons, in no way exhaust the mystery of each.

Latin Scholastic theology, emphasizing as it does the essence at the expense of the persons, comes near to turning God into an abstract idea. He becomes a remote and impersonal being, whose existence has to be proved by metaphysical arguments — a God of the philosophers, not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, has been far less concerned than the Latin west to find philosophical proofs of God’s existence: what is important is not that a man should argue about the deity, but that he should have a direct and living encounter with a concrete and personal God.

Such are some of the reasons why Orthodox regard the filioque as dangerous and heretical. Filioquism confuses the persons, and destroys the proper balance between unity and diversity in the Godhead. The oneness of the deity is emphasized at the expense of His threeness; God is regarded too much in terms of abstract essence and too little in terms of concrete personality.

But this is not all. Many Orthodox feel that, as a result of the filioque, the Holy Spirit in western thought has become subordinated to the Son — if not in theory, then at any rate in practice. The west pays insufficient attention to the work of the Spirit in the world, in the Church, in the daily life of each man.

Orthodox writers also argue that these two consequences of the filioque — subordination of the Holy Spirit, over-emphasis on the unity of God — have helped to bring about a distortion in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Church. Because the role of the Spirit has been neglected in the west, the Church has come to be regarded too much as an institution of this world, governed in terms of earthly power and jurisdiction. And just as in the western doctrine of God unity was stressed at the expense of diversity, so in the western conception of the Church unity has triumphed over diversity, and the result has been too great a centralization and too great an emphasis on Papal authority.

Such in outline is the Orthodox attitude to the filioque, although not all would state the case in such an uncompromising form. In particular, many of the criticisms given above apply only to a decadent form of Scholasticism, not to Latin theology as a whole.


Man: his creation, his vocation, his failure

‘Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.’ (Augustine, Confessions, 1, 1.) Man was made for fellowship with God: this is the first and primary affirmation in the Christian doctrine of man. But man, made for fellowship with God, everywhere repudiates that fellowship: this is the second fact which all Christian anthropology takes into account. Man was made for fellowship with God: in the language of the Church, God created Adam according to His image and likeness, and set him in Paradise (The opening chapters of Genesis are of course concerned with certain religious truths, and are not to be taken as literal history. Fifteen centuries before modern Biblical criticism, Greek Fathers were already interpreting the Creation and Paradise stories symbolically rather than literally). Man everywhere repudiates that fellowship: in the language of the Church, Adam fell, and his fall — his ‘original sin’ — has affected all mankind.

The Creation of Man. "And God said, let us make man according to our image and likeness" (Genesis 1:26). God speaks in the plural: "Let us make man." The creation of man, so the Greek Fathers continually emphasized, was an act of all three persons in the Trinity, and therefore the image and likeness of God must always be thought of as a Trinitarian image and likeness. We shall find that this is a point of vital importance.

Image and Likeness. According to most of the Greek Fathers, the terms image and likeness do not mean exactly the same thing. ‘The expression according to the image,’ wrote John of Damascus, ‘indicates rationality and freedom, while the expression according to the likeness indicates assimilation to God through virtue (On the Orthodox Faith, 2, 12 (P.G. 94, 920B)). The image, or to use the Greek term the icon, of God signifies man’s free will, his reason, his sense of moral responsibility — everything, in short, which marks man out from the animal creation and makes him a person. But the image means more than that. It means that we are God’s ‘offspring’ (Acts 27:28), His kin; it means that between us and Him there is a point of contact, an essential similarity. The gulf between creature and Creator is not impassable, for because we are in God’s image we can know God and have communion with Him. And if a man makes proper use of this faculty for communion with God, then he will become ‘like’ God, he will acquire the divine likeness; in the words of John Damascene, he will be ‘assimilated to God through virtue.’ To acquire the likeness is to be deified, it is to become a ‘second god,’ a ‘god by grace.’ "I said, you are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High" (Psalm 81:6). (In quotations from the Psalms, the numbering of the Septuagint is followed. Some versions of the Bible reckon this Psalm as 82.).

The image denotes the powers with which every man is endowed by God from the first moment of his existence; the likeness is not an endowment which man possesses from the start, but a goal at which he must aim, something which he can only acquire by degrees. However sinful a man may be, he never loses the image; but the likeness depends upon our moral choice, upon our ‘virtue,’ and so it is destroyed by sin.

Man at his first creation was therefore perfect, not so much in an actual as in a potential sense. Endowed with the image from the start, he was called to acquire the likeness by his own efforts (assisted of course by the grace of God). Adam began in a state of innocence and simplicity. ‘He was a child, not yet having his understanding perfected,’ wrote Irenaeus. ‘It was necessary that he should grow and so come to his perfection (Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 12). God set Adam on the right path, but Adam had in front of him a long road to traverse in order to reach his final goal.

This picture of Adam before the fall is somewhat different from that presented by Saint Augustine and generally accepted in the west since his time. According to Augustine, man in Paradise was endowed from the start with all possible wisdom and knowledge: his was a realized, and in no sense potential, perfection. The dynamic conception of Irenaeus clearly fits more easily with modern theories of evolution than does the static conception of Augustine; but both were speaking as theologians, not as scientists, so that in neither case do their views stand or fall with any particular scientific hypothesis.

The west has often associated the image of God with man’s intellect. While many Orthodox have done the same, others would say that since man is a single unified whole, the image of God embraces his entire person, body as well as soul. ‘When God is said to have made man according to His image,’ wrote Gregory Palamas, ‘the word man means neither the soul by itself nor the body by itself, but the two together (P.G. 150, 1361C). The fact that man has a body, so Gregory argued, makes him not lower but higher than the angels. True, the angels are ‘pure’ spirit, whereas man’s nature is ‘mixed’ — material as well as intellectual; but this means that his nature is more complete than the angelic and endowed with richer potentialities. Man is a microcosm, a bridge and point of meeting for the whole of God’s creation.

Orthodox religious thought lays the utmost emphasis on the image of God in man. Man is a ‘living theology,’ and because he is God’s icon, he can find God by looking within his own heart, by ‘returning within himself:’ "The Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). ‘Know yourselves,’ said Saint Antony of Egypt. ‘…He who knows himself, knows God (Letter 3 (in the Greek and Latin collections, 6)) ‘If you are pure,’ wrote Saint Isaac the Syrian (late seventh century), ‘heaven is within you; within yourself you will see the angels and the Lord of the angels’ (Quoted in P. Evdokimov, L’Orthodoxie, p. 88). And of Saint Pachomius it is recorded: ‘In the purity of his heart he saw the invisible God as in a mirror (First Greek Life, 22).

Because he is an icon of God, each member of the human race, even the most sinful, is infinitely precious in God’s sight. ‘When you see your brother,’ said Clement of Alexandria (died 215), ‘you see God’ (Stromateis, 1, 19 (94, 5)). And Evagrius taught: ‘After God, we must count all men as God Himself (On Prayer, 123 (P.G. 79, 1193C)). This respect for every human being is visibly expressed in Orthodox worship, when the priest censes not only the icons but the members of the congregation, saluting the image of God in each person. ‘The best icon of God is man (P. Evdokimov, L’Orthodoxie, p. 218).

Grace and Free Will. As we have seen, the fact that man is in God’s image means among other things that he possesses free will. God wanted a son, not a slave. The Orthodox Church rejects any doctrine of grace which might seem to infringe upon man’s freedom. To describe the relation between the grace of God and free will of man, Orthodoxy uses the term cooperation or synergy (synergeia); in Paul’s words: "We are fellow-workers (synergoi) with God" (1 Cor. 3:9). If man is to achieve full fellowship with God, he cannot do so without God’s help, yet he must also play his own part: man as well as God must make his contribution to the common work, although what God does is of immeasurably greater importance than what man does. ‘The incorporation of man into Christ and his union with God require the cooperation of two unequal, but equally necessary forces: divine grace and human will (A Monk of the Eastern Church, Orthodox Spirituality, p. 23). The supreme example of synergy is the Mother of God (See p. 263).

The west, since the time of Augustine and the Pelagian controversy, has discussed this question of grace and free will in somewhat different terms; and many brought up in the Augustinian tradition — particularly Calvinists — have viewed the Orthodox idea of ‘synergy’ with some suspicion. Does it not ascribe too much to man’s free will, and too little to God? Yet in reality the Orthodox teaching is very straightforward. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in" (Revelation 3:20). God knocks, but waits for man to open the door — He does not break it down. The grace of God invites all but compels none. In the words of John Chrysostom: ‘God never draws anyone to Himself by force and violence. He wishes all men to be saved, but forces no one’ (Sermon on the words ‘Saul, Saul…’ 6 (P.G. 51, 144)). ‘It is for God to grant His grace,’ said Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (died 386); ‘your task is to accept that grace and to guard it (Catehetical Orations, 1, 4). But it must not be imagined that because a man accepts and guards God’s grace, he thereby earns ‘merit.’ God’s gifts are always free gifts, and man can never have any claims upon his Maker. But man, while he cannot ‘merit’ salvation, must certainly work for it, since "faith without works is dead" (James 2:17).

The Fall: Original Sin. God gave Adam free will — the power to choose between good and evil — and it therefore rested with Adam either to accept the vocation set before him or to refuse it. He refused it. Instead of continuing along the path marked out for him by God, he turned aside and disobeyed God. Adam’s fall consisted essentially in his disobedience of the will of God; he set up his own will against the divine will, and so by his own act he separated himself from God. As a result, a new form of existence appeared on earth — that of disease and death. By turning away from God, who is immortality and life, man put himself in a state that was contrary to nature, and this unnatural condition led to an inevitable disintegration of his being and eventually to physical death. The consequences of Adam’s disobedience extended to all his descendants. We are members one of another, as Saint Paul never ceased to insist, and if one member suffers the whole body suffers. In virtue of this mysterious unity of the human race, not only Adam but all mankind became subject to mortality. Nor was the disintegration which followed from the fall merely physical. Cut off from God, Adam and his descendants passed under the domination of sin and of the devil. Each new human being is born into a world where sin prevails everywhere, a world in which it is easy to do evil and hard to do good. Man’s will is weakened and enfeebled by what the Greeks call ‘desire’ and the Latins ‘concupiscence.’ We are all subject to these, the spiritual effects of original sin.

Thus far there is fairly close agreement between Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and classic Protestantism; but beyond this point east and west do not entirely concur. Orthodoxy, holding as it does a less exalted idea of man’s state before he fell, is also less severe than the west in its view of the consequences of the fall. Adam fell, not from a great height of knowledge and perfection, but from a state of undeveloped simplicity; hence he is not to be judged too harshly for his error. Certainly, as a result of the fall man’s mind became so darkened, and his will-power was so impaired, that he could no longer hope to attain to the likeness of God. Orthodox, however, do not hold that the fall deprived man entirely of God’s grace, though they would say that after the fall grace acts on man from the outside, not from within. Orthodox do not say, as Calvin said, that man after the fall was utterly depraved and incapable of good desires. They cannot agree with Augustine, when he writes that man is under ‘a harsh necessity’ of committing sin, and that ‘man’s nature was overcome by the fault into which it fell, and so came to lack freedom(On the perfection of man’s righteousness, 4 (9)). The image of God is distorted by sin, but never destroyed; in the words of a hymn sung by Orthodox at the Funeral Service for the laity: ‘I am the image of Thine inexpressible glory, even though I bear the wounds of sin.’ And because he still retains the image of God, man still retains free will, although sin restricts its scope. Even after the fall, God ‘takes not away from man the power to will — to will to obey or not to obey Him’ (Dositheus, Confession, Decree 3. Compare Decree 14). Faithful to the idea of synergy, Orthodoxy repudiates any interpretation of the fall which allows no room for human freedom.

Most orthodox theologians reject the idea of ‘original guilt,’ put forward by Augustine and still accepted (albeit in a mitigated form) by the Roman Catholic Church. Men (Orthodox usually teach) automatically inherit Adam’s corruption and mortality, but not his guilt: they are only guilty in so far as by their own free choice they imitate Adam. Many western Christians believe that whatever a man does in his fallen and unredeemed state, since it is tainted by original guilt, cannot possibly be pleasing to God: ‘Works before Justification,’ says the thirteenth of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, ‘...are not pleasant to God ... but have the nature of sin.’ Orthodox would hesitate to say this. And Orthodox have never held (as Augustine and many others in the west have done) that unbaptized babies, because tainted with original guilt, are consigned by the just God to the everlasting flames of Hell (Thomas Aquinas, in his discussion of the fall, on the whole followed Augustine, and in particular retained the idea of original guilt; but as regards unbaptized babies, he maintained that they go not to Hell but to Limbo — a view now generally accepted by Roman theologians. So far as I can discover, Orthodox writers do not make use of the idea of Limbo. It should be noted that an Augustinian view of the fall is found from time to time in Orthodox theological literature; but this is usually the result of western influence. The Orthodox Confession by Peter of Moghila is, as one might expect, strongly Augustinian; on the other hand the Confession of Dositheus is free from Augustinianism). The Orthodox picture of fallen humanity is far less sombre than the Augustinian or Calvinist view.

But although Orthodox maintain that man after the fall still possessed free will and was still capable of good actions, yet they certainly agree with the west in believing that man’s sin had set up between him and God a barrier, which man by his own efforts could never break down. Sin blocked the path to union with God. Since man could not come to God, God came to man.


Jesus Christ

The Incarnation is an act of God’s philanthropia, of His lovingkindness towards mankind. Many eastern writers, looking at the Incarnation from this point of view, have argued that even if man had never fallen, God in His love for humanity would still have become man: the Incarnation must be seen as part of the eternal purpose of God, and not simply as an answer to the fall. Such was the view of Maximus the Confessor and of Isaac the Syrian; such has also been the view of certain western writers, most notably Duns Scotus (1265-1308).

But because man fell, the Incarnation is not only an act of love but an act of salvation. Jesus Christ, by uniting man and God in His own person, reopened for man the path to union with God. In His own person Christ showed what the true ‘likeness of God’ is, and through His redeeming and victorious sacrifice He set that likeness once again within man’s reach. Christ, the Second Adam, came to earth and reversed the effects of the first Adam’s disobedience.

The essential elements in the Orthodox doctrine of Christ have already been outlined in Chapter 2: true God and true man, one person in two natures, without separation and without confusion: a single person, but endowed with two wills and two energies.

True God and true man; as Bishop Theophan the Recluse put it: ‘Behind the veil of Christ’s flesh, Christians behold the Triune God.’ These words bring us face to face with what is perhaps the most striking feature in the Orthodox approach to the Incarnate Christ: an overwhelming sense of His divine glory. There are two moments in Christ’s life when this divine glory was made especially manifest: the Transfiguration, when on Mount Thabor the uncreated light of His Godhead shone visibly through the garments of His flesh; and the Resurrection, when the tomb burst open under the pressure of divine life, and Christ returned triumphant from the dead. In Orthodox worship and spirituality tremendous emphasis is placed on both these events. In the Byzantine calendar the Transfiguration is reckoned as one of the Twelve Great Feasts, and enjoys a far greater prominence in the Church’s year than it possesses in the west; and we have already seen the central place which the uncreated light of Thabor holds in the Orthodox doctrine of mystical prayer. As for the Resurrection, its spirit fills the whole life of the Orthodox Church: Through all the vicissitudes of her history the Greek Church has been enabled to preserve something of the very spirit of the first age of Christianity. Her liturgy still enshrines that element of sheer joy in the Resurrection of the Lord that we find in so many of the early Christian writings (P. Hammond, The Waters of Marah, p. 20).

The theme of the Resurrection of Christ binds together all theological concepts and realities in eastern Christianity and unites them in a harmonious whole (O. Rousseau, ‘Incarnation et anthropologie en orient et en occident,’ in Irenikon, vol. 26 (1953), p. 373).

Yet it would be wrong to think of Orthodoxy simply as the cult of Christ’s divine glory, of His Transfiguration and Resurrection, and nothing more. However great their devotion to the divine glory of Our Lord, Orthodox do not overlook His humanity. Consider for example the Orthodox love of the Holy Land: nothing could exceed the vivid reverence of Russian peasants for the exact places where the Incarnate Christ lived as a man, where as a man He ate, taught, suffered, and died. Nor does the sense of Resurrection joy lead Orthodoxy to minimize the importance of the Cross. Representations of the Crucifixion are no less prominent in Orthodox than in non-Orthodox churches, while the veneration of the Cross is more developed in Byzantine than in Latin worship.

One must therefore reject as misleading the common assertion that the east concentrates on the Risen Christ, the west on Christ Crucified. If we are going to draw a contrast, it would be more exact to say that east and west think of the Crucifixion in slightly different ways. The Orthodox attitude to the Crucifixion is best seen in the hymns sung on Good Friday, such as the following:

He who clothes himself with light as with a garment,
Stood naked at the judgement.
On his cheek he received blows
From the hands which he had formed.
The lawless multitude nailed to the Cross
The Lord of glory.

The Orthodox Church on Good Friday thinks not simply of Christ’s human pain and suffering by itself, but rather of the contrast between His outward humiliation and His inward glory. Orthodox see not just the suffering humanity of Christ, but a suffering God:

Today is hanged upon the tree
He who hanged the earth in the midst of the waters.
A crown of thorns crowns him
Who is the king of the angels.
He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery
Who wraps the heaven in clouds.

Behind the veil of Christ’s bleeding and broken flesh, Orthodox still discern the Triune God. Even Golgotha is a theophany; even on Good Friday the Church sounds a note of Resurrection joy:

We worship thy Passion, O Christ:
Show us also thy glorious Resurrection!
I magnify thy sufferings,
I praise thy burial and thy Resurrection.
Shouting, Lord, glory to thee!

The Crucifixion is not separated from the Resurrection, for both are but a single action. Calvary is seen always in the light of the empty tomb; the Cross is an emblem of victory. When Orthodox think of Christ Crucified, they think not only of His suffering and desolation; they think of Him as Christ the Victor, Christ the King, reigning in triumph from the Tree: The Lord came into the world and dwelt among men, that he might destroy the tyranny of the Devil and set men free. On the Tree he triumphed over the powers which opposed him, when the sun was darkened and the earth was shaken, when the graves were opened and the bodies of the saints arose. By death he destroyed death, and brought to nought him who had the power of death (From the First Exorcism before Holy Baptism). Christ is our victorious king, not in spite of the Crucifixion, but because of it: ‘I call Him king, because I see Him crucified’ (John Chrysostom, Second Sermon on the Cross and the Robber, 3 (P.G. 49, 413).

Such is the spirit in which Orthodox Christians regard Christ’s death upon the Cross. Between this approach to the Crucifixion and that of the medieval and post-medieval west, there are of course many points of contact; yet in the western approach there are also certain things which make Orthodox feel uneasy. The west, so it seems to them, tends to think of the Crucifixion in isolation, separating it too sharply from the Resurrection. As a result the vision of Christ as a suffering God is in practice replaced by the picture of Christ’s suffering humanity: the western worshipper, when he meditates upon the Cross, is encouraged all too often to feel a morbid sympathy with the Man of Sorrows, rather than to adore the victorious and triumphant king. Orthodox feel thoroughly at home in the language of the great Latin hymn by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609), Pange lingua, which hails the Cross as an emblem of victory:

Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
Sing the ending of the fray;
Now above the Cross, our trophy,
Sound the loud triumphal lay:
Tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer,
As a victim won the day.

They feel equally at home in that other hymn by Fortunatus, Vexilla regis:

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old:
Among the nations God, said he,
Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree.

But Orthodox feel less happy about compositions of the later Middle Ages such as Stabat Mater:

For his people’s sins, in anguish,
There she saw the victim languish,
Bleed in torments, bleed and die:
Saw the Lord’s anointed taken;
Saw her Child in death forsaken;
Heard his last expiring cry.

It is significant that Stabat Mater, in the course of its sixty lines, makes not a single reference to the Resurrection.

Where Orthodoxy sees chiefly Christ the Victor, the late medieval and post-medieval west sees chiefly Christ the Victim. While Orthodoxy interprets the Crucifixion primarily as an act of triumphant victory over the powers of evil, the west particularly since the time of Anselm of Canterbury (?1033-1109) — has tended rather to think of the Cross in penal and juridical terms, as an act of satisfaction or substitution designed to propitiate the wrath of an angry Father.

Yet these contrasts must not be pressed too far. Eastern writers, as well as western, have applied juridical and penal language to the Crucifixion; western writers, as well as eastern, have never ceased to think of Good Friday as a moment of victory. In the west during recent years there has been a revival of the Patristic idea of Christus Victor, alike in theology, in spirituality, and in art; and Orthodox are naturally very happy that this should be so.


The Holy Spirit

In their activity among men the second and the third persons of the Trinity are complementary and reciprocal. Christ’s work of redemption cannot be considered apart from the Holy Spirit's work of sanctification. The Word took flesh, said Athanasius, that we might receive the Spirit (On the Incarnation and against the Arians, 8 (P.G. 26, 996C)): from one point of view, the whole ‘aim’ of the Incarnation is the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost.

The Orthodox Church lays great stress upon the work of the Holy Spirit. As we have seen, one of the reasons why Orthodox object to the filioque is because they see in it a tendency to subordinate and neglect the Spirit. Saint Seraphim of Sarov briefly described the whole purpose of the Christian life as nothing else than the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, saying at the beginning of his conversation with Motovilov: ‘Prayer, fasting, vigils, and all other Christian practices, however good they may be in themselves, certainly do not constitute the aim of our Christian life: they are but the indispensable means of attaining that aim. For the true aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, vigils, prayer, and almsgiving, and other good works done in the name of Christ, they are only the means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. Note well that it is only good works done in the name of Christ that bring us the fruits of the Spirit.’

‘This definition,’ Vladimir Lossky has commented, ‘while it may at first sight appear oversimplified, sums up the whole spiritual tradition of the Orthodox Church’ (The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 196) As Saint Pachomius’ disciple Theodore said: ‘What is greater than to possess the Holy Spirit? (First Greek Life of Pachomius, 135).

In the next chapter we shall have occasion to note the place of the Spirit in the Orthodox doctrine of the Church; and in later chapters something will be said of the Holy Spirit in Orthodox worship. In every sacramental action of the Church, and most notably at the climax of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Spirit is solemnly invoked. In his private prayers at the start of each day, an Orthodox Christian places himself under the protection of the Spirit, saying these words:

O heavenly king, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere and fillest all things, the treasury of blessings and giver of life, come and abide in us. Cleanse us from all impurity, and of thy goodness save our souls (This same prayer is used at the beginning of most liturgical services).


‘Partakers of the Divine Nature’

The aim of the Christian life, which Seraphim described as the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God, can equally well be defined in terms of deification. Basil described man as a creature who has received the order to become a god; and Athanasius, as we know, said that God became man that man might become god. ‘In my kingdom, said Christ, I shall be God with you as gods’ (Canon for Matins of Holy Thursday, Ode 4, Troparion 3). Such, according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, is the final goal at which every Christian must aim: to become god, to attain theosis, ‘deification’ or ‘divinization.’ For Orthodoxy man’s salvation and redemption mean his deification.

Behind the doctrine of deification there lies the idea of man made according to the image and likeness of God the Holy Trinity. ‘May they all be one,’ Christ prayed at the Last Supper; "As Thou, Father, art in me and I in Thee, so also may they be in us" (John 17:21). Just as the three persons of the Trinity ‘dwell’ in one another in an unceasing movement of love, so man, made in the image of the Trinity, is called to ‘dwell’ in the Trinitarian God. Christ prays that we may share in the life of the Trinity, in the movement of love which passes between the divine persons; He prays that we may be taken up into the Godhead. The saints, as Maximus the Confessor put it, are those who express the Holy Trinity in themselves. This idea of a personal and organic union between God and man — God dwelling in us, and we in Him — is a constant theme in Saint John’s Gospel; it is also a constant theme in the Epistles of Saint Paul, who sees the Christian life above all else as a life ‘in Christ.’ The same idea recurs in the famous text: "Through these promises you may become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). It is important to keep this New Testament background in mind. The Orthodox doctrine of deification, so far from being unscriptural (as is sometimes thought), has a solid Biblical basis, not only in 2 Peter, but in Paul and the Fourth Gospel.

The idea of deification must always be understood in the light of the distinction between God’s essence and His energies. Union with God means union with the divine energies, not the divine essence: the Orthodox Church, while speaking of deification and union, rejects all forms of pantheism.

Closely related to this is another point of equal importance. The mystical union between God and man is a true union, yet in this union Creator and creature do not become fused into a single being. Unlike the eastern religions which teach that man is swallowed up in the deity, Orthodox mystical theology has always insisted that man, however closely linked to God, retains his full personal integrity. Man, when deified, remains distinct (though not separate) from God. The mystery of the ‘Trinity is a mystery of unity in diversity, and those who express the Trinity in themselves do not sacrifice their personal characteristics. When Saint Maximus wrote ‘God and those who are worthy of God have one and the same energy’ (Ambigua, P.G. 91, 1076C), he did not mean that the saints lose their free will, but that when deified they voluntarily and in love conform their will to the will of God. Nor does man, when he ‘becomes god,’ cease to be human: ‘We remain creatures while becoming god by grace, as Christ remained God when becoming man by the Incarnation (V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 87). Man does not become God by nature, but is merely a ‘created god,’ a god by grace or by status.

Deification is something that involves the body. Since man is a unity of body and soul, and since the Incarnate Christ has saved and redeemed the whole man, it follows that ‘man’s body is deified at the same time as his soul’ (Maximus, Gnostic Centuries, 2, 88 (P.G. 90, 1168A)). In that divine likeness which man is called to realize in himself, the body has its place. "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit," wrote Saint Paul (1 Cor. 6:19). "Therefore, my brothers, I beseech you by God’s mercy to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice to God" (Romans 12:1). The full deification of the body must wait, however, until the Last Day, for in this present life the glory of the saints is as a rule an inward splendour, a splendour of the soul alone; but when the righteous rise from the dead and are clothed with a spiritual body, then their sanctity will be outwardly manifest. ‘At the day of Resurrection the glory of the Holy Spirit comes out from within, decking and covering the bodies of the saints — the glory which they had before, but hidden within their souls. What a man has now, the same then comes forth externally in the body(Homilies of Macarius, 5, 9. It is this transfigured ‘Resurrection body’ which the icon painter attempts symbolically to depict. Hence, while preserving the distinctive personal traits in a saint’s physiognomy he deliberately avoids making a realistic and ‘photographic’ portrait. To paint men exactly as they now appear is to paint them still in their fallen state, in their ‘earthy,’ not their ‘heavenly’ body). The bodies of the saints will be outwardly transfigured by divine light, as Christ’s body was transfigured on Mount Thabor. ‘We must look forward also to the springtime of the body’ (Minucius Felix (?late second century), Octavius, 34).

But even in this present life some saints have experienced the first fruits of this visible and bodily glorification. Saint Seraphim is the best known, but by no means the only instance of this. When Arsenius the Great was praying, his disciples saw him ‘just like a fire’ (Apophthegmata, P.G. 65, Arsenius 27); and of another Desert Father it is recorded: ‘Just as Moses received the image of the glory of Adam, when his face was glorified, so the face of Abba Pambo shone like lightning, and he was as a king seated on his throne’ (Apophthegmata (P.G. 65), Pambo 12. Compare Apophthegmata, Sisoes 14 and Silouanus 12. Epiphanius, in his Life of Sergius of Radonezh, states that the saint’s body shone with glory after death. It is sometimes said, and with a certain truth, that bodily transfiguration by divine light corresponds, among Orthodox saints, to the receiving of the stigmata among western saints. We must not, however, draw too absolute a contrast in this matter. Instances of bodily glorification are found in the west, for example, in the case of an Englishwoman, Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941): a friend records how on one occasion her face could be seen transfigured with light (the whole account recalls Saint Seraphim: see The Letters of Evelyn Underhill, edited by Charles Williams, London, 1943, p. 37). Similarly, in the east stigmatization is not unknown: in the Coptic life of Saint Macarius of Egypt, it is said that a cherub appeared to him, ‘took the measure of his chest,’ and ‘crucified him on the earth’). In the words of Gregory Palamas: ‘If in the age to come the body will share with the soul in unspeakable blessings, it is certain that it must share in them, so far as possible, even now’ (The Tome of the Holy Mountain (P.G. 150, 1233C).

Because Orthodox are convinced that the body is sanctified and transfigured together with the soul, they have an immense reverence for the relics of the saints. Like Roman Catholics, they believe that the grace of God present in the saints’ bodies during life remains active in their relics when they have died, and that God uses these relics as a channel of divine power and an instrument of healing. In some cases the bodies of saints have been miraculously preserved from corruption, but even where this has not happened, Orthodox show just as great a veneration towards their bones. This reverence for relics is not the fruit of ignorance and superstition, but springs from a highly developed theology of the body.

Not only man’s body but the whole of the material creation will eventually be transfigured: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away" (Revelation 21:1). Redeemed man is not to be snatched away from the rest of creation, but creation is to be saved and glorified along with him (icons, as we have seen, are the first fruits of this redemption of matter). ‘The created universe waits with eager expectation for God’s sons to be revealed ... for the universe itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and will enter into the liberty and splendour of the children of God. We know that until now the whole created universe has been groaning in the pangs of childbirth’ (Romans 8:19-22). This idea of cosmic redemption is based, like the Orthodox doctrine of the human body and the Orthodox doctrine of icons, upon a right understanding of the Incarnation: Christ took flesh — something from the material order — and so has made possible the redemption and metamorphosis of all creation — not merely the immaterial, but the physical.

This talk of deification and union, of the transfiguration of the body and of cosmic redemption, may sound very remote from the experience of ordinary Christians; but anyone who draws such a conclusion has entirely misunderstood the Orthodox conception of theosis. To prevent any such misinterpretation, six points must be made.

First, deification is not something reserved for a few select initiates, but something intended for all alike. The Orthodox Church believes that it is the normal goal for every Christian without exception. Certainly, we shall only be fully deified at the Last Day; but for each of us the process of divinization must begin here and now in this present life. It is true that in this present life very few indeed attain full mystical union with God. But every true Christian tries to love God and to fulfil His commandments; and so long as a man sincerely seeks to do that, then however weak his attempts may be and however often he may fall, he is already in some degree deified.

Secondly, the fact that a man is being deified does not mean that he ceases to be conscious of sin. On the contrary, deification always presupposes a continued act of repentance. A saint may be well advanced in the way of holiness, yet he does not therefore cease to employ the words of the Jesus Prayer ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.’ Father Silouan of Mount Athos used to say to himself ‘Keep your mind in Hell and despair not;’ other Orthodox saints have repeated the words ‘All will be saved, and I alone will be condemned.’ Eastern spiritual writers attach great importance to the ‘gift of tears.’ Orthodox mystical theology is a theology of glory and of transfiguration, but it is also a theology of penitence.

In the third place, there is nothing esoteric or extraordinary about the methods which we must follow in order to be deified. If a man asks ‘How can I become god?’ the answer is very simple: go to church, receive the sacraments regularly, pray to God ‘in spirit and in truth,’ read the Gospels, follow the commandments. The last of these items — ‘follow the commandments’ — must never be forgotten. Orthodoxy, no less than western Christianity, firmly rejects the kind of mysticism that seeks to dispense with moral rules.

Fourthly, deification is not a solitary but a ‘social’ process. We have said that deification means ‘following the commandments;’ and these commandments were briefly described by Christ as love of God and love of neighbour. The two forms of love are inseparable. A man can love his neighbour as himself only if he loves God above all; and a man cannot love God if he does not love his fellow men (1 John 4:20). Thus there is nothing selfish about deification; for only if he loves his neighbour can a man be deified. ‘From our neighbour is life and from our neighbour is death,’ said Antony of Egypt. ‘If we win our neighbour we win God, but if we cause our neighbour to stumble we sin against Christ’ (Apophthegmata (P.G. 65), Antony 9). Man, made in the image of the Trinity, can only realize the divine likeness if he lives a common life such as the Blessed Trinity lives: as the three persons of the Godhead ‘dwell’ in one another, so a man must ‘dwell’ in his fellow men, living not for himself alone, but in and for others. ‘If it were possible for me to find a leper,’ said one of the Desert Fathers, ‘and to give him my body and to take his, I would gladly do it. For this is perfect love’ (ibid, Agatho 26). Such is the true nature of theosis.

Fifthly, love of God and of other men must be practical: Orthodoxy rejects all forms of Quietism, all types of love which do not issue in action. Deification, while it includes the heights of mystical experience, has also a very prosaic and down-to-earth aspect. When we think of deification, we must think of the Hesychasts praying in silence and of Saint Seraphim with his face transfigured; but we must think also of Saint Basil caring for the sick in the hospital at Caesarea, of Saint John the Almsgiver helping the poor at Alexandria, of Saint Sergius in his filthy clothing, working as a peasant in the kitchen garden to provide the guests of the monastery with food. These are not two different ways, but one.

Finally, deification presupposes life in the Church, life in the sacraments. Theosis according to the likeness of the Trinity involves a common life, but only within the fellowship of the Church can this common life of coinherence be properly realized. Church and sacraments are the means appointed by God whereby man may acquire the sanctifying Spirit and be transformed into the divine likeness.



Hosted by uCoz