Archive for October, 2007

‘Til Christ Be Formed in You

October 18, 2007

viktor_vasnetsov-mother_of_god_1901_1.jpg

Writing to the Galatians, St. Paul utters the cry of a spiritual father:

My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…(Galatians 4:19)

Though, interestingly, the imagery he uses is that of a mother and her children…

But it is a groaning parents have for their own children as they await their maturation. I can recall with each of my children the first significant (by which I mean, more or less, “adult”) spiritual conversation. It always came as a surprise. There are years of Sunday School questions – mostly information or explaining a word or a phrase. Priests’ children hear a lot of stuff…

But there comes a moment, completely unexpected, when the conversation moves from the interrogative mood to the indicative. There may be questions that lurk within things, but you realize you are speaking with another adult – someone who knows Christ and will know Him even if you cease to exist the next instant. They are no longer having a vicarious spiritual experience but are evidencing “Christ formed in them.”

These things go on for a lifetime. They move from child to parishioner, to spiritual child, to other relationships. Sometimes you find yourself on one side sometimes on the other.

One of the deepest and most reassuring aspects of such conversations is that you know the other with whom you speak knows something (or Someone) whom you know and is not conversing in a merely derivative manner. They know Christ and speak with an authority that can only come from within that knowledge. Such conversations are deeply powerful moments no matter with whom they occur. They are affirmations that Christ is not a derivative but the One from whom we derive our life and knowledge.

I am certain in the history of the Orthodox Church, various “mother Churches” have brooded over the offspring in the same manner. For as there is a formation of Christ within each person, so there is also a formation of Christ within each local Church (“local” in Orthodoxy would mean, Russia, America, Greece, Romania, England, etc.). There is a maturing in ministry, an ability to replicate itself across generations, to discipline, to survive persecution and temptation – many things.

The Church in America, though 200 years old, is still very much an infant. It has not been living 200 years in the same culture. In some ways the Church in America is much younger, the modern culture itself have fallen upon us in more recent times. I suppose the Church may be fairly young in many places as we all face a challenge from a culture that is new and foreign (modernity). But in every case, Christ Himself must brood, like St. Paul, “’til Christ be formed in us.”

Every challenge we face, in our own personal lives, in our parish lives, in the life of a diocese or even jurisdictions, asks the question: “Has Christ been formed in you?” And only time can tell. But the signs of that formation are unmistakeable, for the outlines and behaviors of a Church that bear proper resemblance to the Church in every other place that has reached such maturation become visible.

I rejoice in each of my children and their formation in Christ. I pray for my Church, parochial and local, that we show forth the visible signs of such formation. Priests must behave as priests. Bishops as bishops. The children of God as the children of God. Love must conquer all and the overwhelming mercy of Christ cover everything. The Cross must be taken up and carried and called by its right name. And all of this to endless ages “’til we all come to the fullness of the stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

A Russian Tale

October 17, 2007

solzhenitsyn.jpg

This is not a tale from old Russia, or even so much a new tale, but it is a tale told by me, an American, born in 1953, who lived through the events of the 60’s, Vietnam, the whole mess. And strangely, Russia played an important role.

At the end of the 60’s my older brother was in the Navy (long story that) and by the early 70’s was on a destroyer heading to Hanoi harbor. I had been through several religious epiphanies and was deeply subject to the incipient cynicism that was growing throughout young America. A war that was increasingly unpopular, a Presidency that had fallen into disgrace, and an atmosphere that simply left authority in shambles was the legacy I was living into in those years.

I lived in a commune (Christian) for 2 years between high-school and college (grist for another post on another day) and so entered college in the fall of ’73. I carried more questions and few answers and more attitude than someone that young is entitled to have.

My cynicism was shaken up in those mid 70’s by the actions and words of Alexander Solzhnitsyn. Here was a man of integrity (unquestioned at the time and I think still intact) who was standing up to overwhelming odds and surviving to tell the tale. He was someone who captured the imagination.

When I began to read his works, and discovered in reading his essays, that he was, in fact, a practicing Orthodox Christian, something within me soared – not because I knew anything about Orthodoxy, but that such a hero had Christian reasons for the hope that drove his heroism. It saved me from despair.

It also created within me an interest to know more. I began to read Russian novels such as those by Dostoevsky and discovered that Solzhenitsyn was not an aberration but an example. Again my hope soared.

I had opportunities occasionally to meet people who knew the man personally (one particular time I remember was while I was in seminary). But in all of this a seed was planted that created a friendship and a kinship that remained unfulfilled.

At a retreat in an Anglican monastery I was given a book on the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov to read. I did not go to sleep that night until it was finished. At the book’s completion I had a friend in heaven I had not known before and a devotion to one of Russia’s greatest saints. It’s odd how many Americans have been touched by the life of this early 19th century Russian staretz.

Time has gone on, and though I think I am a very American priest (we do all English at St. Anne), I remain a man who is deeply indebted to a culture that is not my own, which gave me heroes when my own culture was failing me.

I believe in the long run the culture that was saving me was nothing other than the culture of the Kingdom of God which cannot be identified with Russia, Byzantium or any of this world’s kingdoms but is nevertheless present wherever God pleases. But if you have encountered it in any form, you cannot help but have a love for the place that harbored it. In time such places as Africa, Greece, the Mideast, Ninevah, Romania, and many others have come to have places in my heart. It is as though the whole globe is (within my heart) being transformed into a bearer of the Kingdom.

And so it should be. It remains to me and for those of us who live here, to make of Appalachia a place that so bears the Kingdom that it, too, may rescue others from whatever place they have wandered and bring them home to the only place any of us can ever call home: the Kingdom of God.

The Pearl of Great Price

October 16, 2007

mikhail_nesterov-taking_the_veil_1898.jpg

Christ told the parable of a merchant in search of fine pearls, who when he had found one truly great one, sold all that he had and bought the pearl – ever since known as the “pearl of great price.” What Christ refers to in the parable, of course, is the Kingdom of God. And lest we confuse anyone – the Kingdom means everything – God Himself and all that you could possibly hunger for as well.

Of course the problem about searching for Great Pearls is that they are only found among many false pearls, and many pearls of far lesser value. More than the “needle in the haystack” – it’s finding a pearl among pearls – even if all pearls are not alike.

It is easy at some point to say, “Well, after all, a pearl is a pearl, and even if this pearl is not THAT pearl, it’s still a pearl.” Which, of course, is all true, but beside the point. You wouldn’t sell all that you have in order to buy just any pearl. And, in truth, as the parable is structured, no other pearl will do.

Searching for that pearl today, the Kingdom of God, the Fullness of the Faith, etc., we have, of course, many pearls, and many stories about the nature of pearls.

Some say there is no real Great Pearl, that this is just an ideal and all pearls, no matter how poor, really partake in the excellence of that true, abstract pearl. So take this one, please.

Others say that there are no Great Pearls to be found among us, just lots of lesser pearls. And the point is to pick the best and know that when everything is said and done, God will turn your poor pearl into the Great Pearl and everything will be fine in the end.

All of these stories, and their variants, make of Christ’s parable mostly a joke. Why speak of a pearl of great price if there was no pearl to be found? Why speak of selling everything in order to possess it, if it is actually as common as gravel along the side of the road?

There are many who have sought to change the meaning of the pearl, in order to keep the parable and set us off chasing red herrings. The Apostles were merchants in search of fine pearls, and they gave up all they had. They did not think that the pearl was abstract or to be found just anywhere or with everyone’s definition of pearls in operation.

The simple fact is that they believed this pearl to be nothing other than the Kingdom of God, manifested in the life of the Church. For this they suffered the loss of all things and purchased the pearl with the price of their blood. To take of that pearl and abstract it today – simply because we (and history) have made such a mess of the Church – is not an answer at all. It is despair.

The pearl of great price exists and is worth all that a man has.

Shortly after my family’s conversion to Orthodoxy, we began the hard work of planting a mission. The first major commitment (other than my need to find secular employment at a fraction of my former ecclesial salary) was to rent space in which to meet. There were very few families at the time. Signing a two-year lease for what seemed a sizable amount each month was frightening, particularly since no human being was standing in the wings and saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll cover it if we need to.” I remember saying to my wife, “This could bankrupt us.” But I also remember adding, “But it’s worth going bankrupt over.”

That is my testimony to the Orthodox Church. This is indeed the pearl of great price, regardless of what man may do with it. It is the true faith, preserved by those who have bought it through the years and kept it as a pearl without deviation from the pearl as it was received. It is worth all that I had – even if I had been a rich merchant. To a degree I was. I had four children – and set their lives and their faith as a downpayment on this pearl. Nothing could have been more precious. And today they are grateful for the pearl it purchased.

I cannot argue with anyone who says that they have found the pearl of great price. But there are many pearls out there, and merchants who would charge far beyond their value. I cannot overcome them with argument. But I will not recant my purchase, my gift. I will not deny the nature of this pearl.

The wonder of it all is that the One Pearl can be had by so many.

How Vulnerable is Your Life?

October 16, 2007

dscf0048.JPG

Young parents quickly discover a level of vulnerability they had not known before a child came into their world. With the birth of a child, under most normal circumstances, your heart becomes extremely vulnerable. You discover that you’ve never loved anything so much and the fragility of their lives becomes, sometimes, all too obvious. I’m not certain that this sense of fragility stops even after their grown and no longer fit the description of “child” any longer.

The vulnerability, of course, is that of love. We live in a dangerous world. I can recall standing at a bus stop every morning of my youngest daughter’s early school years because the idea of letting a beautiful young child stand next to a busy street seemed insane to me. Some mornings it was awfully cold. But we’d play games and wait for the bus and I would watch my heart pull away in that large yellow vehicle. Happy again, that we had warded off so many dangers.

That this same daughter, as a teen, today drives an old Volvo, doubtless has much to do with her father’s vulnerability. It’s my heart.

Most of the things that are truly precious to us have a characteristic vulnerability: a child, an aging parent, a spouse, etc. It is also properly true of the Church. Though its existence is underwritten by the promise of heaven, its dependence on love makes it daily vulnerable to all of man’s worst instincts. On any given day we either love each other and take up our cross, or the Church, that marvelous Bride of God, is wounded and hurt. Something fails and hearts are wounded, and disappointed. God has not made us immune to the Cross but has required it of us in our journey into the Kingdom.

But neither you nor I need drive the nails that bind one another to the Cross. We need not speak ill words or offer harsh judgments or crush dimly burning wicks. Today, be St. John the Theologian who stood by the Cross (as did the Mother of God). Offer words of encouragement to brothers and sisters. Offer no word of offence or gloat at another’s suffering.

There is a line from an old Hank Williams song, that always makes me weep (I’m from the South, you know). It reads:

He was Mary’s own darlin’, he was God’s chosen Son
Once He was fair and once He was young
Mary, she rocked Him, her darlin’ to sleep
But they left Him to die like a tramp on the street.

That same darlin’ dwells in each brother and sister you meet today. Let your heart be vulnerable to them. Don’t leave them like a tramp on the street.

Zizioulas and the Church that is Communion

October 15, 2007

cimabue2.jpg

One of the more profound writers and thinkers in the Orthodox Church today has to be Metropolitan John Zizioulas – who has taught for years in Scotland and England – and is known to be one of the closest theologians to His Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Zizioulas [as he is commonly referred to without meaning any disrespect] is also famously difficult to read – he can pack a paragraph with insights that require days to unravel for some.

My first serious encounter with his work was in a Doctoral Seminar at Duke. I was writing a term paper on him, and thus needing to read pretty much everything he had written. I was slowly making my way through Being as Communion (reading each page three and four times) when suddenly a “coin dropped” in my mind. To a large extent what happened is that I could suddenly see what the great Cappadocians Fathers, such as St. Basil the Great, were getting at in their writings on the Trinity, and why the East was typically so different from the West in this regard.

I was stunned and found that I needed about three days to digest the thought and far more time to “rethink” a lot of thoughts. The end result was probably crucially important to my later conversion to Orthodoxy – though I did not realize it at the time.

I will do two things in this post. One is to summarize, if ever so briefly, what it is Zizioulas is saying about the Eucharist and the Church. The second will be to bring in another consideration which I will offer as compatible to Zizioulas’ writings but which will deflect many of the criticisms he faces (cf. this article if you want to read one of those criticisms).

Zizioulas, following the teaching of St. Basil in particular, notes that in Orthodox Trinitarian teaching, it is common to begin by speaking of the three Persons of the Godhead and then moving to the One Essence, rather than by speaking of the One Essence and then proceeding to the three Persons. Without repeating the entirety of his magisterial work, he presses this work of St. Basil and concludes that God exists as an eternal act of communion of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. St. Basil had said that “person is prior to being” (not speaking temporally, but theologically). Thus it is that the very names of the Trinity reveal the truth of God. The Father is not a metaphor, but a name. He is Father and this implies “a begotten.” Christ as Son, again implies begotten. The Spirit (which means breath or wind) also implies another, a source. Thus there is no speaking of the Triune God that does not include this “relational” aspect.

Zizioulas also applies this understanding of existence to human beings. Thus our biological existence, which is destined to return to the dust, is replaced, in Holy Baptistm, by what he calls “the ecclesial hypostasis” (I just love the term though it won’t preach). I existence given to us in Baptism is no longer defined by our biology, our individuality, but by our relationship to Christ (and thus to His Church).

He also removes the Church from crude institutional images and instead says its true nature is revealed and constituted in the Eucharist, in which not only the Bread and Wine become the Body and Blood, but in which also are revealed to be Christ’s Body. And just as the Body and Blood are “eschatological” in character (manifestations in time of the very End of things), so too our true existence is revealed as eschatological.

Zizioulas gets accused of having established a “pneumatological” understanding of the Church (i.e. an understanding that depends on the operation of the Spirit [pneuma] rather than on Christ – though I think such criticisms are unfair.

I will take us to a slightly different approach. The Body and Blood made manifest to us on the holy altar, which are there certainly eschatologically, and also as a gift of the Spirit [why else would be pray for the Holy Spirit to “change” the Bread and Wine] – but what is made manifest to us is nothing other than the Crucified Christ. It is, as the Fathers said, “a bloodless sacrifice,” but the sacrifice made present on the altar is indeed the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, as well as the “Lamb slain from the foundations of the earth.” The Church is revealed not only as Christ’s Body, but revealed as well as Christ Crucified, with whom we were united in Baptism (Baptized into his death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection). Thus the Eucharistic Community of which Zizioulas speaks cannot be merely “pneumatological” because what the Spirit reveals and makes manifest is profoundly Christological and even Cruciform.

Indeed, the Trinitarian aspects of Zizioulas’ teaching, can best be understood by going to Christ on the Cross. Though Zizioulas approaches these matters in a quasi-philosophical model (starting with the Cappadocian Fathers and the great Trinitarian debate) it is nonetheless true that it is Christ on the Cross who most perfectly reveals the character of God, and even the Trinity to us.

It is the self-emptying of Christ on the Cross, described best in Philippians 2 that goes to the heart of my point:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:  Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (5-11).

The self-emptying of Christ on the Cross is not to be confined to that one occasion. The entirety of Christ’s ministry is a self-emptying, from the Annunciation forward. The icons and feasts of the Church make it clear that the whole of Christ’s love for us is manifest in a life that has the very “shape” of Pascha. Indeed to say the “Lamb was slain before the foundation of the earth,” is to acknowledge that this revelation contained in Pascha transcends the single event of Pascha and is revelatory of Who Christ is.

Nor can we simply point to the self-emptying of Christ and say that it is a “Christological” revelation. For the Father gave His only-begotten Son, and the Spirit speaks nothing of Himself but only of the Son. There is a mutual self-emptying in the Trinity as revealed to us in Scripture. Thus the God of whom St. John says, “God is love,” is true of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Communion is nothing other than the common life of God. And it is into this Communion that we are placed in the Holy Eucharist (‘whosoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him” (John 6:56).

But it is also possible, having said all this, to make the mistake of “over-emphasizing” the Divine Liturgy itself, as though other actions of the Church were not “Eucharistic” themselves (this is the kind of mistake that has been common in the “liturgical movement”). The Eucharist not only reveals the Church in its proper self-emptying character of communion, but also reveals the character of every action we take in the Church. How is the sacrament of Confession not “self-emptying.” How is it not an act of communion with the Triune God? How is Baptism not a “self-emptying” (we are “put to death” in that sacrament)? How is Marriage not an act of mutual self-emptying? Why do we crown them with the crowns of martyrs? I could go on and on.

The simple question placed at Baptism: “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” Is itself an invitation to live the self-emptying Life of God. Everything we do in Church and as Christians is properly done when it is an act of self-emptying, an act of communion. There can be no communion of any sort without kenosis (emptying).

Thus although some have found fault with Zizioulas as too pneumatological (Spirit-centered) in his discussion of the Church, or too philosophical (having started with the Cappadocians rather than the Cross), I find him not guilty – if he is understood in the manner I have set forth here. Nothing in Chrisianity makes any sense apart from the Cross, for it is the Cross that shows forth the great mystery of Pascha which is indeed God’s revelation of Himself to the World. Pascha not only reveals God, but also answers the question, “What kind of God is He?” He is a good God who loves mankind.

Glory to God for all things!

Writing Plans – Zizioulas Made Plain

October 13, 2007

zizioulas1.jpg

I hope to spend some time next week “unpacking” (as they say) some of Met. John Zizioulas’ theology. It is very helpful in understanding the true nature of the Church. This weekend I am in Clarksville, TN, near Fort Campbell, to explore the possibilities of a new mission. I would much appreciate your prayers. It’s hard to be away from my home parish – even for two days, but especially on Sundays – and this will be the case for 2 Sundays to come.

For what it’s worth – Ancient Faith Radio – will be offering a weekly podcast from me, mostly based on this Blog, starting on October 20. Go to their website for more information. If you enjoy the blog, perhaps you’ll enjoy the podcasts. If you do not enjoy it then you can download it for a listen and consider it a podvig. 🙂 In seriousness, for whatever use it may be to Christ’s Holy Church, I pray God will bless this effort. It was someone else’s idea and invitation which gives me some courage.

Glory to God!

And Now for a Little Meat! Met. John Zizioulas and the Church

October 12, 2007

mysticalsupper.jpg

If you are not familiar with Met. John Zizioulas’ work, then you have missed some of the best writing by an English-speaking Orthodox writer. Not that having read him you’ll understand what you have just read. But the following small article was sent to my by my dear friend, the Pontificator, whom many of you know from (now-demised) blog. I appreciate the head’s up. The article was publish elsewhere

John Zizioulas (Being as Communion) reflections on his work by this title.

John Zizioulas, like de Lubac, also recovers the early church’s teaching on the Eucharist for the purpose of revitalizing ecclesiology, emphasizing that the celebration was not simply memorializing what had been accomplished. First and foremost, it was celebrating the fact that it was caught up in “an eschatological act” (21). The Eucharist constituted the being of the Church. It also helped bring together the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. It could hold both the historical form and the divine reality together without confusion. The Eucharist was not simply an institution (22), but an event out of the working of the Holy Spirit to bring history into eternity with God.
Like de Lubac, Zizioulas wants to check individualism in the church.

The eucharistic community makes the Church eschatological. It frees it from the causality of natural and historical events, from limitations which are the result of the individualism implied in our natural biological existence (22).

The Eucharist cannot happen in isolation, but only when everyone is present. That is, Zizioulas has no regard for private masses because of the communal nature of the Eucharist. He characterizes the Eucharist not as a sacrament along side the word, but as

the eschatologization of the historical word, the voice of the historical Christ, the voice of the Holy Scripture which comes to us, no longer simply as ‘doctrine’ through history, but as life and being through the eschaton. It is not the sacrament completing the word, but rather the word becoming flesh, the risen Body of the Logos (22-23).

Zizioulas locates ecclesiology quite explicitly in the economic Trinity, identifying the humanity as the imago dei not within a universal human nature as de Lubac does, but only within “the work of Christ and the Spirit in history” (19).

Zizioulas bypasses the choice between a Christological or Pneumatological ecclesiology by emphasizing their unity-in-distinction. “The separation between Christology and ecclesiology vanishes in the Spirit (111).” To distinguish the Spirit from the Son, he writes:

Now if becoming history is the particularity of the Son in the economy, what is the contribution of the Spirit? Well, precisely the opposite: it is to liberate the Son and the economy from the bondage of history . . . The Spirit is the beyond history, and when he acts in history he does so in order to bring into history the last days, the eschaton (130).

It is also the Spirit that allows Christ to have a “corporate personality,” such that Christology is given a communal form – “with Christ having a ‘body,’ i.e. to speak of ecclesiology, of the Church as the Body of Christ” (131).

The two aspects of Pneumatology not only determine but also constitute ecclesiology. “[T]hese aspects must qualify the very ontology of the Church. The Spirit is not something that ‘animates’ a Church that already somehow exists. The Spirit makes the Church be” (132). This leads Zizioulas in a surprisingly premature way to the practical question to which he holds off on an answer: “what ecclesial structures and institutions exist which help the Church to maintain the right balance between local and universal?” (133). We will return to the framing of this question in our critique.

This Pneumatological Christology is significant for conciliarity. The oneness of the church is understood to coincide with its multiplicity. There is no council or synod that acts as a mirror image of the Pope for Orthodoxy. The relationship between the local and universal Church is worked out along the lines of his understanding of the being of God as a communion of persons. There is a double principal at work for Zizioulas, for on the one hand the institution has no prior existence or authority beyond “the event of communion,” while on the other hand the communion of the church cannot be prior to its unity. “The institution which expresses this communion must be accompanied by an indication that there is a ministry safeguarding the oneness which the communion aims at expressing” (135).

A Pneumatological Christology is also significant to the relationship between the bishop and the church, and the maintenance of relationship between the “one” and the “many.” “In the case of the local Church is represented through the ministry of the bishop, while the “many” are represented through the other ministries and the laity” (136). The “one” and the “many” are interdependent. In so far as the “one” is dependent on the “many,” there can be no ordination or episcopacy apart from the community. In so far as the “many” are dependent on the “one,” there can be “no baptism” or “ordination without the presence of the bishop” (137).

Finally, the ecclesial institutions of the bishop and the laity “have to be attached to the eucharist,” (138) thus emphasizing not only the communion but the eschatology of the Church. He describes the institutions as being “reflections of the Kingdom” in two ways. First, they “iconic,” in that “their ontology does not lie in the institution itself,” nor due they owe anything to “historical expedience” (138) but to Christ alone. Zizioulas does not advocate neglecting the needs of people, but he does not see these as having any fundamental structural bearing.

We turn to the function of truth in the Church. Zizioulas describes the Eucharist as “the Locus of Truth” (115). Christ is the experience of truth as the one who comes into our history and dwells within us (115). There is no truth of Christ apart from the community that we might locate within the individual mind (rationalism) or soul (mysticism). Christ is not the truth “in a community, but as a community” (115). The truth of Christ takes on a eucharistic historical form, which differentiates it from mere fact. History as such is known in “charismatic-pentacostal events” which do not submit to “a linear development” (116). Not surprisingly, this creates a new understanding of the infallibility of the Church as dependent on communion of the bishops and the community. Regarding the formulation of truth in dogmas, the aim of definition and anathema was to preserve “Eucharistic communion” (117). Zizioulas goes on: “Thus it may be said that the credal definitions carry no relationship with truth in themselves, but only in their being doxological acclamations of the worshiping community” (117).

The Eucharist reveals the renewal of creation, such that humanity is given the task of priesthood to it. Here we begin to see a characteristic blurring of divine and human agency:

Man’s responsibility is to make a Eucharistic reality out of nature, i.e. to make nature, too, capable of communion. If man does this, then truth takes up its meaning for the whole cosmos, Christ becomes a cosmic Christ, and the world as a whole dwells in truth, which is none other than communion with its Creator. Truth thereby becomes the life of all that is (119).

Finally, “a Eucharistic concept of truth shows how truth becomes freedom” (120). Whereas freedom as choice often assumes an individualist concept of being, the freedom “given by the Christ-truth to creation is precisely this freedom from division and individualization, creating the possibility of otherness within communion” (121). Those who “gather together in the eucharist realize their freedom under the form of affirmation alone: it is not the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ together which God offers in Christ, but only the ‘yes,’ which equates to the Eucharistic ‘Amen” (121).

Because this notion of freedom is so otherworldly, Zizioulas admits that it may seem impractical and unrealistic. However, he reprimands Protestants for this reaction:

You do not do justice to truth’s ontological content by implying that our fallen state of existence is all there is. The individualization of existence by the fall makes us seek out security in objects or various ‘things,’ but the truth of communion does not offer this kind of security: rather, it frees us from slavery to objective ‘things’ by placing things and ourselves within a communion-event (122).

+++

I am on a mission trip this weekend – so read a little Zizioulas and discuss among yourselves! – Fr. Stephen

Orthodox Europe?

October 12, 2007

ruins.jpg

From the Christian Science Monitor comes this interesting opinion piece:

A short quote:

Western suspicion of Eastern Orthodoxy can be traced back to before the Great Schism that divided the Christian Church in 1054. One hundred and fifty years later, it fueled the Crusaders’ zeal for the sacking of Constantinople. In the 18th century, it became a main theme of Edward Gibbon‘s influential interpretation of the Roman Empire, which was later echoed in the writings of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. And in modern times, Samuel Huntington, among others, has warned direly of the potential for clashes between “Slavic-Orthodox” civilization and the Catholic-Protestant West.

With the exception of Greece, this sad legacy has made Western Europeans notoriously slow to accept countries with large Orthodox populations into pan-European institutions. In the current expansion eastward, however, it is inevitable that the values and mores of European institutions and alliances will be shaped more and more by the traditionalist views of Orthodox Christian believers and less and less by the modern, secularized Protestant assumptions of Western European democracies. Orthodox believers already far outnumber Protestants across Europe, and by some estimates they may eventually even surpass Roman Catholics. If 21st-century Europe ever develops a religious complexion, it will be predominantly Eastern Orthodox.

The entire article is worth a read.

The Church of Many Rooms

October 11, 2007

stmarysatlanta.jpg

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? (John 14:2).

I have shared before about a dream I once had of a Church in which there were many rooms. It was an old, wooden Orthodox Church, packed with people and with a service going on – but the service continued from room to room. The image has stayed with me for better than 20 years.

Frequently when I think of the heart, which is finally that Church in which we must all learn to worship, I remember this dream and the saying of Christ that in His Father’s house are many rooms (RSV translation). Most particularly I think this dream, for the inside seemed larger than the outside.

Human beings are more-or-less the same size – give or take a few feet and inches. But what we do not see in the other is the space within the heart. A spiritual space, and yet a space that is here, within us. I have quoted on my sidebar the saying of St. Macarius:

The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there. (H.43.7)

There is such a fullness present within the heart that learning to go there is utterly essential for us as believers. If we do not know the treasures that are ours in the heart then we will likely not recognize them when we see them set before us elsewhere.

St. Macarius does not mention the Church in his list of things within the heart, although it too must be there if the life and kingdom, the light, the apostles, the heavenly cities, etc., are all there. In the end, and even now as God makes the end to be present to us, the Church is all of these good things – for it is the very Body of Christ, it is the fulfillment of His eternal purpose:

For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:9-10.)

This eternal purposed is echoed again later in Ephesians with a slightly different twist:

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in him (Ephesians 3:7-12). Emphasis added.

I have often spent time teaching Catechumens and others about the kinship between the Church in which we worship and the heart that dwells within us. I take time to talk about the Narthex, the outer court of the heart, its most public place, also to speak about the Nave which is the court of friends. There in the Nave are the majority of icons and the gathering of the people. But I spend the most time teaching about the area of the altar, which is the throne-room of God. That place in the heart which corresponds to it is the most intimate place within us. There we sup with God as He promised (Rev. 3:20). This is the place of great prayer.

And just as I have described three rooms within the heart, so we also discover that those rooms are larger than we dreamed. A room that is large enough for us to sup with God must indeed be larger than the universe! And so God means to make us larger, to teach us to have room in our heart for the whole world and more.

We have had our conversations about Churches, which we will not resolve by argument or counter-argument, for the Church is not an argument but a reality given to us by Christ. There indeed is salvation to be found, for there is Christ, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there.

Glory to God for all things!

A Further Thought on Failure and the Church

October 11, 2007

A priest much beloved to me wrote to me privately (among other things) these thoughts on my article on the “Failure of the Church.” He is entirely accurate and his words bear posting here lest I be misundertood. May God bless him in his ministry.

It’s tempting when we see scandal and sin in Church life to attribute these things to the Church Herself. But there is no time or place in the history of the Church where the Church can be shown to have sinned, or to have failed to save Her members. Emperors, hierarchs, priests, deacons, monastics, laypeople all sin, all fail. But the Church does not, becuase She is not a human institution, She is a sacrament, or rather, *the* sacrament. Protestant missionaries couldtoday, but they will be hungry tomorrow. Only the Church feeds people with the Bread that came down from Heaven, and the Living Water that springs up unto life everlasting. So long as the Church accomplishes these things, we shouldn’t presume to say that She has failed. So long as She continues to offer the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world upon Her altars, She continues to be triumphant, accomplishing in Her Divine Head the re-creation and renewal of the universe and the redemption of the fallen human race. So long as there are saints, the Church has not failed.

To which I can only say, “Amen.”