The Conciliar Church (Vol 2, Ch 23)

By Michael Ruse:

St. Cyril of Alexandria says do not ask “Where is the church” but ask “Where is the Catholic Church?” What makes the Orthodox Church “Catholic” or Universal? Part of that answer is found in Church unity and sacraments. Again, the image of Christ’s Body becomes a focal point for the Church’s identity. 

We set out to explore this seminar on the Church by delving into what the creed states about its characteristics: it is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. We will discuss what it means to be conciliar and Catholic, and how bishops and the laity take part in this fullness of the Church.

The Holiness of the Church (Vol 2, Ch22)

By Michael Ruse:

This chapter briefly deals with two questions that mainly became controversial in Western Christianity: 1) Paul’s replacement theology that identifies Christ’s Church as the true Israel, not the continuation of the Jewish nation or the practices of Judaism, and 2) the degree of sin that affects the status of members, clergy, and sacraments of the Church. 

In the Church, becoming holy is normal. Each of us can do this with the grace of God first, then with our own effort. But is it a contradiction to believe that the Church is Christ’s pure bride while also admitting that people in the same Church sin? 

John Chrysostom and Anastasius of Sinai describe God’s Church as a hospital, not a courtroom, and an assembly where sinners find medicine and healing, not a place of torture or rejection. 

The Unity of the Church (Vol 2, Ch 21)

By Michael Ruse:

The unity of the Church may be a difficult concept to grasp when we observe so much disunity, and we may be encouraged by others around us to embrace it in various degrees.

In Part 5, Metropolitan Hilarion returns to the Eastern Church Fathers’ understanding of the Trinity that sets the foundation for Church unity because the Trinity isn’t separate from any part of our life, practical or theoretical. 

Metropolitan Hilarion doesn’t shy away from the tough questions of divisions and whether people are saved outside the Church. He presents ancient Church customs on how to to deal with schismatic and heretical groups, and also highlights the signs of unity, the criteria, found in John Chrysostom, that we can all point to and say confidently together that we are in the true Church.

Salvation as Deification (V 2, Ch 20)

Chapter 20, “Salvation as Deification,” is the final chapter in the fourth section of the second volume of Metropolitan Hilarion’s series, Orthodox Christianity.  In this part, Met. Hilarion has written eight chapters on the Orthodox understanding of Christ, His actions, and what it means for us.

He opens this chapter by explaining that while “salvation” has become the preferred word for the goal of mankind, it has lost an important part of the Orthodox meaning of deification.  More than only being saved from something, we are saved for something: to recapture our complete union with Christ, which was lost in the Fall.  This is what it means to be made in the image of God.

By the time of the first Nicene Council (AD 325), the Orthodox understanding of deification was well established.  “We too become sons, not as he in nature and truth, but according to the grace of him that calleth,” was a phrase used by Athanasius.

In the ensuing centuries, the understanding of deification was expanded by Gregory to directly link Christ’s incarnation with mankind’s deification. Symeon added that deification is a process that is unending.

With this understanding of deification, Met. Hilarion closes the door on the section on Christ, which allows him to begin next a six-chapter series on The Church.

The Resurrection of Christ (Vol II, ch 19)

From Chris Speckhard:

Metropolitan Hilarion writes that the “life and witness of the first Christians were permeated by paschal joy and the knowledge of the central meaning of Christ’s resurrection for the salvation of mankind. The Orthodox Church preserves this joy and this knowledge until this day, to which the whole liturgical structure witnesses, oriented to Christ’s  resurrection…If the feast of Christ’s nativity acquired significance in Western Christianity as the main feast day of the ecclesial year, then in the East the “Feast of feasts” has always been Pascha, celebrating victory over death by Christ who was resurrected from the dead, resurrecting the whole race of man with himself.”

In our discussion of this brief but theologically rich chapter, we will examine how the resurrection lies at the crux of the Orthodox Faith and how it represents the culmination of Christ’s redemptive work, inseparably connected with His crucifixion and descent into Hades.   As Orthodox Christians, we participate in Christ’s resurrection through the Mystery of Holy Baptism, and we can experience the Paschal joy in the services of the Church. 

From Michael Ruse:

In Chapter 19, we discuss the resurrection of Christ in light of the rich theology and language of paschal texts of the Church. Melito of Sardis says: He is human in that he is buried. He is God in that he is raised up. Much of the Old Testament symbols and prophecies become fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection as Melito explains, “For there was once a type, but now the reality has appeared.” Metropolitan Hilarion covers some important texts from the Church Fathers that dwell on why Pascha is called “the feast of feasts,” a mystery, and a victory over Hades. If Christ was really raised from the dead after death, should we really be afraid of death anymore? 

The Descent Into Hades (Vol II, Ch 18)

By Michael Ruse:

“Remove, O prince, your gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.” That is an early Christian writing taken from the Gospel of Nicodemos. It’s describing Chapter 18’s theme of Christ’s entering into Hades. Was everyone saved there? Are only the Old Testament righteous saved when Christ entered Hades? We often think preaching the Gospel is only for people who haven’t died yet here on earth. Metropolitan Hilarion explores this question and how Christ achieved victory over death, the devil, and, most rarely talked about, Hell itself. 

Although there isn’t a systematic idea found in the Fathers of the Church about whether not Hades was emptied after Christ’s death, there is support from Scripture, Tradition, Liturgical texts for worship, liturgical poetry, and Apostolic teachings on this rare but important subject of Christ’s descent into Hell and what happened there exactly.

The Passion and Death of the Savior. The Dogma of the Redemption (Vol 2, Ch 16)

From Michael Ruse:

If Christ was not really divine and human at the same time, then would Christ’s suffering and death on the cross still be real and redemptive for us? That’s the question that Metr. Hilarion has asked in the opening of Chapter 16. 

Previously in Chapter 15 we covered the two wills and two energies, both human and divine, which are united in Christ. Now, we will discuss the connection between His passion, death, the dogma of redemption and the united wills and energies of Christ. These technical terms describe ideas that are crucial in understanding our salvation. To whom did Christ pay the ransom for mankind, what’s the meaning of Pascha, the mystery of redemption, and poems from Melito of Sardis are just several eye-opening subtopics found in this new chapter.

Man (Orthodox Christianity, Vol II, Ch 12)

  Michelangelo's  Creazione di Adamo

Michelangelo's Creazione di Adamo

In his small book, Becoming Human, which is a meditation on Christian Anthropology, Fr. John Behr quotes St Irenaeus, who says,

The work of God is the fashioning of the human being.
— Indentifying Christianity

As Jesus faces Pilate, just before being crucified, Pilate says of Jesus, “Behold the man.”  Jesus is the first true human, observes Fr. John. He continues his meditation by recalling Jesus’ words on the cross! “It is finished.”  The work of God, the fashioning of the true human being has been completed in the obedience of Jesus, the second Adam.

In this chapter on Man in Metropolitan Hilerion’s book, Orthodox Christianity, he notes that Patristic tradition speaks of man in three aspects: 1) primordial man; 2) fallen man; and 3) redeemed man.  In this chapter, the Metropolitan addresses the first two.

Why is it so important that we know the truth of man?  Listen to the world around us, the language now used to describe mankind.  We once talked of heterosexual and homosexual people. In the recent past, that distinction was supplanted by LGBT, to be more inclusive.  Most recently, the most inclusive language is LGBTQIA, but even that excludes the “mainstream” heterosexual population.  Undoubtably, we need additional letters to describe us all.  It has been said that all thought takes place in language; change the language and you can change the thought.  With the continued addition of letters to define us came another change in language, now equating one’s desire to be one or more of the letters with the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.  And changed thoughts followed.

We have also moved away from the biblical language of “personhood.”  As the language of “made in God’s image and likeness” fades in our culture in favor of humanist language, ideas change and now we have at least one legal case to have an ape declared a person.

We are immersed in the changing language and ideas of the nature man.

How has this all come to be? Through the powerlessness of God. Yes, His powerlessness.  M. Hilerion quotes Russian theologian V. Lossky, who says:

The height of of the divine all-powerfullness hides withIn itself as if it were a weakness of God…God becomes powerless before human freedom, he cannot constrain it because it proceeds from his power…The will of God will always submit itself before the prodigals, the deviants, and even to the rebellious of the human will, in order to bring it to free concord.  Such is Divine Providence.
— The Mystical Theology of the Orthodox Church

Of course, we know that God saw it all coming.  Jesus, St John the Theologian tells us, is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of creation (Rev 13:8).

And we also have a role. We must speak of man using “Kingdom language,” the language of God.  Perhaps no one will be able to understand us as the world darkens around us, but we must use God’s language, the language spoken by those who are the body of Christ. We must speak it to ourselves to help inoculate each other from the onslaught of Satan’s lies of who we are.

We must know the language of who we are in God’s reality; we, the Church, the Body of Christ, are here, after all, for the life of the world.  To quote Fr. A. Schmemann:

But it is the Christian gospel that God did not leave man in his exile, in the predicament of confused longing. He had created man ‘after his own heart’ and for Himself, and man has struggled in his freedom to find the answer to the mysterious hunger in him . In this scene of radical unfulfillment God acted decisively: into the darkness where man was groping toward Paradise, He sent light. He did so not as a rescue operation, to recover lost man: it was rather for the completing of what He had undertaken from the beginning. God acted so that man might understand who He really was and where his hunger had been driving him.
— For the Life of the World

Come join us for the next two weeks at the St Thomas school and immerse yourself in God’s language of who “man” is, of we are.

The Devil and Demons (Chapter 11)

 Temptation of Christ

Temptation of Christ

Yesterday, Aug 25, we examined chapter 11 in the book in which Metropolitan Hilarion wrote (Orthodox Christianity, Vol II)about the Devil and demons in the Old and New Testaments and what has been said about them by the Church Fathers.  

We had a wide ranging discussion.  One point that stood out to me was when Jesus said to Peter, “Satan has asked permission to sift you like wheat, and I hav prayed for you...” (Luke 22:31-32)  We talked about who we might feel if Jesus had said that to us.  Note that Jesus did not say, “I denied Satan’s request,” but only that Jesus would pray for Peter.

I’m sure I don’t think of the reality of the the war in which I am engaged against Satan.  The Apostle Paul,reminds us that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph 6:12)

Metropolitan Hyperion quotes Symeon the New Theologian, who says:

This war [Satan vs mankind] is endless, and Christ’s warriors should always bear arms.  There is no rest from this war, neither in day or in night...We have bodiless enemies that stand before our faces interminably, though we do not see them; they vainly leave their footprints behind, whether or not one of our embers is laid bare so that they can plunge their arrows into us and kill us.  And no one can hide behind physical walls or fortresses...One can not save oneself by fleeing, nor can one man take up the fight for another, but every man must carry himself into the fray and either gain victory and remain alive, or be defeated and finally die.

Sadly, I rarely live as though I’m at war.

How should we fight the battle against a fallen angel of God?  Here is the best spiritual advice I’ve read:

The most important weapon to use against the devil is the Holy Cross, of which he is terrified. But make the sign of the cross correctly: with the three fingers of the right hand joined together, touch your forehead, your abdomen, your right shoulder and finally you left shoulder. The sign of the cross may be made in conjunction with prostrations. 

Communication with Christ, when it takes place simply and naturally and without force, makes the devil flee. Satan does not go away with force and coercion. He is sent away with meekness and prayer. He retreats when he sees the soul showing contempt for him and turning in love towards Christ. Contempt is something he is unable to bear because he is arrogant. But when you apply force to yourself, the evil spirit becomes aware of the fact and starts to fight you. Do not concern yourself with the devil, nor pray for him to leave. The more you pray for him to leave, the more tightly he embraces you. Show contempt for the devil. Don’t meet him head on. When you struggle against the devil with obstinacy, he flies at you like a tiger or a wild cat. When you shoot a bullet at him, he lobs a hand-grenade at you. And when you throw a bomb at him, he launches a rocket against you. Don’t look at evil. Turn your eyes to God’s embrace and fall into His arms and continue on your way. Abandon yourself to Him; love Christ; live in vigilance. Vigilance is essential for the person who loves God.

No one ever became holy by fighting evil. We only become holy by falling in love with Christ.
— —Wounded by Love, St Porphyrios

 

 

Creation (Chapter 9)

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The heavens declare the glory of God; 

The firmament shows the creation of His hands. 

Day to day utters speech, 

And night to night reveals knowledge. 

--Psalm 18:1-2 (19:1-2)

Imagine a universe where there is nothing else but what is in the universe.  All things, stars, planets, trees, lakes, fish, birds, deer, skunks…every living thing and every non-living thing consists solely of stuff made up of the elements (carbon, hydrogen, etc.)—“star stuff,” as Carl Sagan used to say.

There is good news in this kind of universe: if we are able to understand math, physics, and chemistry well enough, we will be able to predict everything!  If my thinking is only a product of chemical reactions in my brain, then by knowing my DNA and my specific chemical make-up, you would be able to predict my path through life.  We could eliminate crime and control behavior by manipulating DNA and tweaking a person’s chemical balance.  Perhaps we could create a utopian society if we could discover the right DNA sequence and chemical formula for the perfect human.  (Making a “perfect man” in our image.)

There is more good news: we would have the answers to the biggest questions of humankind. What is my role in human history? What is the meaning of my life? What does it mean to be in love? Where did I come from?  But, in this kind of universe we might not like the answers.

The view I’ve just described is called philosophical materialism…there is nothing outside material universe.  It is a philosophical viewpoint held by many.

Think of the loss in such a world.  Such things as love, altruism, poetry, art, literature, discovery, and heroism would not be the product of a human spirit, because there would be no such thing as a “spirit.”  We would not be made in the image and likeness of God because there would be no God. Creation would have no inherent beauty reflecting the Beauty of the Creator; it would be the result of chance.

In this chapter, the author quotes St John Chrysostom, who asks:

…what could be more pitiful and stupid than people coming up with arguments like this, claiming that beings get existence of themselves, and withdrawing all creation from God’s providence?  How could you have the idea that…so many elements and such great arrangement were being guided without anyone to supervise and control it?

This chapter follows the development of the Orthodox perspective on Creation; that “the act of the Son’s begetting and the Spirit’s procession are manifestations of God’s essence.  The creation of the world, on the other hand, occurred in time and is the consequence of God’s activity, his energy.” (p 187).

While the Orthodox Church does not enter the debate between Creationists (old or young Earth) and Evolutionists, the Church does hold that (p 191):

  • God is the Creator and Artificer of all
  • Human kind did not come from apes or other animals

God made the universe, in the words of Irenaeus of Lyons and Isaac the Syrian, that Goodness be moved beyond contemplation of itself and spread forth outward…that intelligent creatures might join in the glory of God’s divine nature.

As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:

Earth’s crammed with heaven

And every bush afire with God.

But only he who sees takes of his shoes,

The rest sit around and pluck blackberries…

--“Aurora Leigh,” book 7

Stop and take time to really see creation; the glory of God is being declared all around us.