Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Purpose of Scripture

                                              Chapter 1 of the Gospel of John in Greek

I find it a bit funny that many people approach me asking me what a certain verse might entail or how can I gain a deeper appreciation for the scriptures as a spiritual reading. The problem with western society is post-modernism. Post modernism has destroyed everything beautiful we know including how to view scripture. How? Because it takes scripture and it does the complete opposite of how one is to interpret scripture. Scripture cannot be read as a historical document. You cannot read scripture and reach conclusions like the universe was created in six days as one example. A literal approach is needed to understand scripture but this is not the final goal. A spiritual understanding is needed to understand what scripture is. So looking at the creation story; its not about how God created the world but rather how do we find Christ in Scripture. That is the ultimate purpose of scripture. The cross is the center of the entire scriptures. Everything that came before the cross and after the cross if focused upon the cross.

During scripture class with Fr. John Behr, he has asked us what were the first words that Eve spoke to Adam. (Genesis ch2 the creation account is set in the garden of Eden). No one even dared to guess. He looked at the class and smiled saying "she probably asked him are you the gardener?" We all looked at each other and laughed. The idea is that all of scripture is focused on Christ. If we then learn to interpret scripture on understanding the mystery of who Christ is then we will be able to appreciate what scripture means and we can then learn to grow a deep level to applying scripture in our own lives. However, if we continue to view scripture as a historical document then scripture will break down as being the words of God. The purpose of scripture is to be understood on who Christ is. And by understanding who Christ us this will always to live in union and to be one with God.


"The Fathers wrote many biblical commentaries and sets of homilies or sermons centered upon a book of the bible. Their aim was to build up the faithful as part of the living Body of Christ. The Fathers were also aware of the fact that the Scriptures were ancient documents written in a variety of grammars, styles, and vocabularies and that these documents presented problems of interpretation. Although the Father were competent scholars of language because of their training in rhetoric, or the art of using language, pure of disinterested historical scholarship in the modern sense was not their aim. Their aim was always concerned with deification in one way or another: the bible was their guide in coming to know God."

Stephen Thomas, "Deification in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition: A Biblical Perspective." (New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2007) 69.

"No one can make sense of any text unless one has a method of interpreting it, an approach and a direction. Tradition, then, provides a creative perspective relevant to our knowledge of God as saving us and as deifying us. This creative perspective of tradition can help us to penetrate deeply into the Scriptures in the Orthodox way."

Stephen Thomas, "Deification in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition: A Biblical Perspective." (New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2007) 70.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"The peace of the Lord be with you" The understanding of Liturgy

"Let us go in peace, the peace of the Lord be with you" as the congregation respond "And with your Spirit". And with that ends the liturgical cycle of the liturgy Sunday morning. However, we say it so many times that do we ever wonder what this means? Does it mean that the liturgy ends and were of to another work week? Does the peace of the Lord truly stop at this point and then we will receive it again the following Sunday? I would suggest that this surely does not end the liturgy but begins it. "Let us go in peace" are not merely comforting words meant only for us. Rather, it is a calling to serve and bear witness of Christ. "Let us go in peace" does in the physical world mark the end of the liturgy but begins the spiritual liturgy that is about to begin.

The word liturgy is derived from the Greek (Liturgia), essentially meaning service. However, the ancient church not only understood this as service in general but rather a communal service. Service that is done within the community by the community. This is why the theme of unity plays a major factor within the celebration of the liturgy. We are coming together as one body to celebrated the divine liturgy and to partake of Christ as one body, one mind and one spirit. This, then, is the aim of the Liturgy: that we should return to the world with the doors of our perceptions purified. When we return to the word, we must see Christ in every human person, especially in those who suffer. Father Alexander Schememann said it best "the Christian is the one who wherever he or she looks, everywhere sees Christ and rejoices in him. We are to go out, then, from the Liturgy and see Christ everywhere". All that we do is Liturgy (community). If we believe that we are one body, mind and spirit then how is this any different outside of the church? The early church did think that way and neither should we.

Again Father Alexander said it best "If today the liturgy of the Church has ceased to be for so many people the deepest need and joy of their life, it is, above all, because they have forgotten, or maybe have never known, the essential liturgical law of preparation and fulfilment. They experience no fulfilment because they ignore preparation, and they ignore preparation because they desire no fulfilment. Then indeed liturgy appears as an irrelevant survival of archaic forms, to be enlivened by some "concert" or artificial and tasteless "solemnity."

Powerful words but I believe this rings true to many people who attend the Orthodox church. Coming to church to show off your clothing or cleaning your hair in the wash-room or checking your cellphone every five minutes or using projector screens to cover the icons in the church or coming to church and talk to your friends as the service is going on demonstrates the handicaps that we as humans have inherited to help us with "our liturgical cycle". We have to pay attention to the preparation of the liturgy. If there is no preparation then there is no respect and if there is no respect then the liturgy loses its meaning and sweetness to everyone. People start showing up late, not evening knowing why they come to church any more. Once we start respecting the liturgy from the inside then we can start living the liturgy outside. Lex orandi, lex credendi, "The law of worship determines the law of faith". If we respect the preparation then our worship in the church will determine the growth of our faith which will naturally carry the liturgy not to its conclusion but rather to its beginning in our lives.  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Journal reflections of Fr Alexander Schmemann-Part 2- On H.H. Pope Shenouda III of Blessed Memory and the Coptic Orthodox Church

Saturday, February 11, 1978

Immersion yesterday and today in a totally unknown (to me) world of Coptic Christianity. Right away I must express my main impression: it is edifying and it is alive. I remember my trip to the Middle East in 1971 and my impression of something outlived, nominal, dying, chained to the past—the existence of a non-existent world. Lifeless Hierarchs. Fear. Lies. Corruption.

And then, last year in Los Angeles, I met His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the Patriarch of the Coptic Church. Right away—an impression of genuine life, spiritual openness. And now, in Cairo, I am meeting the very Coptic reality. There are about seven million Copts in Egypt! And this church, despite persecutions (Byzantine, Arab, Turkish), despite the surrounding sea of Islam, despite its isolation and loneliness, and the whole spiritual and political chaos of the Middle East, is revived and alive!

In the morning, a long reception at the Patriarchs residence. Right away, we talk about the essential—the Church, ways to unify, mission, Africa, youth.

In the evening, I witnessed something truly amazing. In the packed cathedral, seven thousand people listen—as they do every Friday—to the Patriarch. In front of him, on a little table, hundreds of little pieces of paper with questions. He chooses five or six and answers them so simply, and at the same time so deeply (about the meaning of “Lord have mercy”; about the death of a mother—“where is she now?”; about a fifteen-year-old girl—“should she go to a monastery now?”; about somebody who promised to work in the church school if he passed his exam and has not kept his promise, etc.). Then he lectures about the temptations of Christ in the desert, and again—genuine, lively, pastoral, nurturing. Where in the Orthodox world can one see and experience this, a patriarch with the people, in a live dialogue?

But then today I had an extraordinary day: a visit in the desert to three monasteries with an uninterrupted tradition from Anthony the Great, Makarios, etc. In one of them is the sarcophagus of Ephrem of Syria. And the most amazing, of course, is how very much alive it all is: Real monks! In my whole life, I have seen only imitations, only playing at monastic life, false, stylized; and mostly unrestrained idle talk about monasticism and spirituality. And here are they, in a real desert. A real, heroic feat. 

So many young monks. No advertisements, no brochures about spirituality. Nobody knows anything about them and they do not mind it. I am simply stunned. I have a thousand questions, and I will have to gradually start sorting it all out. Right now, this trip to the desert remains in my memory as something radiant.

Sunday, February 12, 1978 

In the morning—Old Cairo. Liturgy in the Coptic Church. The impression is somewhat confused. On the one hand, it is undoubtedly Alexandrian—everything is under cover, seen only through covers. Tiny royal doors, and there, at the altar, the priest performs something belonging to another world. He performs very slowly, accompanied by one very long, inimitable, prayerful melody.

The Coptic block in Old Cairo is a ghetto, with hidden entrances to the church. One feels a habit of hiding, of always being suspected, of living inside ones self. The womens monastery is peaceful, sunny, joyful. 


The Rev. Alexander Schmemann was a leading Russian Orthodox theologian influential in U.S church life in the cause of religious freedom in the Soviet Union and in the world-wide ecumenical movement. He was an adjunct professor at Columbia and New York universities and at Union and General theological seminaries in New York City. He was also dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary in Crestwood N.Y. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Journal reflections of Fr Alexander Schmemann. Part 1- Sunday, October 11, 1981

Yesterday I spent a blissful day at my desk. After a two-month interruption, I came back to my book (Eucharist). I started by rereading a pile of drafts and could not understand what I am writing about; what is it that I cannot express? Little by little the thought started working. If only I could have one such day each week! The tragedy of my life is that I don’t have it; that I live in constant fear of a phone call, meetings, talks, etc.

Today, a deluge of confessions. Father P[aul] L[azor] was serving. I heard confessions until the Great Entrance. I sometimes think that the highly overdeveloped feeling of sinfulness has weakened the feeling, the understanding, the consciousness of sin. The Gospel saying, “I have sinned against heaven and before You” (Luke 15:21), has lost its clarity. Predominant are “my defects,” “my weaknesses,” all kinds of introspection.

Sin is first of all unfaithfulness to the “Other,” a betrayal. For a long time now, sin has become reduced to morals. And nothing leads away from God, from thirst for God, as precisely these morals. All morals consist first of all of bans and taboos. “I quarreled with my wife”—but in a quarrel with your wife whom you love the reason and content of the quarrel is almost always unimportant. What is important, painful, unbearable, is the rupture, the breach, as short as it might be. And you make peace with your wife not because you find who is right and who is wrong, but because you love each other, because each ones life is in the other. A Christianity reduced to morality, to norms, is impossible to practice because; not one of Christs commandments is fulfilled without love for Christ. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

There is a kind of moral person with a passion for cleanliness, who runs to confession because for him any little spot is unbearable, just as it is unbearable for any well-dressed man of the world. But this is not repentance; it is closer to a feeling of human decency. But one can’t say about a saint, “He was a thoroughly decent person.” A saint is thirsty not for “decency,” not for cleanliness, and not for absence of sin, but for unity with God. He does not live interested in himself (the introspection of a clean fellow), but in God.

Morality is directed toward one’s self. Concern for rubrics is the equivalent in the Church. But in morality, there is no treasure about which it is said that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). The Church: Its call is not to morality, but to the revelation and the gift of the Treasure.

The Rev. Alexander Schmemann was a leading Russian Orthodox theologian influential in U.S. church life in the cause of religious freedom in the Soviet Union and in the world-wide ecumenical movement. He was an adjunct professor at Columbia and New York universities and at Union and General theological seminaries in New York City. He was also dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary in Crestwood N.Y.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Orthodoxy and the World-Part 2-Protopresbyter Maxym Lysack

How do we live Orthodoxy in the world?

First I think by acquiring the life of Christ. Which we do in the Holy Spirit. We acquire that life first when we are baptized, it is a true and a real beginning. We receive Christ's life, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, not simply the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but the gift of Chrismation is the Holy Spirit Himself. Simply put. So we receive Christ's life when we are incorporated into Him in baptism and when also we receive the Holy Spirit because we always Christ's life in the Holy Spirit. It is a real beginning but it requires development, it points to fulfillment. There is something more that we need to do with our baptism. St Symeon the New Theologian spent alot of time and effort emphasizing this point that baptism in of itself for adults is, I'll paraphrase what he writes, "not sufficient for salvation because it is in the beginning pointing to fulfillment." Eucharist is its sacramental fulfillment, Holy Communion, to quote Fr Alexander Schmemann who put it very simply and beautifully, "we are baptized so that we can receive the Holy Spirit, and we receive the Holy Spirit so that we can receive the Body and Blood of Christ." Put very simply, but it certainly exposes the truth of these three sacraments and their importance relationship.

Eucharist is the fulfillment, but asceticism, Christian discipline in the spiritual life, represents our choice and our cooperation with both Baptism and Eucharist. This is why we a preparation in the Orthodox Church for receiving Holy Communion, but I might add that the fathers of the Church talk also about the ascetical discipline that is required after Holy Communion. And the after we often forget. Some people seem, as it were, to celebrate the end of the ascetical preparation with the Eucharist, with receiving the Eucharist, and forget that there is an ascetical work after we receive in order to guard the grace which has been given. St Gregory Palamas speaks alot about this. And then finally, with regard to acquiring the life of Christ in the Holy Spirit, we have prayer, it fits in here as well. There is no contradiction between prayer and the sacraments, the Holy Mysteries, in fact they are inadvertently in a very vital  relationship with each other. And we see prayer as an ongoing, a continuing communion with God. And it is the first way in which we can live Orthodoxy, because if we do not acquire Christ's life there's no point to really talking about living Orthodoxy, since Orthodoxy as we have already said, is not a philosophy, not a club, not an ethic, but the Divine Human Person of Jesus Christ. If that is true then in order to live Orthodoxy we have to receive His Life, if we don't, we aren't living Orthodoxy.

Secondly, after receiving the Life of Christ in the Holy Spirit, we live Orthodoxy in the world by allowing the gracious character of Christ to be revealed to be made manifest in us. This is where ascetiscm is so important, and prayer. Yes we receive the grace of God, yes the Lord wants to manifest His life through us, but He won't do it against our will, and He won't choose for us, frustrating as we might find it, it's part of God's love for us that He never forces our hand. That He never pushes us, He doesn't even make us feel guilty, He doesn't co-opt us, He doesn't manipulate us, He loves us unconditionally which is precisely why people do not know what to do with Him. 

His love is so other, so different, it doesn't correspond to anything in our experience and so sometimes we expect and indeed in the spiritual life demand that He become manipulative. That He force us just a little after all or that he co-opt us at least somewhat and then we will do the rest. But that's not Him, that's not Him. He doesn't work that way. So when we ask Him to do that, it's not a prayer He's about to answer, thankfully...thankfully.

So it's up to us to cooperate and to allow His gracious life to to be revealed in us and it is to manifest the Church to the world and in the world. This is indeed how the world comes to know the Church, through people, not primarily through architechture, but through people or through some other means. We're very very proud of our beautiful architechture and iconography in the Orthodox Church and there's a reason why we build Churches the way we do and we canons in iconography and the Lord works through them. Nevertheless, primarily the Lord's life is demonstrated through His Body, through people, through Christians and in order to do this you and I have to make all of life liturgical.

Now how do we do that? Does that mean that we need to take Petar and have him at every place of our employment directing the Choir? Does that mean that we have to have all of the clergy vested with inscense ready at school? How do we make everything that we do ligurgical? By taking the deepest part of our worship, its most basic rhythm and continuing it, living in a way which is 100% consistent with  it in everything that we do.

So an Orthodox Christian rejects a dichotomy between liturgical and non-liturgical , everything for us is liturgical, even if it is not expliciately so. And we don't accept that when we are here we are liturgical and when we pray at home we are not. Or that when we are at work we are not liturgical. Work admittedly or school likely doesn't operate on a liturgical structure, admittedly. But that doesn't mean that you and I cannot live as liturgical beings in a place which does not have that rhythm or structure. It's incumbent upon us to give it that rhythm or structure, lovingly and gently by taking the essence of liturgical worship and bringing it everywhere. By coming to the conclusion that there ought to be no part of your life or mine which is not in this sense, liturgical. And when of course we begin to think of our lives, especially as North American society would have us live them we can see that gently put and diplomatically there are large parts of our lives which do not correspond to this.

An Orthodox Christian therefore rejects the fundamental division between the sacred and the profane. And sees everything as outside of evil, which does not have an existence of its own anyway, as being capable of becoming sacred. And therefore does not say that I have my sacred life in the Church and my profane life when I am far enough away from the Church so that the priest cannot hear me or see me. It's rather cute when people think that way because it's not the priest you have to worry about in terms of seeing you...I thnk we all know that, we should have I think a slightly more nuanced understanding of God which might allow for the possibility that He could be even if the priest isn't, that He might be aware of what we are living and what we are doing.

So we are breaking apart or rejecting in love these artificial divisions. And finally I think very much to point for those of you who worship here, in a place that has a special call to minister among the poor, we allow the gracious character of Christ to be revealed in us when we unite two altars. The altar table that is behind me in the Church and what St. John Chyrsostom would call the Altar among or of the poor.

To the poor we may add I'm sure with St John's permission, the ill, the dying, the  greiving, the lonely, the marginalized, the abused, so on and so forth. This also, St. John says, is an altar and a form of worship when it is done out, coming forth from the worship of the Church because not all social work is liturgical and not all social work is means an altar among the poor. Sadly some of the work that is done among the poor does not allow for such an altar. And it's precisely why Christians must lovingly demonstrate the sacrament of the poor by uniting the two altars, the liturgical altar in the Church, the altar of the Eucharist with the Altar among or of the poor. This is part of how the gracious character of Christ is revealed in us and to the world.

Thirdly, how do we live Orthodoxy in the world? By allowing ourselves to be transformed into micro-Churches, little Churches, each person as a little Church. You see the fathers of the Church connect the Church and the human person very much. St Maximos the Confessor writing his marvelous commentary on the Liturgy, the Mystogogy, says that the Holy Church is an icon of the human person, he also says that the Holy Church is an icon of the human soul, and he makes several other connections between the Church and things in our experience.

St Mark the Ascetic, sometimes called St Mark the Monk, talks about the Holy of Holies in the heart, talks about that place speaking poetically in the heart, behind the "in the Heart" where Jesus is. And talks about prayer in this sense. Several of the fathers of the Church talk about how the human being is in fact a little Church if he or she chooses to be in Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

We allow ourselves to be transfomed into little Churches through the constant memory of God which can only be achieved in prayer. So much in this world, so often we focus on memory as recall, the kind of memory that a computer has, more and more of course you know that computers don't posess a memory but is given a memory of course, but we think of memory more and more in these terms, recall, when memory in Holy Scriptures is something very very different.

When in the Old Testament we read that the Lord remembers Israel it doesn't mean that He recalls from His memory bank what Israel might be among all the other nations. It doesn't mean that He remembers how to spell Israel's name correctly, it doesn't mean that He has the appropriate dictionary definition of Israel. It means He loves Israel. It means He Loves Israel and that's why we want God to remember us, and that's why the Thief says, "remember me," to remember is therefore to to re-call, so that when we rembember God, and when we have a constant rememberance of God in prayer, we are in a constant relationship of love with the One Who first loved us.

The Jesus Prayer, so well know in Orthodoxy, in this sense becomes the Liturgy of the Heart, the Liturgy of the Heart, all of Liturgical life is to be internalized and by that I don't mean that we necessarily memorize all of Vespers or all of Liturgy, although memorizing part of it would not a bad idea at all. But we internalize it, we make it our own, we seek to immerse ourselves in it to the point we can discover its basic rhythm and allow that rhytym to be in our lives all of the time. Even the Church building in Orthodoxy is to be internalized. There is a reason for our architechture because the three basic sections of an Orthodox Church correspond in a very special way to different aspects of the human person. And so when we build a Church the way we build it, when we put an altar table, holy table where we put it, when we place an iconostasion where we place it, where we bring iconography into the Church according to a certain established canonical pattern, all of this points us to something, it points us of course to the Kingdom of God. But it also stikes us in a proper way, how to understand ourselves.

You understand yourself by understanding better the Church in which you pray.

It has something to tell you about who you are as a human being, who I am. This allows a Christian to have an intense spiritual life in the world even if he or she does not find himself or herself in a monastery. The monastic life is a very special calling and one which we treasure very much in Orthodoxy, but it is not a different spiritual life from the one are living right now. It is a more intense version of the same, perhaps we might say that it is a slightly different mode but it is not a different spiritual life, it couldn't be. The Lord didn't come to give two lives in Christ, or two lives in the Holy Spirit, He came to give one to all. And all of our life in the Church must give witness to the One Life in the One Christ in the One Spirit. So it gives us hope, it gives us hope, there is a way to have an intense and a real spiritual life even if you are not a monastic. There is a way to have an intense and real spiritual life even if you cannot be at Church every day, of course you read about those wonderful Orthodox communities such as the one in Eagle River Alaska or in other parts of the United States and Canada where there is daily worship and people are able to, because they live in the neighbourhood, attend Vespers or Matins everyday, or perhaps in rare occassions Liturgy every day outside of Great Lent. But most Orthodox in North America do not find themselves in such positions, they wake up, they go to work and wonder if they have time to pray before they go. They walk out of their houses and see an environment which put gently is not the most conducive to the Orthodox spiritual life or to prayer. That's the reality that you and I live in, and the good news is that in that reality not in another one we may have a real and genuine and an intense spiritual life.

Therefore it is not appropriate for us as Orthodox Christians to say "when something happens, when I become spiritual, when I go to mount Athos, when I visit Sinai, whenever, then I my spiritual life will begin." Hopefully such a visit will in fact have a profound influence on anyone. If they're open it always will. But we don't have to wait to do that, to have a real and intense spiritual life.

Finally, we live Orthodoxy in the world, by offering the world back to God. He gave it as a gift, He gave it as a workshop, "atelier," and the greatest thing we can possibly do is return it to Him with thanksgiving. And of course this particular theme of the human person as the priest of creation, I'm using the word priest in a broad sense, this theme comes especially from St Maximos the Confessor, and today in Orthodox literature it's all the rage. Everytime you find a new article, actually I sometimes review a new article I ask will this be yet another article which talks about man as the priest of creation, especially because connections have been made with ecology it has become very much in vogue.

But some comments need to be made about this: the human person as the priest of creation. It sounds great, it sounds fashionable, and of course it elicits no little interest, it brings Orthodoxy immediately to the forefront of dicussions, because we have said something, supposedly new and innovative, which is in fact very old. But something's missing. The missing dimension of alot of the discussion is asceticism, spiritual discipline. Of course when one talks about that, the general level of interest in the world drops immediately.

Why is asceticism important in this offering of the world back to God? Because we need to have the discernment, the Greek word diakrino, a discernment to know what exactly should we offer? Because we talk about offering the world and everyone is so excited about it, no one is quite sure what it means. Do we offer Toronto back to God? with its transit system, with everything that makes with its urban infrastructure? What are we offering to God? When we talk about the world, what are we talking about?

Are we talking about the first sense in Scripture? Surely we can't be talking about the second sense of alienation from God. But then again is it everything in the world that ought to be offered? Because while the world is redeemed in Christ, is it not also fallen?

So it is no easy task to offer the world back to God, it requires discipline, it requires patience and it requires a clear spiritual vision, Theoria, a spiritual vision of life.

To offer the world in the first sense, in the positive sense one must also know how to reject the world when we're talking about the second use of the word.

St Isaac the Syrian, when he uses the word "world," says it is the sum of all the passions, that's the world, this is not what we are offering back to God. We offer what is consistent with its final fulfillment. The world is a work in progress and therefore it must not become an idol. What God has created must not become an idol. So this priestly role of every Christian is very important, but discernment and asceticism must be present in this offering in order for it to be real.

A few final remarks. If we are living Orthodoxy in the world, we are referring everything to Christ, even if the world around us is not always aware of this fact, that we are referring everything to Christ. We are understanding life as profoundly liturgical, we are understanding the human person as a liturgical being. We understand Orthodoxy not as an esoteric pseudo-mystical Eastern tradition, not as a private retreat into Eastern Christian spirituality, not as a liturgical rite or ethos, because Orthodoxy is so much bigger than all of that, it is the Divine Human Person of Jesus Christ, and His Divine Human Body. It is about the Holy Trinity, it is about humanity, it is about the world and it is indeed the world's highest calling.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Orthodoxy and the World-Part 1-Protopresbyter Maxym Lysack

What is Orthodoxy? What is the world? 

So first of all with regard to Orthodoxy, Orthodoxia, Right Glorification, Right Worship, all of us understand that Right Glorification and Right Worship automatically means in the Orthodox setting Right Teaching, Right Doctrine. But what else can be said about Orthodoxy other than talking about the etymology of the word?

We're always inclined to etymology because we look up words in the dictionary but there's some things about Orthodoxy which one cannot find immediately in most dictionaries, perhaps in a select few, and it's exactly those things that I'd wanted to address this evening. 

Orthodoxy is first and foremost a Person. A Divine, or The Divine Human Person of Jesus Christ.

This we say because Orthodoxy is not philosophy, or an ethic, but it is a Person. The Divine-Human Person of Jesus Christ, Incarnate, Crucified, Buried, Risen, according to the Scripture, St Paul tells us.

And first and foremost, this is Orthodoxy. 

And right away we have another point of departure then we would have if we thought of Orthodoxy as being an ethic or a philosophy or even a religion.

Orthodoxy is also, and this is a complementary definition, life in the Holy Trinity in Whom we were baptized. We were baptized into the Father, into the Son, and into the Holy Spirit. And of course this understanding of Orthodoxy is intimately connected with the first because the Lord says "no one comes to the Father except through Me." And so understanding Orthodoxy as the Divine Human Person of Jesus Christ and understanding Orthodoxy as Life in the Holy Trinity, we come to see that these understandings are very very much not only complementary but necessarily linked. 

Thirdly, Orthodoxy is Church, it is also Divine Human, and while cannot make Christ and the Church absolutely equivalent, neither can we ever separate them.  When we read the early fathers we find some very strong titles for the Church. St Irenaeus of Lyons calls the Church "the Son of God." Which I'm sure would make some people do a double take if they heard it, it's not a term which we are used to hearing about the Church. Now he does that within a very very tight framework, but he does use that expression. The Church is Divine and Human, we refer to the Church as the Body of Christ, the Church has a Head Who is Divine Human, and the Church also has a Body and we are all members of that Body. So when we say that Orthodoxy is the Church we are including our life in the Church, and our life in the Church includes our liturgical life and it also includes our life...I hesitate to use the word "outside" the liturgy because it suggests something incorrect about our spiritual lives, in fact we might say that it is our life as it springs forth from the Liturgy, rather than saying outside the Liturgy. Our personal spiritual lives are spiritual lives in our families.

This is also part of the Church, and the Church in addition to being called the Body of Christ is also called by St Gregory Palamas, "the Communion of Deification," because we are all called to deification in the Church. So these are some preliminary remarks about Orthodoxy. When we are living Orthodoxy, this is what we're living.

Now, the world...Cosmos in Greek. Broadly speaking there are two uses of the word "world" in the New Testament. The first use refers to the earth, to creation, to the universe, it is a positive use of the word cosmos. The second use of the word world is different and it refers to humanity in a condition alienation from God, humanity separated from God. When we see St John's Gospel, for example in the twelfth chapter to the fourteenth chapter, "the ruler of this world coming" it is not a reference to something that brings Christians great joy. The ruler of this world in this context is the Devil, when the Lord says in the sixteenth chapter in St. John's Gospel, "I have overcome the world," He does not mean He has overcome the earth, the creation and universe in order to put it down. This would be, if we may use the word, a "different" or a "negative" use of the word "world." 

Same word in Greek, so one understands the meaning from the context. And as we look at these meanings I want to turn our attention first to the first one, the positive use of the word world. We understand the world as the object of God's love, St. John writes "for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son," and in the next verse John 3:17 St John writes, "for God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that through Him the world might be saved." So the word world is used several times there and clearly it is used in the sense of the world being an object of God's love, what God does not want to condemn, what God very much wants to save. And it's important to be able to distinguish between the two uses in the New Testament, to understand the full extent of the positive use of the word "world."

The world in the Orthodox understanding is a gift. In the last century a well know Orthodox theologian, Fr Dumitru Staniloae wrote very much on this theme that the world is a gift of God and that this gift invites a response from us. It doesn't demand a response but it invites a response from us. The world in this sense is given to us as a workshop, an "atelier," a workshop given to us, that we might use, and use wisely for the deification, for our own deification and of course the transformation of the world. Because you see the world in the Orthodox Christian understanding is not static, it's changing, it was created from nothing. Now here I need to make a comment because the pagan Greeks found this concept enormously difficult, for them the nothing was a something. But in the Christian understanding, the nothing is a true and a real nothing...nothing. 

God made the world out of nothing, and it didn't proceed from His own nature, it was an act of His will, a free act of His will. So the world is created from nothing, the world that we see and it shows us God's love, it's a  workshop given to us, we ought to therefore understand the world, there is a profound place in Orthodoxy for all of sciences, because you need to understand the world better to meaningfully participate in its transformation. But we understand the the world is not going to always be the way we see it now, that it was created from nothing and that it is a gift, but that it awaits fulfillment. So to use modern language the world is a work in progress and God has invited us to be part of that work. If the world were static we could not be part of that work because it would simply be given to us as it is.

Now why talk about all that? it sounds rather philosophical if I might say, but it's very important because it means that the world finds its greatest meaning in what is coming, in its fulfillment. Instead of looking at the world for how it is now we must understand the world the way it is in God's vision, as God has called it to being. And the Church reveals the world's truest vocation. So these are the preliminary remarks that I would like to make first about Orthodoxy and also about the world. And now we can approach the question "how do we live Orthodoxy in the World?"

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Paradosis: The Orthodox understanding of tradition

P52: Oldest NT Biblical Manuscript. 

Scripture and Tradition

It is now necessary that we briefly examine here the question of Scripture and Tradition. Generally speaking, Scripture and Tradition should neither be separated nor confused (“though these two may be logically defined and distinguished yet they cannot be separated from each other nor from the Church”). Scripture and Tradition constitute an unbroken whole, the one is contained within the other. Or if we wish to be more explicit, Scripture is contained within Tradition. Paul put it quite clearly inThessalonians: “brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15). Tradition is channelled into the Church through word and through the Scripture. Here there is no relationship either of superiority or subordination. The spoken word and Scripture possess a mutuality and agreement, a mutual fulfilment and confirmation. As Saint Basil puts it, “both have equal force for piety”.11 And Saint John Chrysostom was to add, “they did not transmit all things through epistles; much was handed over not in writing. In like manner, both these and those are worthy of belief. Hence, we consider the Tradition of the Church also worthy of belief. Is it Tradition? Then inquire no more”.

In Western Christianity the distinction between Scripture and Tradition was more firmly stressed. Thus they are either considered as “two sources of Revelation” (Rome) or else Tradition is completely rejected so as to create the concept oisolascripturaifsxt Reformation). Actually there is no difference between Rome and the Reformation in this regard. In both instances the distinction between Scripture and Tradition is emphasized. Rome views Scripture and Tradition as two sources of the faith, while the Reformers opt for Scripture alone. In both cases the belief that Scripture and Tradition are two different things is presupposed.

Against such a viewpoint, which in the end reduces the spiritual relationship between Scripture and Tradition to a legalistic one (of equality or superiority), the East posits her own understanding of the matter, which is based on the principle that Scripture and Tradition coexist within the Church. The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, understands Scripture (composed with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) in the light of Tradition (also the work of the Holy Spirit).

Church, Scripture and Tradition

In other words, Tradition is Scripture interpreted by the Church. And just as the Church understands Scripture in the light of Tradition, so in like manner does she understand Tradition in the light of Scripture. Tradition is full of Scripture; that is why her theology, the theology of the fathers and the councils, is nothing other than biblical theology

Scripture and Tradition are mutually understood and exist together. Both are united unshakeably with the Church. Scripture is born in the Church and for the Church, and Tradition bears from the very beginning the seal of the Church. It is in the Church that Scripture and Tradition appear and are contained. Thus Scripture, Tradition and the Church are linked through an inner relationship, a harmonious co-existence, a mutual supplementation and agreement. Scripture and Tradition as revelationarycharismatic realities are contained within the Church which is also a revelationary-charismatic reality.

Those who separate Holy Scripture, Tradition and the Church come to the false conclusion that either Scripture is superior to the Church and Tradition, or that the Church is superior to Scripture. The first opinion is to be found among Protestant theologians, the latter in Roman Catholic theology This hyperbole leads to an alteration of the meaning of the Church, either to an under-evaluation (subordination) or to an over-evaluation. By placing the Bible over and above the Church and Tradition we destroy the balance, we corrupt its canonical position, and take the first step towards an individualistic theology outside the Church. On the other hand, the idea that the Church is superior to Holy Scripture leads to the opinion that the Church is able to elicit every dogma from within herself Only if we accept that the Church, Tradition and Scripture are neither separated nor confused, being united without confusion, will we be able to understand that the Church alone is she who can find the true meaning of Holy Scripture, just as the Son alone is he who is able to understand the words of the Father.
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SOURCE: Constantine B. Scouteris. "Ecclesial Being: Contributions to Theological Dialogue." (South Canaan: Mount ThaborPublishing, 2005) 130-140.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Contra Sola Scriptura

Scripture cannot give us a complete intellectual knowledge of God's nature; rather, it gives us a record of the impact of God;s operations or energies upon human beings, shaped by the guidance of the Holy Spirit so as to express this experience truly in words. The inspired words show enough of the beauty and goodness of God's nature to draw is toward him. They help us realize that, despite our apparent unlikeness to God, such is his generosity and the effectiveness of his grace, we can be his friends (John 15:13-15) really-or, ontologically. 

Nevertheless, not even the inspired word of Scripture are adequate to the actual experience of God's energies. Every inspired writer and Saint has admitted that the words they use are only approximations; they point to something greater than words and sentences. This is why the Orthodox church can never be literalist about the Scriptures. 

Although God is in himself unfathomable, his generosity toward us causes his revelation to be exact. Here I return to the theme of the akriveia or "accuracy" of Orthodoxy. The words are exact enough to be our guide for life. Consequently, every word of Scripture and its position in the structure of the bible as a whole gives a variety of applications to our situations in life. It teaches us in poetry, story, and in chronicles of events that actually happened. To read the bible, then, is not only to gain guidance about how to be deified: it is actually part of the process of our deification, as we are led up into the presence of God through human signs. 

Source: Stephen Thomas, "Deification in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition: A Biblical Perspective." (New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2007) 74.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Lex orandi, lex credendi

                                          Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

This phrase lex orandi, lex credendi, "The law of worship determines the law of faith" or belief, is a 5th century quotation, that expresses a principle that is accepted by all Orthodox Christians today. The liturgy has always served as an important role in the life of the church. Scripture was interpreted in the context of the liturgy. Personal reading of the bible was always welcomed but to understand Scripture one had to grasp the meaning of Scripture through the law of the liturgy. Even the canon of scripture was arranged in a way that it coincided with the way it was read in the church during the liturgical service. In liturgy we are reminded of the need to reach unity in faith as well as prayer.

The community of the faithful always comes together to celebrated the Eucharist through there faith in Christ.  In understanding what then is being offered on the holy of holies we have to have a sober mindset when approaching the Body and Blood of Christ. We must always be ready for the participation of the Eucharist. In coming together to receive the Eucharist the oneness of the church reveals the unity we have in Christ. The Eucharist is the community of the believers coming together for one single purpose; lex orandi, lex credendi. We must come to  understand the gathering of the faithful in worship as being in community the living organism of the church in the unity of the Eucharist. Therefore, the law of worship determines the law of faith or echoed by the 5th century fathers, lex orandi, lex credendi.  

The Orthodox liturgy is a mystical experience and has a profound conviction that Christ is and ever shall be in our midst. In Christ, there is a deep connection between past, present, and future. The liturgy then is not merely a remembrance of Christ word's rather, a realization of the very presence of Christ Himself, who had promised to be wherever two or three are gathered in His name; lex orandi, lex credendi.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fr. Alexander Schmemann on the Church as Sacrament

                                                                                    Fr. Alexander Schmemann
The Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom—not because she possesses divinely instituted acts called “sacraments,” but because first of all she is the possibility given to man to see in and through this world the “world to come,” to see and to “live” it in Christ. It is only when in the darkness of this world we discern that Christ has already “filled all things with Himself” that these things, whatever they may be, are revealed and given to us full of meaning and beauty. A Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all his human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all his mission the sacrament of the world’s return to Him who is the life of the world.
* This excerpt is from “For the Life of the World” by Fr. Alexander Schmemann