Thursday, December 25, 2014

One Christ! One Catholic Church

The grave of Father Matthew the Poor just outside the monastery of St. Macarius

On this Christmas day I would like to share this chapter from the Communion of Love by Father Matthew the Poor. In this second last chapter of the book he offers some insight about what the one Church of Christ should look like. On this Christmas day let us continue to pray for the unity of the church. Through the incarnation of Christ let us remember that we are all made whole in the body of Christ which unites and does not divide.

In an age like ours, tinged as it is with sectarianism, we are apt to think that the words We believe in one catholic Church refer to a oneness that applies to the sect or dogma to which a given Christian belongs, whether it be Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant. It follows that catholicity is taken as necessarily denoting sectarian unity. An Orthodox believer insists that the oneness of the Church simply lies in its Orthodoxy, catholicity implying only those who are the Orthodox in the world. Such also might be the claim of a Catholic as well as a Protestant. Thus the theological concept of the nature of the Church takes shape for each and every Christian as though its unity were confined to the limits of dogma, and also bounds its catholicity, the latter being presumably a local aspect of the Church.

In such a narrow-minded concept which fanatically adheres to modes of thinking and to parochial perspectives, what is lost is the reality of the infinite nature of the Church, which transcends the physical earth as well as thought. But the Church is much greater than man! It is even greater than heaven and earth, for man has never filled the Church, nor will he ever be able to do so even if the whole world with all its beliefs and structures were saved (both prospectively and retrospectively speaking). For Christ is the only One who can fill the Church. In Him there abides the entire fullness that can fill all in all, fill man and his mind, fill time and space. The universe with its earth and celestial heavens can by no means contain the Church, yet it is the Church that contains man’s heaven and his earth. The Church is the new creation, a new heaven, a new earth, and a new man. In the nature of the new creation, old earth and old heaven are swallowed up, as if they no longer existed, though they actually do. Death is likewise swallowed up into life so that it no longer rules, and the corruptible into the incorruptible as well. All becomes new, alive, everlasting, and pure. Newness, in this respect, pertains to the unalterable eternal Whole; oldness is that which inevitably passes away bit by bit because of its essentially mutable nature.

Hence, the Church, with regard to its catholic nature is greater than man, his concepts, his structures, and his dogmas, greater even than the universe with its immense heavens, or the vast earth with all its decadence, or temporal events from beginning to end.

The Church is the new Whole. It is from the nature of Christ—out of which has been formed the Church—that this wholeness is derived, which includes all that pertains to man and to God through the incarnation.

The Church then is whole, in other words catholic, as it gathers in its own body of Christ, which fills it, all that belongs to man as well as to God together into one single entity which is both visible and invisible, both finite and infinite, an existence within the sphere of time and place, but at the same time eternal and metaphysical.

The word catholic comes from the Greek kath (in accordance with) and olos (whole). Simply stated, it means "wholeness.” The "wholeness” meant here is that which trancsends the totality of finite existence. It is an unalterable, infinite, unbreakable, inumerable whole; it is ONE, a fixed Whole analogous to the concept of Christ’s nature which is indivisible, unconfused, and unchangeable.

Such is the Church, which follows Christ in all His aspects. For as Christ is unique in His person, inclusive in His nature, simultaneously whole in His temporal and eternal, His local and universal existence, so is the Church also single and catholic. It follows then that whoever is within the Church is necessarily one and should inevitably be one because of the catholicity of the Church; in other words the Church has the divine capacity attained through Christ to make every single person one with God. Whoever is in Christ is from God and is one with God.

The means the Church uses to practice its catholicity are the sacraments, for through the sacraments all the faithful are brought together into union with the mystical body of Christ, thus becoming one body and one spirit; they have access to the nature of the one catholic Church, the body of Christ in the Church being the secret of its catholicty, His person the secret of its oneness.

If the faithful do not achieve a state of single-heartedness and single-mindedness, effected by partaking of the one body and then a state of one love effected by the person of Christ who reigns over all, the sacraments become no more than merely a formal existence, leading to intellectual and dogmatic discord. Sacramental or dogmatic formality is incompatible with the reality of the one comprising body, that which gives life to those who eat of it, and become one in it. In the Church the body of Christ is a source of life and unification; it is both alive and life-giving, and is also capable of abolishing all sorts of barriers created by time and place, as well as by human intellect and instincts, whether it be social barriers ("Neither slave nor freeman in Christ”) or racial and cultural barriers ("neither Jew nor Greek, neither barbarian nor Scythian”) or sexual barriers ("neither man nor woman” [Ga. 3:28]). The mystical body of Christ in the Church is that source of power which makes it capable of gathering all within its own unique catholic nature.

The Church is the new creation; whereas Adam had been the head of the old human creation and the only one from whom all races, peoples, elements, and classes of mankind had sprung, so Christ has become the second Adam and head of the new human creation and the only one from whom the new man has sprung as one chosen race (race here being the divine Christian one) as one justified people (the people here being those who are gathered together by the righteousness of Christ and not by that of its own), and as one holy nation (the only mother here being holy baptism and not a woman’s womb). The great secret behind the power of Christ in unifying races and peoples and in abolishing all barriers among all people on earth (ecclesiastical catholicity) lies in His being an incarnate God, the Son of God and the Son of Man simultaneously. The divinity of Christ has caused His humanity to surpass all raciality, nationality, and partiality, even sin and death. Christ’s sonship, with respect to God, has enabled Him to gather mankind into a single filiation to God. Hence, whoever partakes of the flesh of Christ has all sorts of barriers dissolved in him together with sin and death. He is thus made one with every man, a new man, newly and purely created in a manner analogous to the image of Christ, a son of God within the unique filiation of Christ. In the Church the catholic nature has become dependent on the divine flesh of Christ as implying a power to gather mankind and unify him within a single sonship to God.

Catholicity in the Church is that of Christ; it is the making effective of the nature of Christ which is capable of bringing together simultaneously man with man and man with God. In other words the Church, by nature of its catholicity, is against all sorts of discrimination, division, isolation, and even all that causes division, whatever its source may be, whether within man or outside of him. Christ not only gathers the dispersed colors and races into one mind and one faith, but also gathers them into one flesh in the full sense of the word that implies intimacy, understanding, and love. The Church is His mystical body, with its baptism and its eucharist, the meeting point of all humankind and the only meeting point for all peoples, nations, races, tongues, and colors which dissolves all barriers and disagreements. Thus all becomes one, great, pure body, one spirit intimate and loving, one reconciled man whose head is Christ, to whom pertains all that belongs to races, peoples, colors, and tongues concerning privileges and talents, but void of any division, dispute, or discrimination—which is exactly what is meant by the "catholicity” of the Church.

The reason is plain and simple why the Church has not yet achieved its catholicity, or rather why it does not live by its catholic nature which ought to be the essence of its life in Christ, the proof of its power, the secret of its wholeness or divine integrity. It has not yet conceived its divine concepts as pure and elevated above logic or human reason; i.e. its concepts are still bound to articulate and philosophical interpretations which hinder the vision of the serenity of the catholic nature of Christ which has the exquisite power of total reconciliation and the unification of sundry dispositions in such a manner that surpasses the capability of any nature in itself, and not only ideas, principles, and dogmas, being thus founded upon the forgiveness, purification, justification, and even the sanctification of every person by the blood of Christ which is capable of redeeming the sins of the whole world. It is as if the Church has not yet discovered the depths of power inherent in the blood of Christ and the working potentiality of His flesh and the depth of His love and righteousness.

It is quite obvious that all of the theological terms—as far as defects are concerned—are in themselves without blemish. The defects have occurred in their interpretation and in their comprehension; man, here, has approached the divine— i.e. the simple and serene nature of God—with Adam’s mind and thought, but not with those of Christ. Disagreement here is an inevitable and necessary obligation of the schismatic nature of Adam. The schism manifested in comprehending and perceiving Christ does not lie in Christ’s nature, nor does it belong to His catholic nature, but occurred as a result of the schism essentially inherent in man’s nature, a nature which has been obliterated by sin and has become full of hatred, suspicion, misunderstanding, vanity, and disunity. The fault in the Church’s schism lies not in the nature of the Church, but in the nature of man’s ability to conceive and grasp the nature of Christ and the Church.

Therefore, we can see that any schism in the concept of the nature of Christ and the Church signals that we have mundanely approached the divine through a fallen mind, that is to say, through an undivine approach. Every schism that has taken place within the Church implies that man has started to deal with ecclesiastical matters through an ethnocentric and racialist mind (which disperses), not in an ecclesiastical or catholic way (which unites).

It is only for the new man that Christ will remain unbreakable, indisputable, and without variation; only for the man who possesses the mind of Christ will the Church remain one, unique, and catholic to all people, orthodox in every thought, and void of any sectarianism of division—only for the new man who has accepted the nature of Christ deep in his heart. It is only when people renounce their own will that the sole will of Christ appears, and when they deny their passions and hatred, curb their bodies and minds to the work of the Holy Spirit. Only then will the mystical flesh of Christ be manifested and exert its action in the Church toward the gathering of hearts, principles, and ideas. When people earnestly surrender their lives to Christ, only then will the life of Christ be manifested in the Church, and then will His Spirit be poured out over it. When every soul within the Church spiritually, faithfully, and earnestly yields through fervent repentance to God, and when every Church yields as such, then will the Church be one through the grace of God, then will Churches be one through the power of the Holy Spirit, where Christ becomes one shepherd to the one flock He rules Himself with His Spirit, thus becoming the source of its catholicity and its unity.

Is not the Church a manifestation of Christ’s incarnation on earth and His continuity throughout time? In it the faithful form the new human nature, glorified in the person of Christ, through whom it is adopted by God. How is Christ to be manifested in the Church, except through the oneness of thought, will, desire, and sense common among the children of the only God who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but through human and spiritual unity (cf. Jn. 1:13).

How is it going to be proved to the world that God is one, except through the oneness of those born from Him?

And how is the world to verify that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son except through the oneness of the sonship of those who believe in Him, who are born of God through His death on their behalf and through His resurrection along with them, who are now united with His flesh, His blood, and His Spirit? In other words they have all become members in one body.

Is it not obvious that the catholicity of the Church and its oneness are but the totality of theology, the proof of Christ’s existence and action, the actualization of man’s new birth which he obtained from heaven by water and the Holy Spirit?

The lack of integrity with respect to the catholicity and unity of the Church, until now, among the Churches of the world does demand of us—not reconsidering our theology, for our theology is true and faithful—to reconsider ourselves in view of our correct theology so that we might correct our vision of God the only Father of all humankind and correct our view of Christ as the only Savior and the only Redeemer of all who call on His name, through whom is indiscriminately adopted the whole of humanity by God, thus correcting our love toward man—every person—as being inevitably a brother to us, even if he stood against us in hostility and set forth for us snares of death.

Yet it should be borne in mind that what urges us to attain such ecclesiastical catholicity and unity is not merely theological zeal or idealism or even remorse; it should be out of our own faith, our own love, that is to say out of the newness of our new birth which is from heaven and which can by no means be made effectual to us. We cannot abide in it apart from the catholicity of the Church and its unity.

The new man can never live separate from others or as a broken part or with hatred or hostility against others. The new man must be whole and one, for it is out of one catholic nature and one Father that he emerges. The one new nature with which every man in the Church is born is that which makes one of the whole through grace and spirit. Love here imposes its divine and catholic authority. Into the image of Christ the only begotten Son are baptized all those born to the Father by the only paternity.

The Church thus is catholic because it is the body of the Son (sacrificed for the whole world through love), who recapitulates all things within Himself. The Church is one because it is the unbreakable house of the Father.

We now look forward most eagerly with tears and supplication, with the new man’s consciousness, to the Church’s catholicity and to its unity all over the world.

Father Matthew the Poor, The Communion of Love, Pages 215-222.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

I love, Therefore I Am

The following is an article I stumbled upon from 2009 written by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. Metropolitan Kallistos is a bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Great Britain. From 1966 until 2001, he lectured in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford. In 2007, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elevated Bishop Kallistos to Titular Metropolitan of Diokleia. He is a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His books include The Orthodox Church, The Orthodox Way and The Inner Kingdom. This text (first published in Again magazine) is adapted from a lecture he gave in August 1998 at the Eagle River Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies in Alaska.

Most of the time we think we know who we are. But do we, in fact, know in the full and profound sense who we are?

One text that is very important for the Orthodox understanding of the human person is Psalm 64:6 [LXX 63:7]: “The heart is deep.” That means the human person is a profound mystery. There are depths or if you would like, heights within myself of which I have very little understanding.

Who am I? The answer is not at all obvious. My personhood as a human being ranges widely over space and time. And indeed it reaches out beyond space into infinity, and beyond time into eternity. Our human personhood is created, but it transcends the created order. I am called to be a “partaker of the divine nature,” as Peter said in his second letter. I am called to share, that is to say, in the uncreated energies of the living God. Our human vocation is theosis deification, divinization. As St. Basil the Great says, “The human being is a creature that is called to become God.”

I am reminded of the story of the Fall at the beginning of Genesis, of the promise of the serpent, who says to Eve, “You shall be as God.” The irony behind that story is that this was exactly the divine intention. The humans were indeed called to divine life. But the Fall consisted in the fact that Adam and Eve grasped with self-will that which God, in His own time and way, would have conferred upon them as a gift.

The limits of our personhood are very wide-ranging indeed. We should adopt a dynamic view of what it is to be a person. We shouldn’t think that our personhood is something fixed. To be a person is to grow. To be on a journey. And this journey is a journey that has no limits, that stretches out forever, that goes on even in heaven. Some people have an idea of heaven as a place where you do nothing in particular. But surely that is deceptive. Surely heaven means that we continue to advance by God’s mercy from glory to glory. Heaven is an end without end.

St. Irenaeus remarks, “Even in the age to come God will always have new things to teach us, and we shall always have new things to learn.” Even in heaven, we shall never be in a position to say to God, “You are repeating Yourself. We have heard it all before.” On the contrary, heaven means continuing wonder and unending discovery. To quote J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring, “The Road goes ever on and on.”

Now there is a specific reason for this mysterious and indefinable character of human personhood. And this reason is given to us by St. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the fourth century. “God,” says he, “is a mystery beyond all understanding.” We humans are formed in God’s image. The image should reproduce the characteristics of the archetype, of the original. So if God is beyond understanding, then the human person formed in God’s image is likewise beyond understanding. Precisely because God is a mystery, I too am a mystery.

Now in mentioning the image, we’ve come to the most important factor in our humanness. Who am I? As a human person, I am formed in the image of God. That is the most significant and basic fact about my personhood. We are God’s living icons. Each of us is a created expression of God’s infinite and uncreated self-expression. So this means it is impossible to understand the human person apart from God. Humans cut off from God are no longer authentically human. They are subhuman.

If we lose our sense of the divine, we lose equally our sense of the human. And that we can see very clearly from the story, for example, of Soviet communism in the 70 years which followed the revolution of 1917. Soviet communism sought to establish a society where the existence of God would be denied and the worship of God would be suppressed and eliminated. At the same time, Soviet communism showed an appalling disregard for the dignity of the human person.

Those two things go together. Whoever affirms the human also affirms God. Whoever denies God also denies the human person. The human being cannot be properly understood except with reference to the divine. The human being is not autonomous, not self-contained. I do not contain my meaning within myself. As a person in God’s image, I point always beyond myself to the divine realm.

I remember a visit in my student years in Oxford from Archimandrite Sophrony, the disciple of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos. He gave a talk on Orthodoxy, and there was a discussion afterwards. Towards the end, the chairman said, “We have time for just one more question.” Somebody got up at the back of the audience and said, “Fr. Sophrony, please tell us what is God?”

Fr. Sophrony answered very briefly, “You tell me what is man?” God and the human person are two mysteries that are interconnected, and neither can be understood apart from the other. “In the image of God” means there’s a vertical reference in our personhood. We can only be understood in terms of our link with the divine.

But then, let’s think of another point. “In the image of God” means in the image of the Trinity. As St. Gregory the Theologian says, “When I say God, I mean Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” That is what as Christians we mean by God. We don’t understand God as a series of abstractions. We understand God as three Persons. And that we see very clearly from the Creed. We begin in the Creed by saying, “I believe in One God.” And then we don’t continue by saying, “Who is an uncaused cause, who is primordial reality, who is the ground of being.” This is the way many modern theologians speak. But in the Creed we say, “I believe in One God … the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We continue, that is to say, in specific personal terms.

God for us is Trinity. And if we’re in the image of God we’re in the image of the Triune God. What does that mean for our understanding of our personhood? Let’s think first of the Trinity, and then of ourselves.

“God is love” declares St. John in his first letter, and goes on to say, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” In true love there is no exclusiveness, no jealousy. True love is open, not closed. God is love. There is no fear in love. And so God is not the love of one. God is not love in the sense of being self-love, turned in upon itself. God is not a closed unit. God is not a unit, but a union. God is love in the sense of shared love, the mutual love of three Persons in one.

When the Cappadocian Fathers in the fourth century are describing God, one of their key words is koinonia, meaning fellowship, communion, or relationship. As St. Basil says in his work on the Holy Spirit, “The union of the Godhead lies in the koinonia, the interrelationship, of the Persons.” So this then is what the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is saying: God is shared love, not self-love. God is openness, exchange, solidarity, self-giving.

Now, we are to apply all this to human persons made in the image of God. “God is love,” says St. John. And that great English prophet of the eighteenth century, William Blake, says, “Man is love.” God is love, not self-love but mutual love, and the same is true then of the human person. God is koinonia, relationship, communion.

So also is the human person in the Trinitarian image. God is openness, exchange, solidarity, self-giving. The same is true of the human person when living in a Trinitarian mode according to the divine image.

There’s a very helpful book by a British philosopher, John Macmurray, entitled Persons in Relationship, published in 1961. Macmurray insists that relationship is constitutive of personhood. He argues that there is no true person unless there are at least two persons communicating with each other. In other words, I need you in order to be myself. All this is true because God is Trinity.

From this it follows that the characteristic human word is not “I” but “we”. If we are all the time saying, “I, I, I,” then we are not realizing our true personhood. That’s expressed in the poem of Walter de la Mare, “Napoleon”:

What is the world, O soldiers?
It is I:
I, this incessant snow,
This northern sky;
Soldiers, this solitude
Through which we go
Is I.

Whether the historical Napoleon was actually like that or not, de la Mare’s point is surely valid. Self-centeredness is in the end coldness, isolation. It is a desert. It’s no coincidence that in the Lord’s Prayer, the model of prayer that God has given us, and which teaches what we are to be, the word “us” comes five times, the word “our” three times, the word “we” once. But nowhere in the Lord’s Prayer do we find the words “me” or “mine” or “I”.

In the beginning of the era of modern philosophy in the early seventeenth century, the philosopher Descartes put forward his famous dictum, “Cogito ergo sum”  “I think therefore I am.” And following that model, a great deal of discussion of human personhood since then has centered round the notion of self-awareness, self-consciousness. But the difficulty of that model is that it doesn’t bring in the element of relationship. So instead of saying “Cogito ergo sum, ought we not as Christians who believe in the Trinity say, “Amo ergo sum I love therefore I am”? And still more, ought we not to say, “Amor ergo sum”  “I am loved therefore I am”?

One modern poem that I love particularly, by the English poet Kathleen Raine, has exactly as its title “Amo Ergo Sum.” Let me quote some words from it:

Because I love
The sun pours out its rays of living gold
Pours out its gold and silver on the sea.
Because I love
The ferns grow green, and green the grass, and green
The transparent sunlit trees.
Because I love
All night the river flows into my sleep,
Ten thousand living things are sleeping in my arms,
And sleeping wake, and flowing are at rest.

This is the key to personhood according to the Trinitarian image. Not isolated self-awareness, but relationship in mutual love. In the words of the great Romanian theologian Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, “In so far as I am not loved, I am unintelligible to myself.”

If, then, we think of the divine image, we should not only think of the vertical dimension of our being the image of God; we should also think of the Trinitarian implication, which means that the image has a horizontal dimension relationship with my fellow humans. Perhaps the best definition of the human animal is “a creature capable of mutual love after the image of God the Holy Trinity.” So here is the essence of our personhood: co-inherence; dwelling in others.

What is said by Christ in His prayer to the Father at the Last Supper is surely very significant for our understanding of personhood: “That they all may be one, as you, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:21). Exactly. The mutual love of the three Divine Persons is seen as the model for our human personhood. This is vital for our salvation. We are here on earth to reproduce within time the love that passes in eternity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.