Articles by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos
'Falsifications' of the Faith
For the entire 20th century, but especially during its last decades – a period which is usually referred to with self-satisfaction as ‘Postmodernism’ – it became fashionable in the broader sphere of the Arts, and particularly in ‘literary’ works (mostly fiction, not poetry!), for certain very provocative ‘excesses’ to be daringly made beyond the hitherto acceptable ‘limits’. That which raises a plethora of questions, however, is why RELIGION has been singled out, altogether selectively, as the object of analysis (we shall not call it reflection, but derision!).
It is obvious that we are dealing here not simply with historical ‘inaccuracies’, neither with verbal or expressional ‘exaggerations’, nor with legitimate, even sophisticated, surrealistic ‘creations’. We are dealing rather with a most sacrilegious disposition, even if subconscious, to ‘demolish’ everything in the vast areas of Nature and History so that the limited and devil-struck human ‘ego’ might ‘describe’ and ‘interpret’ all things, unscrutinised by any other ‘authority’. This, after all, is considered to be Postmodernism, after the ‘Renaissance’ and the ‘Age of Enlightenment’: Not to be ‘bound’ by anything. Not to ‘owe’ anything to anyone!
To what degree such ‘immunity’ is able to affect knowledge, science and civilization generally, is patently obvious. However, when immunity takes on the specific form of ‘conscripted’ irreverence and becomes a common provocation, then undoubtedly it strikes at the deeper essence of the human person, in which case it must be addressed directly. In any case, it is natural that the treatment of the problem should be rendered according to the ‘spirituality’ of the specific ‘religion’ being attacked or denigrated in each instance.
Religiosity generally, as a mystical propensity and thirst for the Eternal, is of course the only power that can defeat – without ‘side effects’ – the serpentine, base instincts of egotism, both at a personal and collective level. For this reason, Hegel refers to this propensity, very vividly and most aptly, as the ‘Sunday of Life’! Without such a ‘transcendence’ by the human person, peaceful co-existence is unimaginable, as is any progress towards a common welfare.
In the spirit of the above, we shall highlight immediately the two most fundamental moral principles which, at all times, should inspire and direct, with an internal consistency, all our efforts for a productive ‘treatment’ of any doubter or even enemy of the ‘religious phenomenon’ in our day.
a) For Christians at least, there should prevail, as an inviolable duty, the exhortation of St. Peter: “always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). It is most impressive that St. Paul here does not show the slightest reservation nor does he place any restriction on the questioner (“to everyonewho asks you”). In other words, even in the event that those who inquire do not have ‘good intentions’, this does not permit us to deprive them of sincere and willing information on our part, knowing that God “desires that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).
b) One of the most characteristic features of Orthodox spirituality – as taught mainly by the Neptic Fathers of the Desert – is that of ‘self-reproach’. It constitutes the highest and most benevolent ‘discernment’ which, by the grace of God, the spiritual person in Christ aspires to achieve throughout life. Consequently, then, whenever one who has been re-born through the Christian Faith is confronted by any form of ‘animosity’ or ‘resistance’, the first thing which he or she is compelled to do is not to determine if and to what degree the other is at fault. Faced with the other’s sin or ‘confrontation’ with us, above all we should have the strength to commence primarily from our self. In other words, we should investigate from our side what we did or what we failed to do that led the other person to the point of doubting us or slandering us or even of challenging what we hold as sacred and holy.
Only with such a disposition and application of valiant self-criticism might we become essential conversationalists with our fellow human beings, and thus be convincing when they doubt us by conviction, or when they mock us ‘innocently’ and unwittingly.
For reasons of methodology, let us restrict ourselves to the more recent events which have ‘scandalized’ the faithful in Christianity. Fortunately, Orthodoxy never sought to exercise ‘police’ control as the Vatican did with the notorious ‘Code of forbidden books’. Nonetheless, on our side as well, certain ‘zealot’ Bishops, Abbots of Monasteries, or Presidents of Brotherhoods and Associations dared many times, through unacceptably violent demonstrations, to quash the dissemination of books or the screening of relevant films which they considered ‘blasphemous’ and dangerous to the broader lay strata. Certain cases are well-known from long ago – that of N. Kazantzakis, then much later that of M. Androulakis and, in more recent times, that of the American Dan Brown with his notorious ‘The Da Vinci Code’.
In the first instance, we should observe that the case of Kazantzakis differs fundamentally from the others in that he was never motivated by commercialism or by generating interest for reasons of self-promotion. In any event, we stated this view unequivocally – with other impartial Christian intellectuals – during the turmoil caused by Scorsese’s film ‘The Last Temptation’ (based on the novel of the same title by Kazantzakis).
It remains for us, then, to comment here on the commotion surrounding what ‘The Da Vinci Code’ contends in relation to that enormously powerful Roman Catholic organization known as ‘Opus Dei’ (‘Work of God’).
Certainly, it is not necessary to concern ourselves here with the reasons for which the Roman Catholic Church established the organization in mention. Nor again is it our intention to censure the ‘practices’ and the particular historical data under which, and for which, this gigantic organization has operated up until this day. That which is of more interest, at this point in time, is to be reminded to what extent ‘names’ affect, positively or negatively, the conscience not only of the uninformed masses but also of the yet neutral intellectual.
The question arises then: who gave man the right – even through the most sacred vocations of the Church – to ‘attribute’ to God Himself, who is ‘incomprehensible’ and ‘ineffable’, whatsoever human activities, as ‘well-meaning’ as they might be? Indeed, has that fiery command of the Decalogue “you shall not take the name of the Lord in vain” (Exod. 20:7) been forgotten?
There is no doubt that such an audacious name for an organisation, to the point of ‘blasphemy’, does not merely portray irreverence or naivety. Here we have before us that patently luciferous resolve with which Papism, during the whole of the second Christian millennium, sought to cement its global dominance, as if it were ever possible to definitively ‘act as an agent’ on earth for the ‘divine will’, exactly as Dostoevsky had piously portrayed in his tragic work ‘The Grand Inquisitor’!
By the same audacity, the financial colossus of the Vatican is still called ‘The Bank of the Holy Spirit’ (despite all that has been alleged internationally regarding its administration and operation, including crimes).
It is acutely discouraging that even the present Pope, Benedict XVI, who, while still known as Professor Joseph Ratzinger, had enthused his packed audiences and the readers of his works – through the courageous and at all times most theologically documented self-criticism which he exerted against the idols of Medieval Papism – upon becoming Pope, hastened recently to abolish the only traditional title that he is entitled to (‘Patriarch of the West’) whilst he provocatively defends, in complete contradiction to himself, the familiar titles of the absolutism of the Roman Emperors!
In any event, for every pious and intelligent Christian (of the East and the West) the inexorable question is posed as to whether the, up until recently and for decades, entirely differently-spoken pious theologian Ratzinger would have dared to do the unthinkable had he had opposite him a contemporary Orthodoxy, robust and organized into a singular ‘spiritual front’. Instead, he sees around him grievously fragmented and quarrelsome Orthodox Churches, each of which desperately seeks, as the only outlet to the chaos of Postmodernism, ‘friendship’ and unconditional collaboration with the Roman Pontiff. However, by ironic tragedy, with such a subservient attitude, not only are we not assisting the ‘Brother of the elder Rome’ towards a God-pleasing path in a dangerous contemporary world, but we ourselves, the Orthodox of Tradition, are invariably rendering ourselves ‘falsifiers’!
However, in order that we not be left with the false impression that only the Medieval impieties of Rome create ‘falsifications of the faith’, attracting the mockery of Postmodernism, we are obliged to mention here also certain examples from the Orthodox sphere, as ‘non-comparable’ as they may obviously be in dimension.
The infinite singing of praises and placing of announcements in ecclesiastical and other publications when any cleric or lay preacher of the Sacred (Hierokyrikas) will ‘preach the divine word’ or ‘preach the word of God’ ends up sounding not simply naïve but also painfully insulting to the ‘common sense’ of today’s people.
Is not the characterization of current terminology in relation to ‘preacher of the Sacred’ and ‘Theologian’ heavy enough and highly accountable that we should dare before-hand to also ‘characterize’ the content of the word which he deposits before God and man? A degree of modesty and exactitude would certainly assist in a more just evaluation of ‘preachers’ and ‘listeners’ in their acutely responsible work which the Apostles not only carefully placed in order as their highest responsibility (see Acts 6:2), but also entrusted to their co-workers and Successors with an explicitly complete trust in the indeterminable illuminations of the Holy Spirit (see Matt. 10:19). This, after all, is the reason why they considered preaching as ‘the ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Cor. 5:18)!
By extension, we could make the same observation about the widespread use of the terms ‘God-pleasing’ and ‘God-loving’ with which we hasten at every opportunity to recognize the contribution by this or that Cleric or social worker to the wider people of God. Undoubtedly, we would surely be more constructive towards our own and others, towards those near and afar, were we to speak more carefully about a ‘conscientious’ or ‘dedicated’ ministry ‘in the fear of God’, in which case we would not provoke the accusation or mockery of any single honourable person.
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The Gift of Leadership
- The following address was
delivered by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos at the
Service for the Opening of Federal Parliament organised
by the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship (Canberra March
2, 1998). The three Scriptural passages mentioned in the
address (Psalm 23, Matthew 14:1-12 and John 15:12-17)
were read by the Governor General, the Prime Minister and
the Leader of the Opposition respectively, in the
presence of many Ministers and Parliamentarians. At the
conclusion of the Service, the Choir of St Andrew's Greek
Orthodox Theological College chanted the Doxology in
English and the Kontakion from the Akathist Hymn (Unto
you, O Theotokos) in Greek.
We gathered here today as citizens of
the same nation, to pray together for the commencement of
Though socially we are categorised
into people who govern and who are governed, before
God we all feel as His humble children, asking for wisdom,
patience and courage in order to be able to fulfil His will
in the duties which each one of us has been called
The three Biblical passages which we
have just heard, converge in a wonderful way upon the main
theme of today's service, which is obviously the common
commitment to certain values and public
It is very constructive, and
comforting at the same time, to observe that Psalm 23,
though composed by a King, speaks about a Shepherd who could
not be from this world. A mortal cannot carry out such an
overwhelming responsibility. The needs and fears of people
in this world are so manifold that no one can console them,
unless he is the "Divine" Shepherd:
- "The Lord is my Shepherd
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down
In green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
For his name's sake".
The direct reference of all this
world's affairs to the Lord Himself should then be the first
article of faith for all those involved in any kind
of leadership in human society. However, this does not mean
that those elected to be leaders have to be afraid or even
resign before their responsibilities. On the contrary, they
have to undertake these responsibilities with sincere fear
of God, and with fervent zeal, having the noble ambition
only to serve their sisters and brothers.
Yet, this is by no means an easy task.
This can be achieved only if the servant is fully aware that
he is a simple instrument in the hands of the living
God. The faith of course that the leader acts "for the sake
of God's name" could easily prove to be an illusion,
or an impious audacity. On the other hand,
however, if this awareness comes out of deep faith and
humility, it could undoubtedly mean a tremendous source
of inspiration, courage and patience, qualities which
a leader needs terribly, especially today when human
conditions become more and more complex, both nationally and
Having said all the above, we wish to
emphasise that leadership of any kind which at first
glance perhaps appears to be a merely secular arrangement
is in reality a true mystery.
The mystery of leadership
demands from the one who is expected to be a leader,
that he firstly humbles himself before God, in order to be
led accordingly by God's will.
In this context, it would be of
interest to recall a characteristic derivation in the
English language. The term "duke" i.e. "leader", coming
directly from the Latin "dux", shows clearly that the making
of a dux presupposes education. However, e-duc-ation,
primarily means, "discipline". In addition, this
again literally means to become a disciple, in
obedience to a higher authority.
If we now try to briefly analyse also
the two other Biblical passages, we shall easily see that
government and public life in terms of serving
properly the common good, or even of leading people
into the fulfilment of their true needs, requires more than
humility and appropriate education. It
requires, namely, true sacrifice, a term which sounds
so prosaic, if not pejorative, in our consumeristic society.
However, the heaviest sacrifices of a leader are not those
of time, effort, money or other more or less material goods.
The sacrifices, which render leadership into a powerful
witness of almost missionary character, are the sacrifices
of deep personal interests such as reputation, prestige,
health and perhaps even life itself.
The incarnate Son of God, who was the
only one to teach humankind true love and care for
the other, made it clear, as we heard, that "no one has
greater love than this, than to lay down one's life for
one's friends". Here we should perhaps ask, "Is there any
politician in any country who would not claim to be a
"friend" of his voters?"
For the Judeochristian tradition at
least, the sound criterion of any kind of leadership cannot
be any other than such a willingness of the leader to serve
the people of God unreservedly, no matter what the
Since in the Judeochristian tradition
people in general are never regarded as a crowd of anonymous
individuals, but, primarily, as God's property with a
special mission, it is only natural that all leaders
of the people of God should understand their term of service
as a God-given challenge to participate, one way or another,
in the overall plan of Divine Economy.
I am of course aware that some members
of our Parliament today could perhaps feel uneasy at such a
more or less "theocratic" view of political
leadership, which I may seem to be presenting here. Although
I do not underestimate the merits and benefits of secularism
for society, particularly after the Medieval period of
tyranny, as a religious leader I would not accept that
secularism as such could ever meet all human needs. And this
for the simple reason that the human being has not only
material goals, but also a characteristic yearning for the
transcendent. Therefore, I have to state, in all sincerity,
that I do not know any other spirituality among all
religions, which respects human beings in their
uniqueness and sacredness more than Biblical
For, who could really claim to have a
higher estimation of human beings than the Biblical
doctrine, according to which man was created in the "image
and likeness of God"? (Gen. 1:26). Who else recognises the
unheard privilege of human beings to become not only
co-workers of God in all affairs of this world, but also of
becoming "God by grace" as the culmination of human
perfection in the life to come?
It is precisely this high estimation
of human nature as such which is the reason,
and at the same time constitutes the true measure,
of all moral demands that one is entitled to place upon
any kind of leaders in human society.
The above-mentioned Biblical and
theological view of the value of the human being as
such, which decisively determines also the limits of
the sovereignty of a leader, has, in modern times,
been unfortunately undermined by a mere populism as a
result in fact of the French Revolution.
Though we all usually praise
unreservedly the French Revolution as the real starting
point of individual human rights and of true
democracy in modern times, I am afraid that, in so
doing, we often overlook that this kind of liberation
could also open the door to manifold potential dangers,
which can culminate in the most aggressive form of anarchy.
Some writers went so far as to say that, through the French
Revolution, it was actually not the King who lost his
throne, but God Himself. In this spirit we could perhaps say
that the declaration of Nietzsche "God is dead" was only an
echo of the French Revolution.
By stating this, I am not speaking of
course politically for or against the inherited monarchy,
especially now when our nation is trying to freely
decide about the more desirable form of our government. All
I want to wholeheartedly emphasise here is only the
importance of tradition as such, which is the most
precious asset for a nation.
The true meaning of tradition is given
by the very succinct definition of the Greek Nobel-prize
winning poet George Seferis, who stated that "tradition
is the limitless solidarity between the living and the
Yet, being reminded of the "dead" and
their contribution to our life in the form of
limitless solidarity", we should admit that such a tacit
collaboration is not only possible or acceptable. It is
rather a basic requirement of true democratic
thinking itself. For, if democratic thinking is really to
allow the voice of the majority to prevail, without
of course neglecting the voice of the minority, then it is
obvious that in human history, the majority is always
expressed more by the definite past than by the fluid
In such a dynamic perception of
tradition, we express not only the standard of our
culture or our democratic sensitivity; more
than that, we express our awareness of our common
debt towards those ancestors who entrusted to us their
tried and sanctified values of knowledge, experience and
For all these reasons, political
revolutions or any other form of experiments and changes in
social life should always be sensitive enough not to destroy
the real achievements of the past, which are a
legacy for all time.
The greatest dilemma for a
political leader but also for society at large, is how to
combine the need for progress and development with
the rudiments of tradition, which are in themselves
the real presuppositions for true development. Continuity
and discontinuity in social and historical life are not
only demands, but at the same time they include
serious dangers for all of us.
For this reason, we must know that
fidelity to authentic traditions in no way
means stagnation, but on the contrary, the safest
method for renewal.
If human responsibility towards all
three dimensions of time - that is, past, present and
future - is accepted in such a dynamic way, then it is
clear that each one of us has his own place in life - a
place which is non-negotiable. Precisely for this
unique place, one should be ready to sacrifice even their
life, at least out of self-respect.
The heroic figure of St. John the
Baptist will always remain an example of unique consequence,
not only in religious, but also in moral, social and
political life. If we consider his case carefully, we shall
realise that it was not the blind hatred of Herod, which
beheaded him. Rather, it was his own persistence to preach
unreservedly what he believed to be the approaching Kingdom
of God. If he was not ready to do so, he would have proven
himself unworthy to be called The Forerunner". Would
it really be necessary to humbly remind all our political,
religious and other leaders that their first obligation is
to be "forerunners" in all duties and responsibilities
towards God and His people?
Only when we understand leadership as
the service to values, which transcend all mortals
and their temporary interests, shall we be able to
deal effectively, in a God-pleasing way, even with the most
secular matters in human society. How much more so if we are
dealing with problems such as "human rights", "equal
opportunities", equal respect to indigenous people -even if
we have to apologise to them for whatever they suffered
because of us - and so many other sociopolitical
We fervently pray at this solemn hour
that God the Almighty give strength and inspiration to all
our representatives in the Federal Parliament, so that they
may always take decisions which glorify God in serving the
true needs of His people.
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'Being' and 'non-being' in Christ
from Voice of
Orthodoxy, v. 21(10), October 1999
the official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese
The problem of 'being' and 'non
being', known from the History of Philosophy, is the most
basic question of Plato. Approximately the same problem was
expressed dramatically by Shakespeare with the familiar
phrase "To be or not to be". The exclamation of the French
surrealist A. Rimbaud "I am someone else" bears witness to
an incandescent 'ecstasy' of an unprecedented 'alchemy'. And
G. Xenopoulos satirised the problem with the theatrical work
"I am not me".
Parallel to these indicative
testimonies in classical literature - both the older and the
new - there is also the archetypal figure of Ulysses who,
when asked about his identity, responded completely
apophatically by saying he was "no one".
If we analyse each of the above cases,
we shall see that, together, they present us with a wondrous
gamut of the natural person's philosophical,
psychological and even sociological
In Plato, the problem is presented
with almost metaphysical agony, a matter of life or death.
Yet because this agony is not indifferent to our moral
behaviour, but rather influences it directly, we are not
entitled to call this simply a philosophical
In Shakespeare, the question expresses
an intense moral and social vigilance in the form of a
dilemma within the framework of aesthetic play
In A. Rimbaud we have, more than
existential agony, a totally new form of aesthetic
compunction or poetic magic, the power of which "dismantles
all the senses". This is the "new bearing", which is said to
have been introduced to poetry by Rimbaud.
In Xenopoulos, the problem does not go
beyond the witty tragicality of social farce.
As for the Homeric "no one", it is
clear that we have here a device of the cunning Ulysses, to
rid himself from the outset of every notion of
responsibility for his actions.
In the field of Biblical Revelation,
namely the Old and New Testament, the same question of
'being' and 'non being' is by no means unknown. However, the
meaning given to this differs from the already
mentioned secular instances, as much as the sun differs from
The concept of 'chance' has no place
in Biblical cosmology and anthropology, and 'vanity'
therefore has no place either (the book of Ecclesiastes
is a special case, but this is not the time to comment
Since everything was created by God
"out of nothing", and indeed 'very good', then it is
self-evident that even the last mustard seed has its
place and value - which is non-negotiable - in the
whole plan of the divine economy. And if this is true for
inanimate objects, how much more so for intellectual and
spiritual beings, ie. angels and human
God created both categories of
personal beings (angels and human beings) in order to
"collaborate" in the salvation of the world. That is why
angels are on the one hand defined in theology as
"liturgical spirits sent for service". The human, on the
other hand, by developing "according to the measure of the
gift of Christ" (Ephes. 4:7) is shown forth as "a chosen
vessel" (Acts 9:15) and "stewards of the mysteries of God"
(1 Cor. 4:1).
The notion precisely of "person",
revealed by the Trinitarian God Himself as the most
characteristic 'mode of existence' of divine life, is almost
identical to the notion of kenosis, or
'self-emptying'. Even the inner Trinitarian life, which is
infinite love and communion - called
"interpenetration" by the Fathers - between the three divine
Persons, is expressed only as 'kenosis'. However, this
self-emptying does not mean reduction or
bankruptcy. Precisely the opposite, kenosis is
the abundance of love and power and
The most characteristic and sublime
archetype for us is the Son and Word of God, about whom the
Apostle Paul writes the following unprecedented words, which
at first glance appear to be scandalous, being
'incompatible' with the conception of divinity at that time.
St. Paul said, "Though He was in the form of God, He did
not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born
in human likeness. And being found in human form, He humbled
Himself and became obedient to the point of death - even
death on the Cross. Therefore God also highly exalted Him
and gave Him the name that is above every name" (Phil.
From this supremely unique example of
Christ Himself, the true measure of being in God is
If the "will of the Father" is the
highest 'due', ie. the determinant power for life and death,
then even the Son, who is "of one essence with the Father",
justly has no greater possibility of expressing the divine
essence than to continually fulfil "the will of the Father".
For this reason He said unreservedly: "My food is to do the
will of Him who sent me and to complete His work" (John
Just as in the initial establishment
of all things, at the point of Creation, everything is made
and co-exists from the moment that the founding word
of God is pronounced - as an expression of the divine will
("God said, and it was so") - so it is subsequently, in the
whole course of the divine economy, that being in Christ
necessarily presupposes the fulfilment of the divine
If the entire Creation came "out of
nothing" through the divine will alone, then it is
only natural that this is maintained in existence again only
through the will of the Father. This is not only
expressed by the Son, but also fulfilled in the Holy
Spirit, through all works of the seven-day Creation. This is
precisely why the early Fathers of the Church called the Son
and Word of God the "arm" of the Father.
The Apostle Paul originally saw the
direct causal relationship between the divine will and
existence in Christ as a general form of good will of
God towards the whole creation. This is why he emphasises
what a great benefaction it was for God to call "into
existence the things that do not exist" (Rom.
St. Paul however narrows that general
benefaction to human beings in particular, and indeed to his
own self. The more his earthly journey draws to a close, the
more he feels that to be 'spent' does not mean that he is
'reduced', but rather that he 'increases' in Christ. He
recognizes that, just as the outer man 'decays', the inner
man is 'built up'. And when he has 'emptied' himself
completely, he will exclaim almost doxologically: "It is
no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me"
All the Saints of the Church saw the
struggle of completion in this way, from the solitary
Hermits and Stylites, to the most tortured martyrs. For it
does not matter whether you 'empty' the futility of the
fallen world silently, drop by drop from your personal life,
or whether you become a burnt offering through a martyr's
death. In fact, the first is probably more difficult, as it
demands a new decision for obedience and sacrifice at each
moment of your earthly life. Perhaps Malaparte was not wrong
when he said, "it is easier to sacrifice your life than your
At any rate, the example of St. John
the Forerunner is similar to that of the Apostle Paul, who
was made worthy of seeing his corruptible life 'assimilated'
completely by Christ.
We read concerning him in the Acts of
the Apostles, "As John was finishing his work, he said,
'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is
coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the
sandals on his feet' "(Acts 13:25).
We should note especially the phrase
"as he was finishing...", which means that he makes the
correlation of his life with Christ - as St. Paul
does - not at the beginning, nor upon the further
development of his work, but at the end, namely the greatest
climax of his life.
It is at this vital point that
worldly existence can be radically differentiated
from existence in Christ. The secular person
considers the 'fulfilment' of work, that is to say the
completion of the journey, to be the most appropriate and
convenient time to claim praise and self-attestation. The
one who struggles in Christ, upon reaching the highest
conquest, sees himself precisely then as being 'empty' of
himself, and hastens to confess the words "not I". For this
reason, the Saints never spoke of their own "feats" or
"achievements", but only of their "sufferings",
and in fact considered themselves privileged if they
were eventually able to be characterised as those who
"suffered the divine".
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How we evaluate the dead
|In memory of the late friend and coworker Spyros
In the attempt to sketch the personality of one who has
died - regardless of whether this is a sudden funeral
oration after a recent death or a sober dedication following
the passage of years - we unintentionally introduce an
unfair two-fold 'reduction' in the value of that fellow
human being. We do so by repeatedly using one fateful
If we could fully appreciate the moral weight involved in
such a deficient evaluation -since a 'reduction' is always a
'dis-count' - it should be considered certain that no
honourable or prudent person would dare to take upon himself
the responsibility of such an injustice. The less one could
claim not to have had the opportunity to avoid the social
responsibility of publicly evaluating the departed, the
greater the injustice.
Let us look at this fateful word, so that we may avoid
the injustice as much as possible. We use it directly and
without circumlocution. We are referring to the verb
Having the unstated certainty that the dead person no
longer has the possibility of surprising us - either by
questioning or overturning our evaluations by word or action
- we unhesitatingly declare that the individual in question
"was" this or that. It is as if we weighed the impact of an
entire life, or the final "measure" of the mystery of the
'personal otherness' every time, with a sort of infallible
"measurement of ethos".
To see how dangerous it is to "judge" the living or the
dead, it would perhaps be sufficient to recall the
dissuasive words of Christ "do not judge, so that you may
not be judged" (Matt 7:1). This apparently peaceful
command of Christ is not simply a loving admonition. It is
above all the comprehensively expressed loving verdict of
the All-knowing God, in relation to the impartial divine
Nemesis, which vigilantly looks at this profane act, so that
the one who is judged mainly is always the one who
This truth is even expressed figuratively by a popular
German saying, which states that "when you denounce a
fellow human being by pointing, one finger points at him and
three point at your own self".
Given however that, in our lukewarm and gradually
disintegrating age, even the words of Christ are no longer
considered to be "divine law" - not for the nominal
Christians either - we must make a more thorough analysis of
the question at hand. This will perhaps shed light more
fully on at least the fundamental moral dimensions of a
"critique" which at first glance may appear to be
We mentioned an unintentional, and therefore unstated,
double 'reduction` made to the value of the dead. This
double 'reduction' is unquestionably due mainly to two
`oversights', if not plain mistakes, a word that is
more neutral and uninvolved in relation to the
The first "oversight" has to do with the fact that we
seem to forget that, if the human person has a unique place
in the rest of the animal kingdom, this is not due to his
notorious "intelligence quotient". However, it is primarily
due to the moral fact that he has been created in "the image
and likeness of God". For us to believe, then, that such a
"likeness", which is called to become an unprecedented
"identity" through the process of deification,
can be summarised and represented, as an approximation,
only with the quantified "deeds" of a mostly unknown and
enigmatic inner life -unknown even to the person concerned -
is not simply inaccurate. It is a literally procrustean
mutilation. For, briefly speaking, if God is
infinite, then His image must also be considered to be
infinite. This means that the human being, as a "person"
cannot be confined, and can therefore not be `translated`
into the given narrow confines of space and time of
the present life. Thus, after physical death, the greatest
part of the "human potentiality" given to each person by God
inevitably remains untransformed into `energy', which is why
the final judgement and evaluation belongs only to God.
The second oversight consists in the fact that, with the
physical death of a person, we believe that his "presence"
or "activity" has been sealed forever. Indeed, there is the
common saying that "the departed is now justified",
which is repeated with much "magnanimity" by those who
do not wish to deal with the responsibly substantiated life
of the deceased fellow human being. The late Professor of
Law H. Fragistas once humorously "demystified" that kind of
generosity with the following perceptive comments, "is it
possible, when we say that the departed is justified,
to mean that, just by physical death, he has received
complete remission of sins? How do we know what God will do
with him in the next life? The only meaning that we can see
in this saying, then, is that the departed has ceased to
However, putting aside the mystery of the human person
and its final moral evaluation (out of respect and awe), we
cannot doubt that no matter how insignificant or silent the
life of a fellow human being may have seemed, he or she
always leaves behind some signs - strong in some cases and
weaker in others - that allow them to be remembered
(particularly by those who were closest to him). This is
approximately like the pulsating movements of any material
body: no matter how weak the sound waves it produces, these
"waves" are not entirely wiped out with the passage of time.
They wander constantly somewhere in the atmosphere and, with
a device of appropriate accuracy, they could be "fished
out", in a sense, and become more broadly audible once
We can then say that the survival of the personality of
the dead is not simply a question of "fame after death" -
however and to whatever extent this was attended to -
beforehand or afterwards, whether by the person himself or
the interested friends and relatives. It is something that
surpasses the artificial, so to speak, "external testimony".
It is a natural consequence of the indestructible and
inexhaustible character of the human person created in the
"image of God".
If this is true for every person, how much more so for
figures who stood out due to their particular talents in the
arts and letters, moral struggles, science, public life in
general or in the political arena in particular.
Therefore the verb "was" is not justified when speaking
of one who lived self-consciously. Once the path of earthly
struggle is completed, "life expires" according to bodily
functions, but the memory and fame which remains is
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Kollyva (Memorial Service Wheat)
Published in the ‘Voice of Orthodoxy' July 2005
It is well known that Orthodox worship and life are noted for their rich symbolism. This is perhaps its most ‘fascinating’ aspect, even for the casual on-looker. However, the symbolism of Orthodox worship, which is reflected in a host of popular customs, goes beyond the ‘bait’ of ‘fascination’.
In order to appreciate Orthodox symbolism properly, we should not remain on the level of ‘touristy’ curiosity. Such curiosity, which ‘scatters’ the soul, has nothing to do with the ‘nostalgia’ which ‘gathers’ it together. For this reason, the curiosity of a tourist sees only ‘folklore’.
There is a danger that even many of our Church-going faithful today may sometimes remain on that primitive level, unless we remind each other about things which may seem trivial or self-evident.
That is why we chose the topic of Kollyva (boiled wheat used in Memorial Services), a highly theological custom of Orthodox worship. As we shall see, it focuses and makes perceptible the most sacred spiritual connections, while at the same time proclaiming – without words of the alphabet – the major truths of the Christian Faith.
Seeing a plate or dish of Kollyva before the icons in Church, no matter how beautifully they are decorated, may at first glance bring only sorrow and mourning to our soul. As much sorrow as the death notice on the wall!
This initial reaction is perfectly natural. Because we instantly think only of the person or persons who are no longer with us.
However, Kollyva are not a photo of the deceased! If that were the case, it would monopolise or ‘block’ our view of the next life, and could become as dangerous as ‘deep vein thrombosis’.
So, while observing the various ingredients that make up a dish of Kollyva (mainly wheat, but also almonds, walnuts, pomegranate, mint, cinnamon and sugar), we are mystically invited to a new kind of sumptuous ‘feast’. And it is new in so far as we feel that it gives ‘rest’ - as a foretaste - to all five senses of this world, using material goods that are still direct products of the earth, and yet speak definitively about heavenly truths!
(a) Wheat, which we have said is the main ingredient, calls to mind (as do other seeds and fruit) the most basic truth which nature teaches around us, with the change of seasons. We refer to the wondrous cycle of life, which ‘dies’ for a little while, before blossoming with a new burst of life, as part of a broader ‘rejoicing’. By looking carefully and accurately, we shall see that the seed which ‘dies’ and ‘regenerates’ is not the result of some cold mechanical process. In other words, one thing does not leave in order to return identically the same, and unchanged. On the contrary, the phase of hibernation that we call ‘dying’ is a miraculous procedure.
From the one seed which would have remained alone – had it not fallen into the ground to dissolve – an infinitely greater number grow, thereby multiplying and perpetuating life. This is precisely the image chosen by Christ to assure us that life is not only not lost in death, but is in fact glorified: “Most assuredly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24).
And the Apostle Paul, the first and most ingenious theologian concerning the mysteries of God, saw the journey from ‘seed’ to ‘vegetation’ in terms of the deep relationship between life and death: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption” (1 Cor. 15:42).
We therefore see that wheat, which is the most dynamic symbol of death, defeats death in the most sacred manner: Even when it is grinded, it is not simply made like dust, but it becomes the ‘bread’ which now achieves something much greater and more permanent than “strengthening a man’s heart” (Psalm 104:15). It becomes the bread of the Holy Eucharist, as Christ Himself stated: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51).
(b) The pomegranate, mint and cinnamon -
Since all that we said concerning the grain of wheat also applies to almonds, walnuts etc., we can now comment on the various ‘seasonings’ which complement each other to give pleasure to – but not ‘satisfy’ – the five senses, thus underlining the complete triumph of life over death.
All three seasonings mentioned here (pomegranate, mint and cinnamon) have a transitional or ‘medium’ character in terms of colour and taste.
- The pomegranate is neither red like blood, nor sweet like sugar. It is bright and juicy (more pink in colour), while its taste is somewhere between sour and stringent, although it is nonetheless closer to sweet.
- Mint has the green colour of hope and vegetation, but in a dark shade, and its aroma is not yet sweet. Here too the transitional character is clear.
- Cinnamon, with its light brown colour, retains the seriousness of the mystery, without being the black of death. Even though its earthy colour reminds one of the moist soil of the earth, which is secretly pregnant with new life, its mildly caustic taste is a firm step towards the intense climax of the spiritual feast.
(c) Sugar -
The covering of a sugar crust, which as a ‘bright cloud’ or ‘garment’ protects all the mentioned ingredients in the Kollyva – and may include miniature decorative pieces in the form of a cross – adds of course the highest tone of victory and exuberant light to the dish of Kollyva.
The ‘whiteness’ on the one hand, and the anticipated ‘sweetness’ on the other, are the stable characteristics of the ‘unfading light’ and ‘eternal blessedness’ which God has prepared for those who love Him (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9).
The faithful immediately associate this with the memory of two special and climactic moments of liturgical experience: Firstly one’s individual Baptism, during which we chant the well-known hymn “grant me a bright robe, You who wear light like a garment”. Secondly, the divine Transfiguration of our Lord on Mount Tabor, when “…His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matt. 17:2).
The renewal of the ‘old nature’ through the ‘font of regeneration’ (Baptism), linked directly now (rather than by association) with the event of the divine Transfiguration, expresses the assurance of the faithful that, even through the experience of physical death, they will not be deprived of the greatest gift of divine grace, which is none other than the God-given goal of “regaining the original beauty”.
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Kissing the hand
Published in the ‘Voice of Orthodoxy' August 2005
In our article about ‘Kollyva’ in the July issue, we had underlined the need to renew from time to time the interest and knowledge of our faithful concerning the symbolism and meaning of what is chanted or conducted within the Church’s worship.
And of course, when we say ‘worship’, we first of all mean those things which, in accordance with the Orthodox liturgical rubric, are required and followed with reverence within the Church itself. Yet we do not mean only those things, otherwise we would be deliberate hypocrites, or preoccupied with merely external forms, much like the Pharisees. At any rate, our spiritual life and Christian identity are not a special ‘uniform’ that we ‘wear’ for the duration of our relevant duties, and then take it off as soon as we are ‘off duty’.
For this reason, it is not possible for the greater portion of a Christian’s life, which unfolds outside the Church building and beyond the regular prayer time and services, to be anything other than in ‘accordance’ with that which occurs within Church, not only in relation to God, but also to various functions and ministries of the individual faithful. It is precisely this organic continuity of Christian life both within and without the Church building which characterizes the general Orthodox phronema and ethos.
At this point, it is worth recalling the wise observation made many times in the past by Orthodox theologians who specialize in matters of worship: they have named the conduct of the faithful (Clergy, Monastics and Lay people) not only within the ‘home Church’ (be it the family or monastery), but also in the fields of education, professional or social activity, and even in ‘recreation’ (where ‘modesty’ is not necessarily excluded) as the “Liturgy after the Liturgy”.
We mention all of the above, which have been ‘self-evident’ for centuries (for the genuinely Orthodox, that is) because, among the other oddities of our cunning times, there are always certain hypocritical people with ‘complexes’ – especially from the garrulous field of journalism (read sponsored slander) – who ridicule the traditional ‘kissing of the hand’ as being servile. Their comments apply to lay people kissing the hand of Clergy, but equally to both Clergy and lay people kissing the hand of the Elders who are greater in seniority or age. If they questioned the traditional custom itself, in an indefinite sense, we could say that it was a matter of mentality, viewpoint, particular sensitivity or possibly even psychopathological remnants of a … disturbed conscience! Yet the critical article writers, lacking in judgement, do not stop there.
They also mock (so as to humiliate and infuriate) those noble and grateful faithful as ‘crawlers’ and ‘flatterers’. These are the very people who, in addition to their family up-bringing and their familiarity with Church life, possess sufficient psychosomatic health to not feel that their dignity and freedom in Christ is diminished, when showing various forms of respect to persons and institutions which have been established in the sanctified traditions of our dignified people.
Let us therefore remind the ungrateful and troublesome ones who present themselves as being ‘mighty’ and make noises ‘like a barking dog against the innocent moon’ (as the Germans say), what the kissing of the hand means within the Church, regardless of circumstances or personal relationships of like or dislike.
The faithful kiss the hand of the Clergyman, not only as a gesture of courtesy (as ladies are greeted in European culture). The faithful do so on the basis of a purely liturgical relationship, i.e. in the context of what takes place in the Church itself. But in the final analysis, the entire human person is the ‘temple of God’, as is the whole Creation.
Consequently, when the faithful kiss the hand of the Celebrant, they are not honoring the mortal hand of the specific individual. Just as when then they kiss the holy Icon or the holy Gospel or the sacred relics, they are not honouring ‘wood’ and ‘paint’, or ‘metals’ and ‘bones’, but rather the One Lord and God, the supreme point of reference who, through finite and imperfect means and forms of worship, ‘condescends’ to allow the task of salvation to unfold!
This is precisely the spirit of the verse in Psalms: “Wondrous is God among His saints” (LXX Ps. 67:36).
And to be clear: The hand that baptizes, anoints, administers Holy Communion, that blesses, marries or buries, that ordains or tonsures, that prepares holy unction and generally performs all that is ‘beyond the human’ (not out of his own initiative or power, but out of a ‘work that has already been accomplished’ in the sacrifice for all people on the Cross of Golgotha), that is the hand which the faithful kiss! Therefore it is not the hand of the private person, and so St Gregory of Nyssa did not hesitate to proclaim: “Being one among many and the public, he suddenly becomes a leader, a president, a teacher of piety, a mystical initiator of the hidden mysteries; and he does these things without any change in his body or form, but continuing to be in appearance as he was before, his invisible soul transformed for the better by some invisible power and grace” (MPG 46, 581).
The honour given by the ‘kissing of the hand’ is therefore undoubtedly not primarily directed towards the perishable and undoubtedly unworthy hand of the Celebrant, but above all to Him who invisibly ‘sent’ and ‘directed’ the ‘enlisted’ human hand. This is in any case the Orthodox teaching of the Fathers from centuries ago, for all who have ‘ears to hear’: “…for the honour directed to the icon passes through to the original” (John of Damascus, On the Icons, Oration 1, 24).
We close with the astonishing observation expressed in the following verses of a Christian Cleric:
I am a nobody who has been clothed in symbol
which is why in my sinful hands
there burn as candles
the kisses of seven hundred thousand faithful!
May those who are critical of the custom of kissing the Celebrant of the Most High learn that he himself – when seeing things correctly – does not sense it as an honour, but much more as a constant reminder and spiritual ‘examination’.
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The Mystery of the Human Person
- The following paper was presented by His Eminence
Archbishop Stylianos on Sunday 21 May 1995 at the
University of Western Australia. The lecture commemorated
the 70th anniversary since the establishment of the Greek
Orthodox Archdiocese in Australia, and the 20th
anniversary since the enthronement of Archbishop
Stylianos as Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in
"When Christ who is our life appears,
then you will also appear with Him in glory"
At certain special moments we will ponder on the
"purpose" of life and our "destination".
Of course, there have always been those who do not
believe in any purpose or destination. But they are no doubt
a minority for whom we should feel compassion rather than
indication. Conversely, most people, whether eminent or
plain, have always struggled honourably, in the face of the
difficulties of life, to leave something behind which will
remind others of them: a child, a plant, a song. Among all
those who struggle in life - the battlers as they are wisely
called - we should make a distinction between these two
groups: those who determine their purpose and destination
arbitrarily and of their own accord, and those who feel that
they are "within boundaries" which are set from above. Even
within this "godly" multitude of people, we should in
particular single out the Christians for whom the God-given
order and calling contain "measures" which by definition
lead infinitely beyond that which is human. We should not
forget the remarkable words of St. Nicholas Cabasilas, that
we have received the command to become gods.
The distinction between Christians and non-Christians is
made not in order to boast, nor in order to be contemptuous
of people of other religious persuasions. On the contrary,
the distinction is necessary in order for us to appreciate
the true extent of our dept toward God, ourselves and our
fellow human beings. It would be more precise to say that
the distinction is made so as to show how much more
demanding Christianity is when compared with other
The purpose and destination of humankind according to
Christian teaching are not defined simply as being more
demanding. Rather, they are on a completely different level
to that which other monotheistic religions know or could
know. The difference between Christian and non-Christian
faith, in other words, is not quantitative but
Even Judaism - to which we are organically connected
through the entire Old Testament - does not teach the same
things as Christianity as far as the purpose and destination
of the human being is concerned. For although we may share
the same teaching about being created in "the image and
likeness of God", the presuppositions and the consequences
of this fundamental teaching are formulated by Christianity
in a totally incomparable and unique way. We could therefore
say that Christian anthropology radically differs from all
teachings and philosophies of every other religion or
science concerning the human person.
The truths taught by Christianity, both with regard to
the origin and the destination of humanity, transcends human
knowledge, experience and imagination.
The key to approaching Christian anthropology is the
mystery of the God-man (Theanthropos) Himself. He is the
pre-eternal model and the unmovable goal to whom the
faithful are directed. Humanity without the God-man is, for
Christianity, a sad utopia. An inconsolable futility. An
extreme absurdity of suicide.
It is not simply a matter of God's presence or absence
from the world, as several famous western thinkers saw it,
such as Nietzche who proclaimed the "death of God", or H. de
Lubac who spoke about being orphaned without God in his
classic book "The tragedy of Humanism without God". What is
involved here are the "structural feature" of the very
nature of the human being, without which he or she is not
simply unfortunate or lacking in direction, but literally
in-conceivable, thus appearing as a monstrous creature.
St. Maximos the Confessor writes very characteristically
that with "the intelligible sun of righteousness", namely
the Theanthropos, something occurs which is similar to the
effect of the natural sun: just as it does not only show
itself when it rises, but rather all the rest of creation
which it illuminates, in the same way the Theanthropos
showed through His incarnation into the world not only His
own theanthropic nature but also the true measure and nature
of all created things, especially humankind.
Let us however take things from the beginning in order to
see more analytically in what the mystery of the human
person consists, something which only Christianity can throw
light upon through the mystery of the Theanthropos.
We must note especially that people are normally
scandalised by the teaching of Christianity not so much
because of what it says about the beginning and origin of
humanity, but rather because of what it states concerning
the end point and purpose of humanity. Having permanently
left the issue of human origins "open" to further biological
and philosophical investigation, they are scandalised by the
end point of "theosis" or deification as taught by genuine
Christianity. They are therefore unable to accept such a
postulate or else they consider it to be an unthinkable
The Greek term for "destination" (pro-orismo) is a key
word which evidently contains both extremes of human life,
namely the beginning and the end. In this word the
everlasting organic link between the beginning and end is
directly expressed, such that we could not see the end as
being related to the beginning. In any case, we know that in
the material world around us, in which things are more plain
and obvious, "what is grown is what is sown".
According to such fundamental order in God's creation, we
must first apply ourselves to a study of the beginning
whenever we wish to understand the end. The question is
then: Have we done this in the case of anthropology?
It seems that it is not only Judaism which has not
managed to approach the mystery of the creation of the human
person "in the image" of God - since it has rejected the
Theanthropos who has appeared - but also western Christendom
as a whole has misunderstood basic truths on this matter
which Orthodoxy maintained and developed under very trying
conditions and at great cost, while being scoffed at for
centuries by the impetuous naturalism and rationalism of the
If western Christendom had correctly understood and
appreciated the dynamism, by grace, of being created "in the
image" of God, then it would not be scandalised by the
Orthodox teaching on human "theosis", and it would consider
it completely consistent and in accordance with what is
given in the Old and New Testaments.
It is precisely this "mystical" dynamism which is hidden,
as if in a mystery, which we shall try to outline by way of
the following analysis. This will be based on the amazing
Christian anthropology of the Apostle Paul which is without
From such an analysis, brief though it may be, we hope
that not only the Roman Catholics will be assisted in
accepting the Orthodox notion of "theosis" - which to a
certain degree is already gradually occurring among their
more devout and discerning theologians - but also the
Protestants in general, who as a rule continue to regard the
teaching on deification not only as being unbiblical but
even blasphemous, despite the special affinity they have
towards the teachings of the Apostle Paul.
The teaching of Holy Scripture concerning the creation of
the human person "in the image" of God; at least as it is
presented in the Old Testament, gives the clear impression
that human beings were created last in time, as the most
perfect and supreme creation of the seven days. This
progression in time would be of no particular importance if
it was not emphasised in the Book of Genesis that the bodily
and biological aspect of human beings is made up of and
"depends" upon the elements which were created before them,
and which they sum up to some extent. It is precisely
because of this organic link between the material world and
the human person that the Fathers named the latter a
"microcosm", while the former they called "macroanthropos".
However, such dependence, no matter how much it may simply
have to do with the vessel or "vehicle" into which God would
subsequently blow the "breath of life" (Gen 2:7) and thereby
give His "image", certainly becomes definitive of the
dynamism and development of human nature and, as a result,
of the human person. In stating that it is "definitive", we
clearly mean that it is restrictive, since the "dimensions"
which a person can take throughout his or her development in
history are more or less predicable and static, especially
if they are to be judged mainly on the basis of the quality
of their "genes".
The more our knowledge of genetics increases, the more we
can follow and foresee - as well as influence of course -
the given data of the genetic code. Given that humankind is
"by nature" created, it follows that the possibilities for
the development of the human person are restricted to a
Presented in this way, the passage in the Old Testament
concerning our creation "in God's image" seems to be a
subsequent addition, like something which is built to edify
the original foundational structure of human existence, in
which case the later teachings concerning "deification"
appear to be somewhat unnatural or at least mechanical and
In the New Testament, by contrast, and especially in the
epistles of the Apostle Paul, creation in God's "image" is
not presented as a subsequent addition, not even as a gift
which is simultaneous with the creation of the material part
of the human being. Here the God-like nature of humanity
axiomatically and infinitely precedes its material
construction and creation.
The words of St. Paul in this regard are very revealing
and characteristic, particularly in his letter to the
Ephesians, even from the very first chapter. Here the
"image" is dealt with not as a relationship between humanity
and God in general, but with God the Word in particular. And
because the Son and Word of God is uncreated, pre-eternal
and without beginning, the unique mystery of the human
person consists precisely in the fact, in being directly
related to forechosen and pre-destined "before the
foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4). In this way, however,
the order of the whole creation in time is completely
reversed or at least nullified, since human beings instead
of being "last", are presented "first".
Thus the "grace" and "blessing" of the Father towards
humankind are not simply a vague and general concept, but
rather a very concrete relationship with the Only-Begotten
Son, through which we are led to God as "Christ-like"
It is a "selection" of the human person which occurs in a
miraculous way before the creation of the world and
humanity, seeing that it does not depend created and limited
nature, but on "the good pleasure of His will, to the praise
of His glorious grace that He freely bestowed on us in the
Beloved" (Eph 1:5-7).
According to all of the above, we could then say - no
matter how strange it may sound - that the final horizons of
humanity should not be sought in an unknown "progressive"
future, but rather in a known "re-gressive" past. Since we
are dealing with a return to the original glory of the human
person, which is none other than the eschatological
perfection - precisely that which we call "theosis" by grace
- the term "past" here loses its negative meaning, because
nothing has "passed" in essence. This original glory was
simply "hidden" in God, awaiting the "fullness" of time in
order to be "revealed". It is for this very reason that the
supreme gaol of one who is struggling in Christ is nothing
other than to seek throughout one's life to be "reshaped
according to the ancient beauty".
Such an absolute Christocentric anthropology of the
Apostle Paul safeguards human glory which exists beyond its
created presuppositions; a grace which has nothing to do
with biological powers and possibilities. On the contrary,
the assurance of St. Paul is clear that "our outer nature is
wasting away, but our inner nature is being renewed" (2 Cor
A necessary condition for this transformation and return
to the "ancient beauty" is undoubtedly that Christ Himself
be first of all revealed, i.e. recognised and confessed in
His glory by humanity, as the Lord of life and death. In
this way, humankind becomes "synchronised" with God-man, and
thus truly become "partakers of divine nature" (2 Peter
In conclusion, we should note the fact that it is
extremely characteristic that the Apostle Paul sees the
revelation pf the glory of the human person not as something
which follows the revealed glory of Christ, as a result, but
rather as something which is accomplished simultaneously and
together with it: "Then you will be revealed with Him in
glory" (Col 3:4).
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The Mystery of the Virgin Mary
word "mystery" is of Greek derivation, and dates from
pre-Christian times. For the ancient Greeks, "mysteries"
were those religious rites which involved some process of
"initiation", that is to say an introduction into and
familiarisation with some "mystical" and hidden truths. The
most well known of these rites were the "Eleusinian".
From the verb 'muw' (initiate) - which means "I half
close my eyes" so that I can delve more deeply and ponder by
limiting the external light which does not allow me to
concentrate within - are derived the words "mystery",
"mystical", "mystic", "mystagogy" etc, which all refer to
the many-faceted and forever unsearchable reality of depth,
in contrast to the flat presence of the surface.
Christianity borrowed the word "mystery" from here, thereby
giving it an even deeper and more sacred meaning. The
"mysteries" of the idolaters are as far removed from the
"mysteries" of the Church as the truths of the world are
from the truths of God.
The word "sacrament" is often used for mystery in modern
Church terminology in order to express the visible "action"
in the context of worship with which invisible grace is
transmitted to the faithful. Thus we mainly speak of the
seven mysteries or Sacraments of the Church without this of
course signifying that the salvific grace of God is
necessarily or exclusively bound by those concrete
There is however a more general meaning of the term
"mystery" which expresses the undefined total of known and
unknown truths which regulate the position and the
relationships of the individual person with God and with
fellow human beings, within the entire plan of Divine
Economy. For, as it has been correctly stated, "no man is an
Within this broader and more general meaning, every human
person possesses his or her own mystery, just like unique
fingerprints, regardless of the external appearance of that
This mystery, while no doubt unknown to others, remains
largely unknown even to the very person concerned.
Yet when the mystery of the individual person has a
decisive significance for the salvation of others - and this
is mainly true in the case of the Saints - then the personal
mystery no longer remains a secret with seven seals. For, as
the late Father Paisios had said, "the Saint hides himself,
but the Grace of God reveals him". It "reveals" him not of
course for the "praise of people", but for the salvation of
Thus, the confession and gratitude of those who benefit
becomes, without even trying, a revelation and an amazing
commentary on the hidden aspects of one's personal
If this follows in terms of "decoding" the unseen aspect
of the mystery of each "chosen vessel" and instrument of
divine grace in this world, then it is only natural that
this should occur more profoundly in the incomparable
"mystery" of the Virgin Mary.
The period of compunction in the first fifteen days of
August, with traditional fasting and daily Supplication
services, gives us again this year an opportunity to recall
a few of the many benefactions of the Mother of God towards
the whole human race. These truths however surpass logic,
which is why we will appeal to the conscience of the
faithful, rather than their logic. And we will recall
several of the unique goods which the Virgin Mary, being
"full of grace", has secured for us, and which she continues
to maintain in our midst through her ceaseless
The leading theologian of the 14h century. St Gregory
Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, in admiring the
unsearchable "mystery" which the Virgin Mary silently
crystallised at the centre of the Divine Economy, even goes
as far as to say that Mary the Mother of God is "the cause
of all those who have gone before her, and the guardian of
all those who come after her". No matter how strange this
description may seem for a creature of God -even if this is
the Virgin Mary- we shall see below that this is not an
enthusiastic exaggeration of love, nor a rhetorical device
which is called "poetic licence". On the contrary, this
statement is a most precise and profound theological
definition, worthy of the great Teacher of Orthodoxy.
If theosis i.e. deification of the human person was the
'"pre-eternal will" of God, which looked towards the
Incarnation, it is clear that the "giving" of human nature
by the Virgin Mary to the Son and Word of God was the
highest goal of the entire Creation. For this reason "all
that was before her" are justifiably considered as being
directed towards the Virgin Mary, as the "final cause". And
precisely because she has such a crucial relationship with
all who went before her, she is then the protector "of all
who came after her". In this way, the Mother of God is
presented as the "key" of all Creation.
Having the supreme and central soteriological event of
incarnation as a foundation, we can easily verify various
other corresponding features of the Virgin Mary, which give
a more detailed account of her incomparable personal mystery
It was precisely this most central position and
relationship of the Virgin Mary with the entire plan of the
Divine Economy which allowed the Church Fathers to form and
develop not only a typological, but also a substantial
parallel between the Virgin Mary and the Church in general.
The central axis of this parallel is the fact that both are
simultaneously Mother and Virgin, having maternity and
virginity absolutely, since both are brought about "by the
Holy Spirit". The almost complete identification of the
mystery of the Virgin Mary with the mystery of the entire
Church is perfectly and epigrammatically expressed even in
the Psalmic verse "glorious things are spoken of You, O city
of God" (Ps 87:3). It is the unique case in all of Creation
when one single person "represents" the entire city of God,
that is to say the multitude of "people being deified". This
image alone would be sufficient to declare for all time the
breadth and depth of the mystery of the Virgin Mary, which
she herself had confessed with contrition and appreciation
when foretelling doxologically: "from now on all generations
will call me blessed" (Luke 1:48).
The fact that the gestation and incarnation of God the
Word from the pure Mother of God was the climax and unique
service towards humanity and the entire Creation, did not
hinder St Maximos the Confessor from teaching that the
unique example of the Virgin Mary must, in some sense, have
a continuation and reflection in the life of each of the
faithful. Every faithful person must "bring forth" the Word
of God in his life and become, in a personal way, a kind of
Bearer of God (Theotokos). This of course does not signify a
repetition of the "hypostatic union", which would be an
unacceptable heresy and blasphemy. However, what is meant
here is of course a bringing forth of the Word of God in a
moral sense in each person through the divine grace which is
afforded by the communion of the Holy Spirit, with the
sacramental life of the Church.
At any rate, we shall approach the mystery of the Virgin
Mary in an even better manner by remembering three specific
aspects of her historical life, all of which express three
fundamental features of her holy person:
1) utter humility and obedience
3) the divine Assumption with the Dormition
At first glance, one may tend to believe that the first
of the three features above was in fact the cause from which
the other two blossomed, as a kind of reward on the part of
God. Yet a more careful examination will reveal that all
three of these are equivalent or are, in other words, three
different perspectives on the same reality with which God
endowed her who is "full of grace".
The utter humility and obedience of the Virgin Mary means
that she left herself totally in the hands of God. Upon this
precise point the "evervirginity" of the Mother of God is
founded and sealed for all time, which is also why we should
not restrict this only to her bodily integrity, but rather
to her entire conscience and person, which never permitted
the slightest divergence (or wandering) from the divine
And when the rational creature of God, which is His icon,
freely chooses utter humility, thereby maintaining the
continual virginity with regard to the divine will, then it
is clear that such a person has by the grace of God reached
incorruptibility, which the Assumption infers.
Only in this way can the tomb be no longer a point of
bankruptcy and a grievous end to a tormented life but, on
the contrary, the beginning and prelude to the "eighth day",
something which allows us to chant within the formal worship
of the Church:
"O marvellous wonder!
The source of life is laid in the tomb,
and the tomb itself becomes a ladder to heaven..."
For this very reason the early Church considered the
"Birthday" not to be one's birth into the world, with all of
the uncertainties that would follow, but rather the day of
one's falling asleep in the Lord, which definitely sealed
not only earthly time, but also the final physiognomy of
that person in the Kingdom of God. This is also why the
Orthodox, when keeping their Tradition, celebrate namedays
rather than birthdays. [Back to top]
Dogma and authority in the Church
In our evil age which "demythologises" every institution
and every notion of established authority under the pretext
of course of democratic equality and "enlightenment" which
from the outset claims that rational thought has absolute
power over all that can be known - the notions of "dogma"
and ''authority" are now considered by many to be not only
inappropriate to our time and place, but also extremely
provocative and even demeaning of the dignity of the human
being emancipated long ago. Thus to speak today of dogma as
a common and indeed regulatory point of reference for the
entire people of God - especially in the strict sense of a
certain supernatural authority - constitutes no doubt a
great scandal, or at any rate a bold demand which
continuously needs new justification before all who "ask for
a reason for the hope that is in you" (Peter 3:15).
In responding to this need and the doubts of those who in
any way may have a contrary opinion, an attempt will be made
to present the main things that could possibly be said on
this issue, from the viewpoint of Orthodox systematic
theology, during these historic times, so as to facilitate a
fruitful and sincere dialogue with any person of
First of all. it can be said that dogma and authority are
considered to be notions which of themselves relate to each
other as cause and causality, since authority is understood
as being the power which dogma produces and directs, while
dogma expresses sufficiently the nature of the authority
from which it is derived. This last observation, namely that
dogma expresses "sufficiently" the nature of the authority
from which it comes without completely exhausting its
content, and therefore without being completely identified
with it, constitutes the fundamental condition for a
successful characterisation of the essence of dogma, as
shall be seen below.
Within the area of the Church, matters of course become
more complicated. For, therein, dogma is not a notion which
has a unified and unchangeably single meaning. Nor is
authority understood as a compulsive force or as blind
oppression. For a precise and fair evaluation of these two
basic concepts it is imperative that a more thorough
analysis be made of each by every impartial and thinking
person of today, even if that person is not one who believes
in Christ. Let us not forget that many sociologists and
historians have for some time spoken about a
"post-Christian" period in which Christians already
The different notions of the term
The term dogma (from the verb 'doko' meaning "I think"),
is known to be of pre-Christian origin. It expressed a
binding decision or clause which was ethico-philosophical or
socio-political in character. Its validity depended directly
upon the trustworthiness and competence of the authority
which pronounced it, for which reason it was connected to it
(e.g., a particular philosopher or lawgiver, a philosophical
or religious community, a state government etc). With the
introduction of the term into the vocabulary and life of the
Christian Church, its meaning became richer, as we shall
see, and this gradually developed significant
differentiation(1). These differentiation were
sometimes so greatly influenced by others that the formation
of a totally new term became justified, which in turn
expressed something almost entirely different.
At least four clearly distinct shades of meaning and uses
of the word dogma can be highlighted in Christianity. These
were not of course parallel to each other, but for
historical or psychological reasons they arose and developed
over time. Today they are an unquestionable reality which
can cause the unwary considerable confusion.
The first and most fundamental meaning of dogma is of
course mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, in the
description of the Apostolic Synod which was called to
decree "the decisions ['dogmata'] that had been
reached by the Apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem"
(Acts 16:4). The vital designation "reached" is highly
indicative of the essence of dogma, as the point of
crystallisation where two things meet: on the one hand the
will of God who is revealed and, on the other hand, even if
its importance is secondary, the conscience of the person
being saved in the context of "obedience to the faith" (Rom.
1:5). We shall see below that this "Divine- human" feature
of the essence of dogma is a 'conditio sine qua non' for the
Orthodox understanding of salvation which is expressed at
length in the teaching of the Church concerning synergy.
Dogma signifies, then, a generally accepted teaching
"decreed" by the leaders of the Christian community, under
the guidance of the Holy Spirit who, according to the Lord's
promise, abides forever in the Church, leading her "unto all
truth" (John 16: 13). This is evident in the constant
conviction and direct reference made to the Divine factor by
the presiding leaders, through the well known phrase "it
seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us". When posed in the
plural, dogma means the individual and axiomatic truths of
the Christian faith, the so-called "articles of faith"
which, when connected as a single organic whole, comprise
the complete conscience of the Church. Yet, in saying the
"conscience of the Church", we must always keep in mind that
this is the "memory of the Church"(2),
which is not a product of time, unlike "ecclesiastical
conscience" that is nothing other than the reflection of the
teaching of the Church in the conscience of the individual
faithful person(3). The memory of the Church is a
stable and constant spiritual dynamic which is unceasingly
maintained by the divine Logos who "inseparably" and
"without division" became human, and the Comforter who
remains eternally within her.
It is clear that the memory and conscience of the Church
includes and maintains everything that God was pleased to
reveal to humankind for its salvation. Whatever bears no
relation to eternal life and salvation cannot be accurately
described as an article of faith. The truths revealed by God
to humanity are generally referred to in three
- concerning the uncreated God
- concerning the created world (cosmology); and
- concerning the relationship of the created and the
The sum total of these salvific truths is described in
the New Testament as the faith which is "entrusted" (1 Tim.
6:20), thereby clearly showing that what is involved is not
just chance, conventional or temporary knowledge, but rather
a unique, firm and invincible treasure. This is maintained
by God in the Church as a deposit out of extreme love for
humankind, for the salvation of all who believe. The fact
that this invaluable and irreplaceable treasure cannot be
defined and described in the form of a complete
"codification" is quite obvious, especially since the
Apostle Paul himself states that in this life "we know in
part and prophesy in part" (1 Cor. 13:9).
The divinely inspired summary of this treasure is found
in the Nicene Creed, so that the faithful may discern
between "old wives' tales" (l Tim. 4:7), "philosophy and
empty deceit" (Col. 2:8) and even between truths which are
useful in this world, but which are of no significance in
terms of our salvation. The articles contained in the Creed
present the major dogmas of the Church which, when studied
properly by the theologising Church in their organic
relationship and correct cohesion, can be further divided
into axiomatic and individual truths. They are fixed
articles of faith,whether they are presuppositions or
consequences of the central dogmas(4).
From what has already been said, a distinct
differentiation between the notion of dogma becomes
apparent. On the one hand, we have the self-evident truths
which are seminal and given directly through Divine
revelation, while on the other hand there are the inferred
or derivative axiomatic positions. In spite of this, when we
speak about the dogmas of the Church, we maintain the same
indiscriminate perception of them, knowing that our
orthodoxy and orthopraxy depend upon them, and that,
together, they guarantee our spiritual salvation. For this
reason, the Church which tends the flock teaches the general
dogmas on a daily basis and edifies the people of God, not
only with formal words of instruction and related sermons,
but also through all homologous pastoral acts, which as a
matter of course, infinitely surpass any oratorical
That which may at first glance appear to be merely an
abstract and theoretical truth under the term "dogma" is
similarly embodied in a certain time and place among the
people of God as a "shape" and "form" of expression in all
aspects of life, whether as a "way of thinking", "logos and
praxis", "custom and character" or as a "way of life" in
general. It is clear then that, with such a spectrum of
expressions in the Church, dogma is declared and confessed
even through silence or through perseverance in martyrdom,
whereupon it becomes the most eloquent witness to the faith.
If dogma were not embodied each time, in the manner that the
invisible God became incarnate, the treasure of faith would
then appear to be a monophysitic phenomenon, a venerable
relic in the archives of the Church, an empty shell, a
sterile form and dead letter, rather than a useful and
transforming breath of life. Yet such a stripping down would
no doubt be a cheapening of that which one devoutly
theologises and believes with St Paul, namely that the word
of God remains forever "living and powerful, and sharper
than a two edged sword" (Heb. 4:12).
There is another more specialised meaning of the term
"dogma" which refers not to all the truths of the faith
which are constantly preached and testified to with all
available means in the Church, but only to the most central
truths which were triumphantly and officially formulated by
the Synods of the Church in well-known "definitions',
precisely because these were misunderstood or misconstrued
by "other teachings". These dogmatic statements of the
Church have, typically at least, greater authority as the
direct and undisputed voice of the Synod which officially
expresses the conscience of the Church. However, as the
triumphant character of the formulations may impress us, we
may at times unfortunately overlook - or not understand at
all- another most important fact. Namely, that the
formulations of the teachings of the Church made by the
Synods may in some sense be "inferior" to the unofficial and
daily teaching which, as has already been mentioned, is
declared "in many and varied ways". For while the
formulation of the Synod defines the "limits" -beyond which
there is the implacable "anathema"- it is by its very nature
polemical, antithetical and exclusive in terms of opposing
views or explicit doubts. Conversely, daily pastoral
teaching which is conducted unofficially and with
"simplicity of heart" (Acts 2:46), so to speak, has
apparently a more comprehensive and inclusive character. It
is more philanthropic as it is directed towards all with
loving care and attention, without excluding anybody, at
least in the initial stages.
While the Synodical decrees contain selectively only that
portion of the truth which must be promoted and imposed - by
way of phrases which more or less have a logical coherence -
in order to prevent deviation and encourage correction,
everyday pastoral instruction is not confined or
predetermined by such guidelines. Therefore, it is not
pressured in terms of language or time, which enables it to
come back to the same topic from a new angle and with more
suitable terminology, thereby approaching more mystically,
we could say, the truth of faith which is received in
mystery and which is ineffable in essence(5).
Unless this most significant, but often hidden, parameter of
the reception of the Divine word of revelation is properly
appreciated, there is always the very serious danger that
theology might become an undertaking of rational thought
alone, a philosophical rather than a mystic
quest(6). On the other hand, if we keep this
important "difference" in mind, we will then be in a better
position to successfully overcome temptations of "the tree
of knowledge of good and evil" (Gen. 2:17), so that in this
also the words of the greatest of theologians, the Apostle
Paul. may be maintained in full honour and validity: "we
have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence
of the power may be of God and not of us" (2 Cor. 4:7).
The Orthodox theologian must remember the first and
primary function which the "Decrees" of the Ecumenical
Synods or Councils must have and retain for all time. This
is so that their protective character does not become
misunderstood and degenerate into an irreverent absolutism
of that which is relative, in which case it would be the
worst form of idolatry. The "Decrees" signify a -setting of
boundaries" or an intellectual "enclosure", so that the mind
may not go beyond certain boundaries, but rather be guided
on the true path where living waters are found. This
directive arrow only possesses an inalienable sacredness and
binding character for the faithful - whether individually or
as a whole - if it does not become a restraint or an
obstacle for a deeper insight into the sacred words of
revelation which, day and night, constitute the first
concern of the faithful, a search for divine mercy through a
turning towards God, as is expressed most characteristically
in the funeral service: "I am yours, save me, for I have
searched out your righteous ways".
One could of course object that, in comparing the
Synodical "Decrees" with the unofficial pastoral teaching,
the former are the result of Synodical deliberations and
decisions, and therefore have a collective character which
guarantees the presence and guidance of the Paraclete (cf.
Mat. 18:20). The latter, however, exercised normally by only
one person - regardless of whether that person is a Bishop-
does not offer the same guarantee of an infallible operation
and correct teaching which is guided from above.
This objection at first sight appears indeed to be fair
and strong. Yet, if we consider it more soberly and
maturely, we shall see that here too great caution is
required so that we do not make absolute what are essential
relative positions, which at any rate are only valid under
certain conditions. It must not be forgotten that, if it is
true that one person - even a Bishop- can easily go astray
while teaching the truths of the faith, it is not impossible
or improbable for an entire Synod to be similarly led astray
in the same task, since it did not wish to leave itself
unreservedly to the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit,
unaffected by ulterior motives and human weaknesses which
historically led even to the so-called "Robbers Synods".
Furthermore, it is impossible to say in advance what the
quality and outcome of a certain Synod will be, since this
is always evaluated with hindsight and with the same
criterion used for evaluating the teaching of each
pastor(7). Therefore, in teaching the truths of
the faith, the individual person is able to have the same
assistance from above to believe correctly, if he or she in
good conscience struggles to remain in undisturbed communion
and spiritual accord with the body of the Church, and
especially with the 'phronema' of the Church
Fathers ('consensus patrum'). In the final analysis,
we must admit that, in this instance also, the motivating
force is not the human factor, regardless of the number of
people, but rather the assistance which comes from the
Paraclete, which is in accordance with the purity and
clarity of one's 'phronema'. That is why it is said
and believed in the Church that "the Spirit blows where it
chooses" (John 3:8).
Just as the "Law" in the entire Divine Economy was "our
tutor to bring us unto Christ" (Gal. 3:24), and is never
destroyed, not even by the Lord Himself who stated that "I
have not come to destroy but to fulfil" (Mat. 5:17), so it
is that the "Decrees" of the Ecumenical Councils always
remain in absolute honour and validity. This does not mean
that they exhaust the truth, just us Law does not exhaust
Grace, nor is it absolutely identified with
Unless we accept this relationship between regular and
constant teaching on the one hand, and the irregular
formation of dogma in the Church on the other, we shall
certainly do an injustice and seriously distort both these
expressions of the gifts and illumination of the Paraclete.
The fundamental notion of communion in the Holy Spirit,
which we nonetheless never cease to request in the Divine
Liturgy, would also be corrupted. It is a liturgical
exhortation which recapitulates every other petition:
"Having asked for the unity of the faith and the communion
of the Holy Spirit, let us commend ourselves and one another
and our whole life to Christ our God" (Litany of the Divine
In order to make the deep and organic relationship
between these two ways of teaching and maintaining dogma in
the Church even more lucid, we shall take a simple example
from everyday life. Just as streetlights which are put in
place by councils in order that the streets may he lit up
and safe to walk in during the dark (streets which the
councils themselves had already made for the benefit of
local residents) cannot overshadow or degrade the value of
those streets which were made before the streetlights, so it
is that the dogmatic truths formulated in Synodical Decrees
cannot and should not in any way overshadow the truths of
the word of God which are sown in the daily teaching of the
Church for the sanctification and salvation of the
We now come to the third meaning of the term dogma.
Through regular and continuous study, teaching and
experience of the word of God, it is obvious that, according
to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the needs of each moment
in time, newer details or aspects of the unchanging and
revealed Divine will are constantly placed before the
faithful. They allow it to be recognisable, applicable and
effective in every historical period of the Divine
For example, the Trinitarian dogma is first of all what
the Church teaches about the Trinitarian God in Scripture,
the Creed and the related Synodical Decrees. Yet this dogma
is characterised by the entire corpus of theological works
which, strictly speaking, is not completed or closed by the
mentioned, and absolutely binding factors. On the contrary,
it is nourished and continuously enriched by them, such that
the study of the Trinitarian dogma will not finish until the
end of time, as more dissertations are added to the existing
bibliography. In the broader context of the perpetual
theological task of the Church, there are included also the
so-called "theologoumena", namely theological
opinions. These present nothing which is at first glance
reprehensible, yet they do not have the maturity or
attestation that would allow them to be considered, without
any risk or hesitation, as being the official position of
the Church on any particular issue.
This dynamic feature of the "knowledge of God" for the
theologian was alluded to by the Lord when he requested from
the Father "eternal life" for His disciples, not as a
momentary conquest that occurs once, but as a continuously
increasing process of initiation and sanctification: "This
is eternal life. that they may know you, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3). The Greek
form of the verb know in this passage does not
indicate an automatic and momentary knowledge, but rather
something that is continuous and progressive until we all
reach "the knowledge of Your unapproachable glory" (Prayer
of the Compline service).
In summarising the three meanings of the term dogma
mentioned so far, the four following points may be stated.
Firstly, dogmas are all the truths which are taught by the
Church in "various times and in different ways" (Heb. 1:1)
and which are necessary for the salvation of all people.
These may include truths which were not officially declared
as dogma in Synods, either because of their great number or
because there was not sufficient reason to do this.
Secondly, dogmas are the truths of the faith which are
extraordinarily formed, being dependent upon relevant
"Decrees" of Ecumenical Councils and which are safeguarded
continuously. Having clashed in any way whatsoever with
fallen human logic, they met with objections and animosity
either inside or outside the Church, and their formulation
had to therefore oppose or reprove contrary beliefs in order
to safeguard the integrity of the faith and the salvation of
souls. Thirdly, dogmas are the areas of specialisation
within the theological task of the Church which. as special
sections of Orthodox Dogmatics, present the theological
issues of each of them. A fourth and entirely different
meaning and use of the term dogma is used in modern Greek,
particularly in the framework of the ecumenical movement, as
a substitute for the word "denomination".
The sacred authority and
Theanthropic validity of dogma
In an attempt to promote properly and constructively the
sacredness and the inviolate character of dogma in the midst
of the general instability and questioning of the world's
values. we often speak of the authenticity and validity of
dogma, unthinkingly using these two terms in the same sense,
almost as if they were synonyms. Careful study shows
that this is a grave error which testifies to an
unacceptable confusion of meanings that leads in turn to a
gross inaccuracy of expression. This verbal recklessness
unfortunately goes beyond formal terminology. Greater damage
is caused by the fact that such inaccuracy seriously
obstructs the correct understanding of the deeper essence of
dogma which -as has been already stated and as shall be
shown below in more detail- lies in its Theanthropic
To avoid fatal confusion, then, we must distinguish
between the meanings of "authority" and "validity" by
carefully examining the precise content of each. When
speaking of "authority", we do not mean of course the moral
force and binding character of dogma, but rather the
"fatherhood" and "source" from where the truth which becomes
dogma emanates. This is more easily understood if we
consider the corresponding Latin termauctorirtas
which refers more directly to the notion of fatherhood.
In these terms, it is clear why "authority" is identified
only with the Divine factor(9). On the one hand,
because the truth of faith was given from above "once and
for all to the saints" (Jude 1:3) and, on the other, because
any subsequent development of these truths in the conscience
of the faithful, expressed as a conscientious teaching and
theology, continues to be accompanied always by the
extraordinary attributes of faith. These prevent it from
becoming assimilated, or even compared with, any form of
merely rational knowledge.
Having established from what has been said the main
meaning of the "authority" of dogma, as its transcendent
starting point and source, we can now recognise more easily
and unhesitatingly that it is natural to infer the moral and
religious power and binding character of dogma for the
faithful, as a product and secondary notion of "authority"
which is very close to the notion of "validity". If,
however, this notion of "validity" stems from the
transcendent origin and source of dogma - to which its
strength and sacredness can be mainly attributed- then both
the nature of the truths of faith as well as the nature of
the human person nonetheless compel us to acknowledge the
moral contribution of the human factor also in the
manifestation and consolidation of the validity of dogma.
Being in the salvific, theandric or Divine human form, the
human factor does not even remain neutral in the
extraordinary process of irregular revelation, nor in the
subsequent task of sanctification and eternal salvation
towards which this aims.
In analysing the theandric nature understood in the light
of the nature of the truths of the faith, namely the
"synergy" of the Divine and human factors in the original
manifestation as well as the further formulation of dogma,
we mean that the truths of Divine revelation are salvific
principles of life, not simply neutral educational material.
This is precisely because the human person is called in
freedom to acknowledge and confess that such principles come
from the God who speaks, and then to live responsibly
according to them so that he or she may receive salvation in
Christ. This is the main reason why the faithful must be
ready at every moment to sacrifice if necessary even their
God-given and unique gift of life for the sake of the truth
of the faith (martyrs-new martyrs). This would otherwise
rightfully be considered as the greatest sin in the world,
equal to suicide for which the Church refuses to give a
funeral service, despite pressure to the contrary from
social movements of recent times, and despite the fact that
such a ruling does not apply even to the hardest
That this synergy between the human and the divine is
implied by the nature of the human person is clearly obvious
given the fact that only in freedom and in the related
degree of responsibility is the human person realised and
developed until the very last breath. For, the nature of the
person is by definition "ecstatic" which, according to the
etymology of this term in Greek, means to "go out of one's
From the viewpoint of the Divine and human factors alone,
it is possible to evaluate correctly the importance of the
following vital ecclesiological realities at least. It is on
the basis of these realities that the human-Divine validity
of dogma is based and, through these, it is uninterruptedly
maintained from generation to generation. these realities
are: (a) the Divine inspiration of Holy Scripture; (b) the
infallibility of the Church; (c) Apostolic succession; (d)
worship and popular piety in general; and (e) the blood of
the martyrs shed for the faith.
Not one of these great ecclesiological realities could
possibly be studied or correctly interpreted as a phenomenon
which has an inspiration and inclination purely from on
high, monophysitically. It has more to do with an essential
synergy of the Divine and human factors in the full scope
and depth of these functions in the life of the Church. It
is therefore imperative that we develop these ideas here.
The first two truths (a) and (b) require no further
explanation, other than what Orthodoxy teaches today in its
dogmatic manuals in response to other denominations,
especially from the middle of this century. when with God's
blessing, a Patristic renewal commenced. Indeed, as a
result, it is now possible for fundamental dogmatic truths
to be sensitively reformulated in theological language which
is more genuinely Orthodox. Previously the Orthodox
themselves had used a language which belonged rather to
scholastic theology or to irreverent rationalism, since most
of their theologians had more or less been unconsciously
influenced by western universities where postgraduate
studies were undertaken.
At this point it should be said very briefly that those
things which relate to the Divine inspiration of Holy
Scripture in general, despite the honest efforts up until
now to state the axiomatic Orthodox positions and the proper
hermeneutical criteria of most Orthodox biblical scholars,
have not yet been presented in such a dynamic theological
synthesis that they can be counted rightfully and equally
among the wonders of God's love which occur according to
Divine economy in each historical period. We only hint at
these, mainly in worship services, when we exclaim: "God is
wonderous among His saints" (Ps. 68:35). Yet in such an
anticipated panoramic synthesis, it is certain that the
entire Orthodox theory on Divine inspiration shall not
merely avoid the extremities of some heretical positions
such as verbal or word for word inspiration on the one hand
and the complete divesting of Holy Scripture's transcendent
character on the other. It will also use ample proof to make
clear that irregular Divine inspiration belongs organically
to the Church, not only because it alone could define and
recognise the canon of the authentic biblical texts, but
more importantly because biblical revelation in itself was
recorded by the Church and in the Church. Therefore only in
the Church, and in the "communion of the Holy Spirit"
unceasingly guaranteed therein, is it possible for Scripture
to be interpreted properly, that is to say authentically, as
the word of God.
Similarly, one could say that the infallibility of the
Church has been sufficiently articulated, at least as far as
the major aspects of the related theological issues are
concerned. There have been, however, - and there probably
still are - individual Orthodox theologians who, while
otherwise well meaning, have the strange belief that the
term "infallibility" reeks of western influence and
expresses a so-called institutionalised
legalism(12). However, it must be emphasised very
strongly that much has yet to be said and published, mainly
with regard to the remaining ecclesiological realities,
points (c), (d) and (e), and their deeper contribution to
the Theanthropic validity of dogma which is continuously
being verified anew.
Of course, this is not the appropriate place to present
in broader terms the ecclesiological principles which have
been mentioned in other more popularised
articles(13). Nonetheless, several things about
them must be presented in general terms in order to show
their great importance in establishing the validity of dogma
which is the issue at hand.
First of all, it is necessary to develop further the
implications of Apostolic succession which one could
justifiably call the "chromosomes" or the guarantee of the
identity and continuity of the true Church in time and
space. This is even more necessary today when, due mainly to
the worldwide association of Christians through the
ecumenical movement, there is the direct danger that the
theological senses will become so carelessly blunted that
they will be unable to diagnose or recognise the authentic
features implied in such a central and neuralgic
ecclesiological term(14). In particular, one
could consider the Bishop, the distinct and historical
figure within the entire body of the Church, through whom
all the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the other parts are, by
the grace of God, communicated, activated and perpetuated,
thereby manifesting the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic
Church in the world. No misinterpretation or quick judgement
is permitted concerning this God-given institution which
responsibly and with full measure (plenitudo
potestatis) embodies the authentic successor of the
Apostles in the midst of the people of God, but which is
sometimes unfortunately attacked by naive or malicious
accusers as being a supposedly impious remnant of outdated
despotism or medieval absolutism(15).
The countless patristic testimonies to the purely
Christocentric - or perhaps it would be more theologically
accurate to say Christological-nature of the Episcopal
function in the Church, which describe the Bishop as being
in the "place and form of Christ", the one who presides over
the Lord's Supper and, by extension, over all of the
eucharistic community of the faithful rather than just in
strictly liturgical settings and worship, are a great
scandal for the rational mind. For indeed, only the
"foolishness of the cross" (1 Cor. l:18) could possibly
overlook the claims derived from so-called natural law
concerning the absolute equality of all people. According to
this, it would be impossible to acknowledge that one person
has the right to be considered the regulatory factor for the
authenticity and prosperity of institutions and functions of
free persons gathered into the communion of the faithful,
even if this is done in the name of the "mystical body" of
To refute these arguments, we must briefly remind
ourselves of basic aspects of the teaching of the Church
concerning the role of the Bishop. First and foremost, we
need to underline certain astounding truths which can be
easily derived from the liturgical practice surrounding the
ordination of the Bishop. Thus the general conviction and
teaching that the Bishops in the Church are "by the grace of
God" successors of the twelve Apostles themselves who placed
them in various regions as the unmistakable and visible head
of the local Church, is eloquently commented upon and
interpreted by the ordination service. This, moreover, is
clearly distinct from the liturgical content of the
corresponding services for the other two ranks of priesthood
(Presbyter and Deacon). In the case of the ordination of a
Presbyter or Deacon, no public statement and confession of
faith is required apart from that which is given by all
members of the Church during their baptism. The candidate is
guaranteed to the Church by his Bishop following his own
wish and request. On the other hand, although the candidate
for the Episcopal office in the initial stage does not have
the right to submit a petition, since the Church alone - and
only through the Holy Synod - can take such an initiative
and make this decision, the entire responsibility is then
transferred publicly to the elected candidate, who must make
an official and lengthy confession of faith during the
sacred moment of his ordination.
It is especially significant that, after the newly
ordained Bishop recites the Creed, he is invited to
"confess" and declare the faith "more broadly" in the midst
of the Church, as if unreservedly accepting with an oath
everything and everyone that the Church has ever accepted
through its Ecumenical Councils, while rejecting and
anathematising, with the same decisiveness, that which the
Councils have condemned for all time. Taking into account
the concluding verification that one who is ordained a
Bishop shall keep all these things "until his last breath",
it is obvious that he submits and even identifies his own
conscience for a lifetime with the voice and conscience of
the Church, infallibly spoken through the Ecumenical
Councils. The Bishop is officially "offered" as the person
who empties himself more than anybody else in faithful
obedience to the Church militant, in accordance with the
example of the incarnate and only begotten Son of God who,
in obedience to the will of the Father, became "obedient
unto death" (Phil. 2:8).
The purely Christological character of the office of the
Bishop is inferred from this mystic parallel, if not from
the identity according to Grace. By analogy and by virtue of
the mystical parallel that exists, all that Christ
rightfully proclaimed about Himself by saying "he who has
seen me has also seen the Father" (John 14:9), also applies
to the Bishop. Thus "by the grace of God", the Son who has
absolutely become a servant of the Church, somehow
automatically becomes the Father of all the faithful. Only
through such obedience and kenosis can one understand
and accept thereafter the supreme responsibility and
authority recognised in him by the Church. Unfortunately,
the legal vocabulary of canon law has not managed to express
this in a more suitable or effective term than the
scholastic plenitudo potestatis borrowed from the
west. The entire spiritual force of the Episcopal office is
found in the Evangelical law that "my power is made perfect
in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9) and "when I am weak, then I am
strong" (2 Cor. 12:10). It could not have been otherwise,
since the role of the Bishop is mainly described in the New
Testament as a "ministry of conciliation".
If through the Divine inspiration of Scripture, the
infallibility of the Church and Apostolic succession there
has been a sufficiently broad recognition on the part of the
faithful of their importance in directly and substantially
contributing to the Divine-human validity of dogma, we are
not able to say the same about worship, popular piety and
martyrdom. On the contrary, the dominant impression is that
the validity of dogma - which it has of itself - is in fact
the chief cause and creative force in the development of
worship and all facets of personal or collective piety, as
well as of Christian martyrdom. Yet, without for a moment
questioning the power and formative influence of dogma on
all activities of the people of God, we must also emphasise
the reverse effect. For one cannot overlook the witnessing
which each generation of the faithful has given throughout
the centuries to the truth and sacredness of the very dogma
which they live out. Is this not the value of witnessing
which is declared by God when He emphatically calls all
people to this? Is this not the meaning of the exhortation:
"be my witnesses and I too am a witness, says the Lord God"
Matters relating to worship, and by extension all that
relates to popular piety, are not determined by personal
desires or according to prevailing secular fashions, but
rather by strictly traditional guidelines so that all things
sing together - as equal expressions of the one faith - in
the confession and praise of the Trinitarian God. Given this
fact, it is even clearer that worship, and the power of
various traditions and customs, are a further affirmation of
the Divine-human validity of dogma.
If all of this is true for the harmless and, so to speak,
regular and collective witness of the host of faithful who
are ecclesiastically gathered together, one can appreciate
how much greater the moral force and witness the blood of
the Martyrs and Confessors of the faith must be. Undeniable
proof of this of course is the fact that, very early, the
blood of martyrdom was considered by the Church as being an
equally valid path of salvation as the sacrament of Baptism.
The purifying and salvific power of martyrdom as a "font of
rebirth" was apparently pointed out by God who said through
the prophet: "let them bring their
witnesses to justify them. and let them
say " It is true'" (Isaiah 43:9). Of course it is not
without special significance that this statement highlights
something more wonderous, namely that the blood of Martyrs
is sufficient to justify" not only themselves, but also all
the faithful who are with and among them. However, we must
immediately add that such a "justification" of the Old
Testament should not be confused with the ultimate
justification, sanctification and salvation which are
through Christ, and His blood alone.
In summarising all that has been examined with regard to
that which is officially consecrated, but also with less
apparent mystical sources which perpetually "irrigate"
Church dogma, so that the faith will always be alive and
victorious over the world, it must be stated in conclusion
that, only through a correct evaluation of all sacramental
parameters made with the fear of God, is the Church of God
indeed proven to be the "communion of the created with the
Uncreated by grace. without confusion or division. for the
salvation of the created and the glory of the
1. For a more or less lexicographical study of the
development of the term "dogma". see N. Xexakis, Foreword
to Orthodox Dogmatics, Athens 1993. p. 167 onwards.
2. Mainly through the ecclesiological studies in our
century, the mystical parallelism between Theomitor (Mother
of God) and Ecclesia (Church) has been extensively
drawn, as both happen to be called Mother and Virgin
(expressed by the Orthodox in worship as "Mitroparthenon
cleos", namely, "glory of the Virgin Mother". As the
Theotokos therefore paid attention to the teaching of the
Lord in that "she kept these words in her heart" (Luke
2:19), so in the same manner the Church, having received
from the Lord and the Apostles the treasure of the faith
entrusted to it, the ultimate truth of God, keeps this in
the depths of its conscience and memory which is defined and
steadily cleansed by the Paraclete. Thus, according to the
needs of the faithful, "new and old" are derived from this
inexhaustible and undiminished treasure, for the edification
of the body of the faithful and for the equipping of
the saints (cf. Eph. 4:12).
3. Concerning this extremely significant distinction, see
further the study of the author, The infallibility of the
Church in Orthodox Theology, Athens, 1965. p.69
4. ibid. p.78 onwards.
5. In Orthodox Dogmatics textbooks. St. Basil's testimony
always has a central position, according to which "we have
the dogmas and preaching within the Church, the former
through teachings in written form, while the latter is what
we have received mystically from Apostolic Tradition. Both
are of equal value for piety" (as pointed out in C.
Androutsos, Dogmatics, 2nd ed. Athens 1956. pp. 6-8).
The emphasis on the way in which the reception and
confession of the truths of the faith by the faithful
always occurs "in mystery" presents in fact the
purest criterion by which we must approach the problem of
the relationship between faith and knowledge in each period
6. Precisely for this reason, we consider the title
"Dogma and rational thought", in a section of C. Androutsos'
dogmatic work dealing with the relationship between the
individual theologian and dogma, as totally inadequate. For,
it is not only through rational thought that the theologian
approaches dogma in the Church, but rather his or her entire
conscience, in mystical solidarity with the other members of
the body of the Church. It would therefore have been more
accurate for that section to have had the title "Dogma and
the conscience of the faithful".
7. Cf. op. cit., The Infallibility of the Church in
Orthodox Theology, p. 140 onwards.
8. Concerning the relationship between law and grace, see
p. 51 onwards in the same work.
9. Cf. C. Androutsos, Dogmatics, p.12
10. Even recently, Prof. John Konidaris who teaches
ecclesiastical law in the School of Law at Athens University
expressed the urgency of the issue of funerals for those who
commit suicide (cf, The Sunday Vema, newspaper in
Greek, June 16 1996).
11. Refer to paper by this author "The Mystery of Person
and Human Adventure" in Orthodox Globe, Brookline,
USA, v.1, no 4 June 1996.
12. Thus, for example, the ever-memorable and benevolent
D. Moraitis. Dean of the School of Theology at the
University of Athens, when examining the author's doctoral
dissertation on "The Infallibility of the Church in Orthodox
Theology", did not hesitate to state in all sincerity that
he was totally unaware that "infallibility was an article of
faith in our Church"! Other close friends and colleagues,
namely Archimandrite Athan Jevcic (now Metropolitan of
Bosnia) and Prof. Christos Yannaras, immediately criticised
this study, but of course without convincing arguments.
13. These articles, originally published in the Voice
of Orthodoxy, the monthly periodical of the Greek
Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. are to be reprinted by
"Domos" publications in a series of books, the first of
which will have the title "Incarnations of Dogma".
I4. It was a very painful surprise for the Orthodox, as
well as for eastern Christians generally to witness the new
outburst of audacity with which certain Christians in the
World Council of Churches approached - or rather distanced
themselves from - the issue of Apostolic succession in an
international theological conference some four years ago. A
group comprised entirely of women from America who were
supposedly ordained as "pastors attempted to convince the
assembly in one meeting of the 5th World Conference on Faith
and Order (held in 1993 in Santiago de Compostela and with
the theme "Towards Koinonia in Faith, Life and Witness"),
that "the place of the twelve Apostles in the Church and in
history does not in any way deserve greater importance or
distinction than that of any of us who believe in Christ,
whether man or woman, educated or layman". Only when the
author, as head of the Orthodox delegation at that
conference. publicly asked the most intransigent of the
furious women if she would dare to propose to the modern
world any writing of her own as an equal authority to the
sacred texts which constitute the canon of Holy Scripture,
did that "batrachian battle" - which was not a discussion at
all - end.
15. See article entitled "The Bishop in the Church" in
the Voice of Orthodoxy,. v.5 (May 1984), p.49.
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Family - an Orthodox Christian perspective
Marriage as sacrament was instituted
comparatively late in the Christian Church, but it appears
that the soteriological significance of this institution may
be traced as far back as the creation of male and female, as
presented in the Genesis narration.
In other words, this means that the
distinction between male and female does not signify an
accidental or secondary phenomenon in the biological
development of the species, but on the contrary reflects
God's free will whose reason lies in God's
The definition of God's essence as
love (cf. I John 4:8), which is the foundation stone of all
Christian theology, finds its fullest justification in the
distinction between male and female in the crown of all
creation, namely the human person.
The fundamental equality of male and
female, already given in the original act of creation, is
enforced by the fact of their difference that facilitates
the experience of the deepest form of love as mutual
enrichment in complementary communication.
According to all the above, one should
clearly say that the significance of marriage as sacrament
is, in the first line, given in the event of communion
between male and female. This is the ideal presupposition
for its expansion into the form of family wherein more
persons share the blessings of communion and mutual respect.
In other words, the sacredness of marriage and family
primarily lies not in the creation of children or the
continuation of the species, but rather in the quality of
Thus the Christian family aims at the
mutual sacrifice and sanctification of the couple in a
divine unity which is modelled on the mystery of the Holy
Trinity (that is, the Unity of the three Persons in one
essence), and still more concretely and empirically on the
unity of the two natures - human and divine - in the one
Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. In both these doctrines of
the Christian Church, namely the Trinitarian and
Christological, the tension between the plurality of persons
and the unity of essence is harmoniously balanced by virtue
of divine interpenetration and love.
The Fourth Ecumenical Council of
Chalcedon has coined two adverbs which became monumental in
the whole Christian era as describing, in the most adequate
manner, the mystery of unity and, at the same time, the
integrity of persons living in communion among themselves.
These adverbs are, as known, 'unconfusedly' and
'undividedly' Although these two adverbs were introduced by
the said Council in order to clarify as best as possible the
relationship between the two natures in the one Person of
God Incarnate, the same adverbs can be applied to describe
the communion and interpenetration, without
subordination, of the three Persons in the Holy
There is no doubt that the said two
adverbs also signify the ideal conditions under which the
institution of the family may achieve its divine
The level of interpersonal relations
between husband and wife is enriched in the family through a
second level of relations between parents and children, as
well as through yet a third level of relations among the
With so many and different levels of
interpersonal relations, the family becomes the most dynamic
and effective unit for the formation of the human
personality. While in all other forms of human coexistence
the driving force remains a social motivation, in the family
and the Church, which is the family of God, the motivation
is existential and sacramental. This is precisely why family
and Church are of unique importance in the preparation of
the individual as a citizen.
In practical terms, all this means
that the person who has, in the family and in the Church,
experienced the variety of love on various levels of
interpersonal relations will be able to appreciate different
qualities of other individuals in a secular society. Having
experienced the discipline required as respect towards each
person according to ones place and mission in the whole body
of the family unit, one is ready to accept the same order
and discipline in social structures. However, in order to be
able to react in such a positive way within the society at
large, one should have felt the security and enrichment
through the presence of others in one's own
The sense of family among
Mediterranean people -Greeks, Italians, Turks etc. -is
admittedly still so strong that normally one member of the
family does not feel bothered by the coexistence of the
others. Of course, one cannot overlook the frequent and
truly high mutual demands between the various members,
demands that are not only unknown but also incomprehensible
to a modern Western family. Yet the sacrifices often
resulting from such demands are also compensated by a real
and manifold support which one enjoys from all members of
the family in every possible difficulty of life. This
wonderful support sometimes makes one feel one's physical
and moral powers multiplied by the number of members in
In addition to the above, one should
conclude that the family, as structured in the Orthodox
world, may become not only the nucleus of the entire Church
body but also the ultimate refuge of faith. This is
particularly true when atheism or persecution render the
official life of the Church difficult, if not impossible.
The best examples of this are the survival of Orthodoxy
during the four hundred years of Turkish occupation in most
Eastern Orthodox countries, and more recently the situation
in the former Soviet Union.
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