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The Orthodox Faith
Media available for download
Daily Icons Gallery Jan - Jun
Photo Gallery
A Dictionary of Orthodox Terminology
Frequently Asked Questions
Orthodox Spirituality
Orthodox "Myth Busters"
Tradition in the Orthodox Church
Dogma and authority in the Church
The Bible and the Church
The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God
Jesus Christ in the Orthodox Church
The Holy Trinity
House of God
Holy Icons
The Divine Liturgy
The True Nature of Fasting
From Evangelical to Orthodox
The Funeral Service
A Love Story
The Feast of Epiphany
Christmas - the Nativity of Christ
The Great & Holy Feast of Pascha
Great Lent
Holy Week
Seeing and Believing: The Thomas Incident
The Da Vinci Code
Articles by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos
Laws, Regulations and Documentation required for an Orthodox wedding
Personal Relationship with God
Noah and His Flood: History or Fantasy?
Prosphoro - Holy Bread
The New Acropolis Museum - Raising the bar on cultural morality
Feast of Holy Pentecost
Sermons given by Father Steven Scoutas
Why Are Priests Called ‘Father’ In our Church?

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Articles by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos

'Falsifications' of the Faith
The Gift of Leadership
'Being' and 'non-being' in Christ
How we evaluate the dead
Kollyva (Memorial Service Wheat)
Kissing the hand
The Mystery of the Human Person
The Mystery of the Virgin Mary
Dogma and authority in the Church
Family - an Orthodox Christian perspective

'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 Parliament.

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 for.

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 responsibility.

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 internationally.

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 price.

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 spirituality.

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 dead".

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 present.

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 memory.

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 issues.

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 of Australia

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 questioning.

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 problem.

In Shakespeare, the question expresses an intense moral and social vigilance in the form of a dilemma within the framework of aesthetic play writing.

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 earth.

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 upon it).

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 beings.

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 life.

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. 2:6-9).

From this supremely unique example of Christ Himself, the true measure of being in God is derived.

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 4:34).

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 will.

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. 4:17).

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" (Gal. 2:20).

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 self!"

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 Psomas

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 word.

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 "was".

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 judges!

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 'innocent`.

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 perpetrator.

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 commit injustice".

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 again.

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 endless.

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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 Australia.

"When Christ who is our life appears,
then you will also appear with Him in glory"
(Col 3:4).

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 faiths.

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 qualitative.

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 blasphemy.

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 west.

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 parallel.

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 limited framework.

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 problematic.

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" people.

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 4:16).

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 1:4).

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

The 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 "actions".

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 island".

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 person's life.

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 many.

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 mystery.

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 "intercessions".

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 and grandeur.

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
2) evervirginity
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 will.

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.

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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 goodwill.

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 live.

The different notions of the term dogma

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.

First meaning

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 categories:

  1. concerning the uncreated God (theology);
  2. concerning the created world (cosmology); and
  3. concerning the relationship of the created and the uncreated (Soteriology).

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 capabilities.

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).

Second meaning

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 it(8).

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 Liturgy).

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 world.

Third meaning

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 Economy.

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 character.

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 criminal(10).

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 self"(11).

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 Christ.

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" (Isaiah 43:10).

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 Uncreated"(16).


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 onwards.

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 of history.

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.

16. ibid. 

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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 essence.

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 communion.

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 Trinity.

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 goals.

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 children.

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 family.

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 one's family.

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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