Theosis

“God became human so that human beings may become God” (St Athanasius)

Theosis-final

Introduction

In the history of theology, one can detect quite different, but not necessarily opposing emphases in the understanding of redemption in the Western and Eastern Churches. In the past the Catholic Church has tended to understand redemption in terms of legal, juridical and forensic categories. In his famous book, which has influenced all subsequent treatments on redemption, Anselm argued that the sin of humankind had offended God and that the justice of God could only be served by making a‘satisfaction’ or just payment of the penalty. Moreover the various Protestant Churches have understood redemption in terms of ‘penal substitution’ models. In the Orthodox Churches, only with the patristic revival in the middle of this century has the doctrine of the redemption been linked up with the Incarnation of Christ and deification.

Today in Orthodox theology, redemption is not seen in juridical terms, whereby one is simply redeemed from the wrath of God and granted an extrinsic justification as a result of the fall. Moreover redemption is not merely understood as forgiveness of sins or humanity’s reconciliation to God. Eastern theology sees redemption in positive terms whereby one is actually called to really participate in the personal and divine energies of the Trinity as a result of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This perspective then is hardly negative. It is this paper’s contention that all the above-mentioned models of redemption are biblical, so what is called for is a theological synthesis of the various models. The issue is a difference of emphasis thereby we are not forced to choose between them at the expense of the others. Rather, these models, besides a host of other New Testament redemption models (such as adoption, reconciliation, ransom, sacrifice, forgiveness, propitiation, deliverance) are complementary and must be seen all together. In fact all biblical models are needed so that the wonder of God’s salvific act may be upheld. For the theology of redemption to be credibly presented today a revival of the Eastern perspective must be taken seriously as well and it is to this perspective, that this article will concentrate. It is the purpose of this essay to briefly outline the Orthodox understanding of redemption. The importance of the Incarnation and the doctrine of deification are foundational understanding of the theology of redemption.

The Incarnation

In the East, the fact that the Word became flesh and died for us has not meant that humankind has been simply justified from God’s anger, but rather has assumed an intimate and hypostatical unity with divinity itself. The essence of our redemption lies in the lifting up of human nature into the everlasting communion with the divine life which was realized by Christ”s redeeming work. The whole emphasis of the Greek fathers centered around this foundational conception: the Incarnation of the Word as Redemption. The whole destiny and history of humankind was completed in the Incarnation. The Incarnation is not to be seen as a reduction of Christ’s divinity but on the contrary, a lifting-up of human persons, the deification or theosis of human nature. The East has always seen the Incarnation as the union of the divine majesty with human frailty and therefore the ultimate redemptive act of God.

As it has been stated above, the Greek fathers see the Incarnation as that which begins the whole process of our redemption. But more than that, the fathers speak of the original destiny of human nature as one leading to a hypostatic union with the divine Logos in Christ – ie our deification. Christ, who as the perfect union of divine and human opened the way for our human nature to participate in the divine. For this reason many fathers interpret the Incarnation of the Logos not as a simple consequence of the fall, but as the fulfillment of the original will of God – namely that in the person of the Logos, human nature is capable of being united with the divine. The deification of Christ’s human nature made possible our deification as well. In his book, Deification in Christ, Nellas wonderfully sums it up in this way: “Christ is not the result of an act of Satan. The union of the divine and human natures took place because it fulfilled the eternal will of God….. Prior to the hypostatic union of the divine nature with the human, man even before the fall was anterior to Christ, a fact which means that even then, in spite of not having sinned, man had need of salvation, since he was an imperfect and incomplete “child”. This teaching lies at the core of the theology of St Irenaeus. Human nature could not have been completed simply by its tendency; it had to attain union with the Archetype. Since Christ is “the head of the body, the Church” (Col. 1.18), a fact which means in patristic thought that Christ is the head of true humanity, as long as human nature had not received the hypostasis of the Logos it was in some way without real hypostasis – it lacked real substance”. Nellas implies that the deification of humanity, even if humanity had not sinned, needed the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures of Christ in the Logos.

The hypostatic union of divine and human accomplished in Christ, was the very foundation of the deification ofhumanity. Since Christ took on human nature and bestowed upon it the fullness of grace, he made humanity capable of ascending to God. Therefore St Athanasius could say that “God became human so that humanity may become God”. It is the gift of the Incarnation which gives humanity the possibility of deification. Since the first Adam went astray and deprived himself of the gratuitous gift of union with God, the Second Adam, the divine Logos achieved this union of the two natures in his person. Therefore the Incarnation of Christ does not simply redeem humanity from the effects of the fall but completes the pre-fallen nature of humanity by deifying it. For the fathers the deification of Christ”s human nature becomes the vessel by which our human nature too can be deified. This is the basis of the theology of deification which is found in the fathers. Meyendorff describes it in this way:

“The hypostatic union of divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ is the very foundation of salvation, and therefore of deification: in Christ humanity has already participated in the uncreated life of God because the ”flesh” has truly become ”the flesh of God”.

Such is the fundamental position of the Incarnation of the Word for a credible and contemporary teaching on redemption. The Incarnation of the Logos has opened to all human persons the possibility of restoring their unity with God. And the death of Christ was effective in humanity’s redemption, not because it satisfied a transcendent Justice which required retribution for humanity’s sins but because it was the death of the Son of God in the flesh (i.e., in virtue of the hypostatic union). Fr Georges Florovsky writes that

“the death of of the Cross was effective, not as a death of an Innocent One, but as the death of the Incarnate Lord”.

The Orthodox notion of redemption is clearly not simply an act to satisfy a legal requirement, but one which destroys death by his death and opens the way for our immortality. For this reason many fathers would view the mystery of the Incarnation independent of the Fall. This hypostatic, complete mingling of created and uncreated natures without division or confusion had as its immediate consequence the deification of the nature created in Christ and by extension human nature in general. And it is to this doctrine of deification that we now turn.

Deification – The Human Destiny

For the Eastern fathers, the formulation of the doctrine of ‘deification’, affirmed the reality of humanity’s innermost hope as “belonging to God”.St Gregory Nazianzus argued that the root of a person’s true greatness and calling lay in being “called to be a god”. Elsewhere, St Basil the Great insists that “the goal of our calling is to become like god”. The ultimate redemptive destiny of humanity is none other than to attain likeness to God and union with Him. Deification denotes a direct union and a total transformation of the human person with the living God by divine grace. St Basil the Great says that human beings are nothing less than creatures that have received the order to become gods. The descent (katavasis) of God has offered the created order the capability of ascending (anavasis) to the Divine in the Holy Spirit. For the Eastern fathers, deification is God”s greatest gift to, and the innermost goal of human existence. Although the term does not occur in the Holy Scriptures, the Greek fathers believed that it was a fitting theological term affirming the command of 2 Peter 1:4 – ie “to become participants of the divine nature”. Regarding deification, a seventh century father, St Anastasius of Sinai, writes the following:

“Deification is the elevation to what is better, but not the reduction of our nature to something less, nor is it an essential change of our human nature. A divine plan, it is the willing condescension of tremendous dimension by God, which He did for the salvation of others. That which is of God is that which has been lifted up to a greater glory, without its own nature being changed”.

This is an important statement because it rejects all forms of pantheism.

Now, the patristic tradition has always sought to stress the importance of the process of deification in reference to redemption. As a result of theenhypostasia of the second Person of the Trinity, Christ’s humanity, in virtue of thecommunicatio idiomatum [communication of attributes, divine and human] is a deified humanity, which does not lose its human characteristics in any way. In fact, on the contrary these human attributes become more real since they model the divine according to which they were created. In Christ’s deified humanity, humankind is also called to participate and to share “in the divine nature of God” (2 Peter 1:4). For the Eastern patristic tradition, the basis of humanity’s deification is clearly found in the hypostatic union between the divine and human natures of Christ. These divine energies in Christ, as a result of the communication reach all those who live a life literally in Christ. Ultimately redemption means deification which is the supreme goal for which humankind was created.

Conclusion

All that has been said thus far necessitates a theological synthesis between the Western and Eastern theologies of redemption. Despite the Western understanding of redemption as penal substitution or satisfaction models this article has examined the Eastern understanding of redemption – a redemption which ultimately calls all of the created order to deification by grace. What is called for therefore today is a complementary understanding of redemption so that the fullness of humanity’s true existence might be realized. Only when the Orthodox understanding of redemption is taken seriously can the whole ideal of redemption be credibly presented today. All too often, the West speaks of juridical models at the expense of other models. On the other hand, the East is all too often tempted to speak of redemption solely in Incarnation and deification terms. Both perspectives are necessary for a complete and wholistic understanding of redemption. In a world where our struggles often seem hopeless, where our life seems meaningless because death is ever present, the good news and foundation of our hope is that Christ has overcome death and granted life in the tombs. The Incarnation of the Logos offers us a “life in Christ” empowering us to live as Christ, to love as Christ, to serve as Christ and to be one with Christ.

Dr Philip Kariatlis
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College

Spiritual Stages

Spiritual-Stages-finalWhat we need to achieve in this life is to regain our wholeness. Human nature can be seen as existing at two levels: the unfallen nature of the human person created in the image of God- the way we were before the fall of Adam and Eve, and the fallen, sinful nature. Man’s struggle on this earth is the search for the state of glory properly belonging to his nature.

In Paradise, before the fall, Adam was in the state of “theoria” (vision) of God. “Original sin” consists in the darkening of the nous and the loss of communion with God. Man becomes unable to encounter God, so reason undertakes the effort.

Man then needs to conquer his fallen nature, but he cannot do this on his own. His condition calls for God’s Grace, and thus man is always “in debt” (χρεώστης) to God. What man is meant to do is to lay down humbly before Christ his own weakness, to recognise his nothingness and ask for His Grace. But God does not act as a deus ex machina: He acts “synergistically” with man. Man needs to co-operate and respond to Divine Grace.

“Many are the paths of piety and destruction,” wrote St John of the Ladder. There exist, not just one, but many ways of salvation, and each person constitutes one unique – though not independent – way which leads to, or away from, salvation.

In general, Orthodox Christians who want to progress spiritually towards salvation strive to be guided by their spiritual father, and the writings of the Fathers of the Church. Many Fathers of the Church describe this spiritual ascent as proceeding through various stages. Living within the Church by Grace, man must first cleanse his heart of the passions; secondly attain the illumination of the nous – Adam’s state before the fall – and thirdly ascend to theosis, which constitutes man’s communion and union with God. These are the stages of spiritual perfection- the foundations of Orthodox spirituality.

1) The beginner stage of cleansing the passions

The evil within man is not natural to him, but it can become something like second nature to him. Man was created good by God. There are many natural virtues, but no natural vices. Monastic writings describe passions as “alien or superfluous.” Sin is contrary to human nature (“παρά φύσιν”). Some ascetic writers attempted to classify the passions. The order in the Evagrian list has an intrinsic logic.

a) The beginners stage is marked by the cruder and more materialistic passions, namely gluttony (greediness in eating), lust (uncontrolled and unlawful sexual desire) and avarice (greed for money)

b) The middle stage is identified by more inward passions, namely dejection and anger. Dejection (λύπη), is hard to define. It refers to depression/lowness of spirit. In the Philokalia 3 (page 87, volume 1) we read that it prevents us from praying gladly, from reading Holy Scripture with profit and perseverance, from being gentle and compassionate towards our brethren. It instils a hatred of every kind of work. It persuades us to shun every helpful encounter and stops us accepting advice from true friends or giving them a courteous and peaceful reply. It fills the soul with bitterness and listlessness and despairing thoughts.

c) The advanced stage is recognised by the more subtle and spiritual vices of vainglory (caring about what others think of us) and pride. Pride is described by St John of the Ladder as “the denial of God’s assistance, the extolling of one’s own exertions, demonic in character.” “A proud monk,” St John sums up, “has no need of a demon; he has become a demon and an enemy unto himself.”

St John of the Ladder has added further passions to this list:

• Μνησικακία- the remembrance of the wrongs that others have done to us
• Slander (saying bad things about someone, which arises out of having passed judgment on that person)
• Talkativeness. St John says, “The man who recognises his sins has taken control of his tongue, while the chatterer has yet to discover himself as he should. The lover of silence draws close to God….”
• Lying
• Insensitivity (hard heartedness, forgetfulness)
• Despondency (ακηδία). This refers to listlessness, which the dictionary defines as, “Having or showing little or no interest in anything; languid; spiritless; indifferent.” Another synonym is torpor, which the dictionary defines as, “Sluggish inactivity or inertia, lethargic indifference; apathy.”

St John of the Ladder’s book also contains descriptions of the various stages of temptation leading to passion.

a) Assault. This is the first stage and signifies the initial presence within us of some alien impulse intervening into consciousness from outside by the will of the adversary. Abba Poimen said that “you cannot prevent thoughts from arising, but you can resist them.” This stage is not the same as sinful activity, it is “guiltless”, since only the surface of the heart is affected.

b) Converse. In this stage we start a conversation with the invading thought. Abba Poimen says: “Take care not to speak, but if you do speak, cut the conversation short.”

c) Consent. In this step one gives approval and sanction to the temptation. This step initiates sin.

d) Captivity. At this stage one’s free will is impaired and undermined, so that one is now forced to consent involuntarily. The heart is “carried away”, yet not irrevocably.

e) Struggle. This stage can be the occasion of crowns or of punishments.

f) Passion. This is the last stage, from which one is rescued in repentance, or for which one is punished.

Even after man has fallen into sin he can attain purity; in fact, ascetic writers such as St John of the Ladder personally prefer those who fall and subsequently mourn.

The Fathers of course do not just focus on sins and passions, they also stress positive attributes and virtues. In his book, “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” St John describes virtues constituting an ascent. As he said, “At the beginning of our spiritual life, we cultivate the virtues, and we do so with toil and difficulty. Progressing a little, we then lose our sense of grief or retain very little of it. But when our mortal intelligence turns to zeal and is mastered by it, then we work with full joy, determination, desire and a holy flame.” (p77). We are warned not to attempt too much too soon, presuming that we can climb the ladder of perfection in one leap. Barsanuphios stressed: “We ought not to put our foot on the first step of the ladder and immediately expect to set foot on the top rung.”

In “Ladder of Divine Ascent”, St John discusses the following virtues that constitute the rungs of the ladder leading to Heaven:

a) A break with the world
b) Obedience
c) Repentance
d) Remembrance of Death
e) Simplicity. (“An enduring habit within a soul that has grown impervious to evil thoughts.”)
f) Humility
g) Discernment
h) Stillness
i) Prayer

j) Dispassion. The Cleansing of the entire person, to the most hidden parts of his subconscious. Through dispassion the heart is cleansed and God can, unhindered, enter “the house.” Christian ascetical writers see dispassion differently to ancient Greek Stoic philosophers: dispassion is more than being detached and unswayed by passions, for the Christian the truly dispassioned keeps his soul continuously in the presence of the Lord. St John of the Ladder and St Isaac the Syrian also stress that dispassion consists not in no longer feeling the passions, but in not accepting them.

k) Love. In the Ladder St John speaks of an intense love for God that he himself has experienced. To describe it he uses words like eros, the language of lovers: “Blessed is he who has obtained such love and yearning for God as a mad lover has for his beloved.” A single vivid experience of eros in all its intensity will advance one much further in the spiritual life; will be more effective than the most arduous struggle against the passions and the severest ascetic exercise.

2) The intermediate stage – Illumination

A characteristic trait of this level is the knowledge of beings, the “theoria” of the causes of beings and the participation in the Holy Spirit. The benefits of illumination are the purification of nous by Divine Grace, which consumes the heart like fire, the noetic revelation of the “eye of the heart” and the birth of the Word within the nous. In other words, in this state man acquires knowledge of God and unceasing noetic prayer.

3) Perfecting stage – Theosis

In this stage man becomes “deified”, he comes into communion with the angelic powers, he approaches the “uncreated Light,” the depths of God are revealed to him through the Holy Spirit, and thus he beholds the uncreated essential energy of God. Thus man comes to know many mysteries existing in Holy Scripture that are hidden from other people. He ascends to the “third Heaven,” like Apostle Paul, and hears ineffable words and sees what corporal man’s eyes cannot see.

Very Rev. Dimitri Kokkinos
Parish Priest of St John the Forerunner – Parramatta (NSW)

References
1. John Climacus. The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Translated by Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell. SPCK London 1982
2. John Chryssavgis. Ascent to Heaven. Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Brookline 1989
3. GEH Palmer. Philip Sherrard, Kallistos Ware. The Philokalia. Faber and Faber. London. 1979
4. Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos. Orthodox Spirituality. Birth of the Theotokos Monastery. Levadia, Greece. 1994

Spiritual Warfare

Thoughts on the Spiritual Warfare: Toward an Orthodox Answer to the Contemporary ‘Soul Searching’

Jesus-icon-finalThe tradition of the Orthodox Church and its characteristically spiritual dimension are existential par excellence, constituting a dynamic context for any endeavour to becoming personally. As such, our tradition is relevant to this most noble contemporary quest for ‘something spiritual’, in a society deprived of soul and ethically disoriented. This is an aspect reflected, for example, in what we call the spiritual warfare.

When speaking of the spiritual warfare the Orthodox tradition do not envisage crusades or jihads or anything similar, since these represent mostly attempts to change – arbitrarily and violently – the face of the world and not its mind, spirit and heart. Our way of ‘fighting the good fight’ (cf. 2 Timothy 4:7) has nothing to do with the external conquests and exploits. Instead, our notion of warfare refers to the inner struggles of the Christian person and community, on their transformative way towards the newness of live (cf. Romans 6:4), as realised in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Eusebius of Caesarea (Ecclesiastical History, book five, intro, 4), provides us with insights into the original sense of spiritual warfare: our narrative concerning the life according to God will record in the most peaceful wars waged in behalf of the peace of the soul, and will tell of men doing brave deeds for truth rather than country, and for piety rather than dearest friends. It will hand down to imperishable remembrance the discipline and the much-tried fortitude of the athletes of religion [i.e., the martyrs], the trophies won from demons, the victories over invisible enemies, and the crowns placed upon all their heads.

In its essence, this notion of peaceful warfare is genuinely scriptural, building on St Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 6:11-7, where the portrait of the Christian is depicted in terms of a warrior of light:

Put on the whole armour of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The suggestion is clear: fighting the good fight takes the pain of personal transformation in accordance with the canon, or norm, and rhythms of the new creation (cf. Galatians 6:15), illustrated by Christ himself, the incarnate and crucified Word of God. Moreover, it takes the pain of proclaiming ‘the words of this life’ (Acts 5:20) to a society which, notwithstanding its profound ignorance with respect to the message of Orthodoxy, rejects our values.

In light of the above, even when they abandon the warrior-paradigm, the Fathers of the Orthodox Church present the Christian journey as a spiral-like ascending trajectory toward attaining a complex state of perfection, serenity, compassion, joy and sanctity, in the image and likeness of Christ, in him and with him (cf. Galatians 2:20). The final term of this process is the reception of the undeserved and incomprehensible deifying gift of divine participation (cf. 2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 1:1-4), bestowed upon us by ‘the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God [the Father] and the communion of the Holy Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 13:13). All we experience and accomplish along this process of spiritual becoming – sacramental regeneration, faith initiation, ecclesial participation, prayer, ascetic discipline, contemplation, sheer generosity etc. – cannot be taken as ultimate achievements. More precisely, they do not represent ends in themselves, but means in order to attain the goal. As such, everything we experience in our journey is subsumed to the ultimate purpose of accessing the fullness of life here, now and ever, according to the promise of the Lord (cf. John 10:10). Witnessed by the uninterrupted succession of the saints, the possibility of attaining this goal is the underlaying force of all virtues and yet transcends them all, going beyond all human expectations:

‘The grace of deification is above nature, virtue and knowledge’ (The Declaration of the Holy Mountain 2).

The goal of perfection, however, cannot be achieved without being strenuously pursued, without consistent effort on a personal level and also without proper spiritual guidance. And here the dynamism of our spirituality is brought into the picture: it is precisely this constant endeavour to attain higher nobility what makes the content of the spiritual warfare and ultimately defines our way of living. This aspect is powerfully reflected by our liturgy, which emphatically manifests the existence of a tension between what we already experience and what constitutes the ultimate scope of our journey. Practically, we are granted here to experience liturgically in grace – as God’s people – what truly and properly belongs to the eschatological state of humanity. Thus, in the liturgical order attributed to St John Chrysostom, we acknowledge God’s mercy which brought us up to heaven and bestowed upon us already the kingdom to come. With this statement, we hear a clear echo of the crucial tenet of Christianity, that the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete (1 John 1:2-4).

In these scriptural words we acknowledge the very nature and message of Orthodoxy. What we are promised, and what we offer to the world, is nothing less than what we have heard from the beginning, with the good news of Christ, that God became human to made people able to ascend to God. We cannot touch the heart of the world if we do not dare to tell the world what we really have to give. This is why we need first to become more and more aware of what the Orthodox tradition actually means. His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos (cf. ‘The place of tradition in the Christian faith’) notes how tradition is not so much a treasury of structures and forms but rather a living current of life, a way of existing, thinking and feeling Indeed, the Orthodox tradition is nothing less than the actual proclamation of the fullness of life to which we are partakers, a faithful witness to the apostolic way of thinking and living – in a world deceived by scepticism, relativism and hubristic sense of self-sufficiency. There are, however, hopes with this world, as indicated by the contemporary ‘soul searching’, organically related to the quest for ‘something more’ and ‘something spiritual’.

No matter how insufficient such solutions might be, even the massive emergence of ‘alternative spiritualities’ indicates the reality of this fundamental thirst and nostalgia after the fullness of life. Or, since it is a matter of evidence that the world becomes increasingly receptive to our message, it is our turn to answer. Exploring the path of the spiritual warfare can constitute the beginning of such an answer.

Very Rev. Dr Doru Costache
Senior Lecturer in Patristics Studies,
St Andrew’s Theological College

Personal Relationship with God

 

“God became man so that man may become God.” (St Athanasius)

Personal-Relationship-With-God-finalThis beautiful quote, used time and time again by the Fathers of the Church sums up the purpose of Christ coming into the world and expresses the love that God has for all humankind. For we humans are the ‘crown of God’s creation’, indeed when God created us, He said “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, …” (Gen 1:26).

Although God is mystery and is unknown to us in His essence, He is uniquely close to us and we humans can experience Him through His energies, as He is ‘present everywhere and filling all things’. But we can go even further; we can have a personal relationship with the Almighty. This is because God revealed Himself to us, through the Person of Jesus Christ, the Second Person in the Trinity, who became man and lived amongst us some 2000 years ago.

While Christ’s Incarnation was necessary to fulfil the promise of redemption, He inaugurated the new covenant, the old Israel is superseded by the New Israel, the Body of Christ (the Church) for the entire human race. Christ revealed the ‘coming of the Kingdom’ and with this new covenant all humans are placed in a right relationship to God through Christ (Heb 8:6 -13). It was for this reason that Christ established His Church, the visible means for all humans to have a relationship with God, for as the Fathers teach, that which was visible in the Redeemer, has now ‘passed into the sacraments’. So, we can see that Orthodoxy is a way of life; it is a way of life through the Sacraments, as our Holy Church becomes the ‘Ark of Salvation’.

But first we must have faith, as our eminent Primate, Archbishop Stylianos said, “Faith is the key to understanding every relationship between God and mankind” . The Patristic tradition sees faith as the beginning and foundation of our salvation and “that without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6). Faith must be lived and it expresses itself through love, as St Paul teaches in his treatise on love, “if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1Cor. 13:2). The result of faith in God forms a relationship between God and man and from that relationship we begin to understand true love, which Paul alludes to when he says, “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1Cor. 13:13).

The Incarnation is an act of God’s philanthropia, revealing His loving kindness towards mankind, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). But for Orthodoxy, this philanthropy is not just to correct our mistakes, rather it is to uplift humans to deification, that is, He came not just as a ransom for our freedom but to transfigure us into Theosis as St Peter says, “we must become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) or as St Athanasius and the Fathers put it, “God became man so that man could become god”.

Thus Orthodox theology sees redemption in positive terms in the uplifting of our human nature into the everlasting communion with the divine life, which was realised by Christ”s redeeming work. The whole destiny and history of humankind was completed in the Incarnation. Orthodoxy sees the Incarnation as the union of the divine majesty with human frailty and therefore the ultimate redemptive act of God. Accordingly, an Orthodox Christian approaches God in a mystical way, embarking on a life long spiritual journey aimed to have a mystical union with God (Theosis), which ultimately leads to eternal life. Jesus challenges us to, “Take up your cross and follow me”. So we need to accept Jesus Christ as Our Lord and Saviour and become followers and we can do that by living our life in His Holy Orthodox Church.

We often hear of Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, but we should never neglect the importance of the ‘living spiritual tradition’. St John Climacus wrote the ‘Ladder of Divine Ascent’ whereby each step on the Ladder describes a virtue, and together they describe the progress of a person’s spiritual struggle, which leads to perfection (Theosis). Many of the Saints reach a depth of spirituality whereby they see visions of God. These visions serve as a guiding light to the rest of the world, which is a source of inspiration and guidance to Christians of all ages. These holy people, who are often referred to as ‘earthly angels and Heavenly people’, are not restricted to the long past, for in more recent times St Silouan lived on Mt Athos only some 70 years ago. His vision serves to show us that even in this modern age, humans have the capacity to rise to visions.

What does all this mean for us? It means that we need to grow spiritually to pursue our Theosis. Even if we knew the Gospels backwards but have no spirituality then our knowledge is meaningless. To grow spiritually our Church has Spiritual Fathers to whom we should go to for confession and guidance. We also need to pray, as St Paul says, “Pray without ceasing” and for this we can meditate with the Jesus Prayer used by the spiritual elders and monks; “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

So we can see how Orthodoxy is a way of life and how we can have a personal relationship with God. By first accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and living our life in the Church through the Sacraments, we can then continue to grow in our faith spiritually by having a Spiritual Father so that we can fulfil our Relationship with God, which ultimately leads us to our Theosis.

Prof. Angelo Karantonis
Editor, Phronema
Graduate of St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College

Unconditional Love

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God: and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

“God is love.” This is the one and only confession about the nature of God in the Holy Scriptures. It is also clear, from the Scriptures and from simply observing the wonder of creation that the motivation for God behind creation and redemption is Love. God creates everything visible and invisible out of nothing (Rom 4:17; Heb 11:3) and this, so the Holy Fathers taught was out of his love for all things, and not by any provocation or necessity. There was no motivation as to why He created, except love, and precisely love for humankind, ‘for whom he created the world’ (Liturgy of St Basil). And the only condition or expectation that God has from human beings is our love (Deut 6:5). From the very beginning, God reveals his Love as a Communion of Persons (Gen 1:26 Let Us make man in our image, according to Our Likeness…) The human person is also created in the image of God (Gen 1:26), and thus according to the Holy Fathers is the only creature called to be like God by grace, and therefore capable of knowing and sharing the love of God.

After the Fall, humankind lost this love and fell out of communion with God. The Prophet Jeremiah, lamenting the faithlessness of Israel, after experiencing the darkest hour of his people with the destruction of the Holy City, nevertheless hoped for salvation. He was convinced of God’s faithful love, “Thus says the Lord… “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jer 31:3). This love, spoken of by the prophet culminated and reached its fullest expression through the sending of God’s Son to save the world through the Cross on Golgotha:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:16-17)

This mystery reveals God’s love for humankind in a most radical way through the incarnation, death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is a practical, concrete expression of love, through which human beings encounter the mystery of God the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. (cf. Rev 1:4-6)

“Commemorating, the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day.” (Anamnesis of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom), Christians are called to offer themselves in reasonable worship to God who ‘empties himself’ (Phil 2:5-8) for our salvation, and to offer themselves to their fellow human beings in imitation of this love which bears no expectation on the one who receives this love. To communicate this mystery St Paul, preached the ‘foolishness of the Cross’ (1 Cor 1:18) which reveals God’s radical love or man and salvation by Grace, of every human person, through faith (Rm 3:24): this saving faith being lived out and fulfilled through works of love (Gal 5:6)

Of this knowledge of God through this otherworldly love, Elder Porphyrios wrote:

“Love for Christ is something else. It is without end, without satiety. It gives life; it gives strength; it gives health; it gives, gives, gives. And the more it gives, the more the person wishes to fall in love.”

Shortly before his death, the Lord also gave this injunction to His Disciples; “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jn 13:34) Just before his death, Jesus forgave the penitent thief at his dying confession (cf. Lk 23:39-43) thus demonstrating the unconditional love of God for even the worst penitent sinner.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was sent upon the Church to guide her by making the love of the Lord present through the ages. (cf. Jn 16:13-14), and visibly throughout the Holy Sacraments. The same elder Porphyrios said that our relation to Christ is through love, and it is through love that we approach the Sacraments.

One way in which the Church describes this relationship, through her liturgy and spirituality is through the New Testament metaphor of marriage. Christ is the Bridegroom. The Church is His Bride.

With Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom, at the centre, the life of the Christian changes. He enters into the mystery of death and resurrection of Christ, through Baptism and becomes one spirit with Him (1 Cor 6:17). St Paul said, “It is no longer I who live; Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)

God’s love is revealed to all who are willing to accept it, through His Word, through His Creation, through the Church, as a gift. We are called to imitate this love in our life.

Rev. Stavros Karvelas
Parish Priest of St. Therapon – Thornleigh (NSW)

Compassion

The Good SamaritanThe word of God tells us that our role in terms of us and others is one, to love and have compassion: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

Faced with the suffering of others, and with the sin of others, the true and genuine Christian needs to first of all have the look of compassion, then words of consolation, and then works of healing, caring and forgiveness. “If anyone,” St John says, “has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” This is echoed in the words of St James: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” The first urgency in the presence of suffering and grief is to relieve it.

A modern Orthodox theologian has emphasized that we can only have genuine and effective compassion if we have a genuine relationship with Christ. “In our own lives, Jesus is our living and permanent reference. He is at the same time the giver of the Spirit and the gift of the Spirit. In Him the heart serves the apprenticeship of prayer and, through it, the apprenticeship of love. I learn love when the mysterious transfer of my ‘me’ to the centrality of Christ occurs; when ‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me’ ; when it is no longer I who pray but the Spirit who prays in me; and when it is no longer I who love, but the Father who loves in me…. When we follow the path of Jesus, we learn how to offer our own hearts to God. It is then that the heart opens and fortifies itself in the spirit of compassion. The human being is able to be filled with the misery of the world, to carry it on his or her shoulders, and to lay it down before the throne of God. But our hearts are weak and inconstant. Giving up, we tend to close up, to protect ourselves from suffering – which is always too great- to ignore or forget it. Nonetheless, this same heart is called to love, to compassion, to mercy. It can only respond to this call by merging into the heart of Jesus. That requires, as a precondition, a purification, an exorcising of the evil that is in us, in all its forms. The evil in the world can be exorcised and burned only to the extent that the roots of evil which lie in our own hearts are exorcised, banished, and burned, consumed in the face-to-face with Jesus, His cross, and His Spirit.”

Those that love and have compassion do not miss out, they get back a lot more than what they give. St Silouan puts it as follows. “I will not hide from you the things for which the Lord gives His grace. I entreat you – love one another, and you will behold the mercy of the Lord. Let us love our fellow man, and the Lord will love us… Ask the Lord for strength to love your brother, and then you will see that there is peace in your soul. With all your might ask the Lord for humility and brotherly love, for to him who loves his brother the Lord gives freely of His grace. Try yourself: one day ask God for brotherly love, and the next day live without love, and you will see the difference. The spiritual fruits of love are manifest- peace and joy in the soul, all men will be dear to you, and you will shed abundant tears for your fellow-man and for everything that has breath, and all creation. Often a single sympathetic greeting will work a happy change in the soul; and contrariwise one unfriendly look will result in grace and the love of God departing, When that happens, make haste to repent, that the peace of God may return to your soul… If we love our brethren with all our might, and strive to humble our soul, victory will be ours, for the Lord bestows His grace above all for brotherly love.”

Fr Porphyrios would say that “in our life there is one thing worth striving for: love, to worship God and to love our fellow man, for all of us to be one, with Christ our head. Only in this way will we be granted Grace, the kingdom of Heaven, eternal life. Love towards others cultivates love for God. We are happy, when we love all people mystically. No one can reach God if he does not first go through other people. ‘For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.’ Let us love, let us sacrifice ourselves for others, expecting nothing in return. In this way we become well balanced. Love that expects something in return is selfish. Such love is not genuine and pure…. Above all is love. That which needs to concern us, my children, is love for others, for their spirit. Whatever we do, prayer, giving of advice, making suggestions, we need to do with love. Without love prayer does not help, advice hurts feelings, suggestions do more harm. Others can feel it if we love them or not, and they will respond appropriately.”

Even if others have hurt us, or have judged us harshly, or done us an injustice, our role is to love them and be compassionate. If they have done us an injustice, even a huge one, we need to have the faith that God will bring justice, our role is not to revenge or bring justice, our role is to forgive. If they are very critical of us, fairly or unfairly, then we need to remember that we all desperately need to be humble, and if others judge us we should see it as a blessing because it can help us in our struggle to reach humility. Fr Porphyrios would say, “Let us spread our love to all unselfishly, not caring about their stance. When the Grace of God comes inside us, we will no longer care if they love us or not, or if they speak kindly to us. We will feel the need to love all. It is pride when we want others to speak kindly to us. Let us not get upset when they do not speak nicely to us. Let us allow others to speak as they want to us. Let us not be beggars for love. Our desire is to love and to pray with all our heart for them. Then we will realise that they will love us, without us seeking it, without us begging for their love. They will love us sincerely and freely from the depth of their heart and without pressure.”

God has boundless compassion for all of us, and our calling is to reach the likeness of God, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Even if we have progressed in the spiritual life, if we do not have compassion for our fellow man, and thus move onto selfless, unconditional and unhypocritical works of love, we have not truly progressed. St Paul made this clear: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Very Rev. Dimitri Kokkinos
Parish Priest of St John the Forerunner – Parramatta (NSW)

Footnotes

1 Romans 13:8
2 1 John 3:17
3 James 2:15-16
4 Matthew 25:31-46
5 Galatians 2:20
6 Boris Bobrinskoy. The Compassion of the Father. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Crestwood,
New York 2003, pp.65-66
7 Archimandrite Sophrony. St Silouan the Athonite. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Crestwood,
New York 1991, pp. 426-427
8 1 John 4:20
9 Γέροντος Πορφυρίου Καυσοκαλυβίτου. Βίος και Λόγοι. Ιερά Μονή Χρυσοπηγής. Χανιά 2003
10 Matthew 5:45
11 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Wisdom from Mt. Athos

Mt AthosMt Athos is one place on earth where one will see a very much alive Orthodox spiritual faith and where through this spirituality reach to the level of Theosis, that is deification and becoming united with the Almighty God by grace. From the very early Church hermits would go and live in isolation in the desert to dedicate and worship God and from there arose the monastic community. One such place is Mt Athos.

Founded in 963, Mt Athos is the centre of Orthodox spirituality and monasticism. Often referred to by the Orthodox as the’ Holy Mountain’, the mountain is dedicated to the Theotokos (the garden of the Virgin Mary). Mt Athos is isolated from the rest of Greece, being situated on the north east peninsular of Greece and the only means of reaching it is by boat and it is restricted to males only. Females are even forbidden from visiting. There are twenty established Orthodox monasteries and several outlying sketes, where monks will live in isolation from others.

The life of the monk is one of sacrificing everything for God. The monk lives a life of obedience, fasting and above all, is dedicated to worship and prayer, as in the words of St Paul, the monk will ‘pray without ceasing’. The monk will attend several services during the day starting from pre dawn (around 4.00am) and finishing with the Compline (Απὀδιεπνον) after dinner and then the monk will retire to his cell, where he will continue his prayers. The monk’s cell becomes like an altar, adopting the practice of hesychasm which is ‘the quiet prayer in solitude’ and in a repetitive manner says the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner” using a prayer rope (κουμβοσκίνι) with the prayer. This is the prayer of the mind in the heart. Many of the Saints reach the final step of St John Climacus’ ‘Divine Ascent”, where they ‘rise to visions’.

Mt Athos is a living testimony to Orthodox spirituality and the ascetic way of life. The ascetic life allows us in the world to see, to taste and to understand what spiritual life is all about. It is not something that just happened in the past, it is a living reality; it is the ‘spiritual tradition’. It also shows us how we too can reach a beautiful spiritual experience by practicing the ‘Jesus Prayer’ in our own quiet time. To the monk, real prayer is to pray with the mind in the heart, that is the prayer must reach the heart, and then the prayer will become part of the whole person, body, soul and spirit. The essence of prayer is the spiritual lifting of the heart toward God.

Although Mt Athos gives us a ‘glimpse’ of heaven, it is not heaven on earth; heaven on earth is within us. One does not need to live in the monastic community to experience a spiritual life. Mt Athos shows us what we must do to live a spiritual life, but that does not mean one needs us to live in a monastic community. Mt Athos shows us that by dedicating our life to God, we can experience this spiritualty. To do this first and foremost we need to have a Spiritual Father to guide us and with his guidance, follow the fasts of the Church, attend the services as much as our commitments allow us to, and dedicate part of our every day to pray. But above all, practice our faith with humility and love. As an a monk once said, “love and faith are two oars of a boat, if have one without the other, the boat just keeps on going round and round. We need both to go forward”. This spiritual path forward ultimately leads us to find peace with the Almighty God.

To encapsulate this spirituality, there is a collection of writings compiled by St Nikodemos focusing on the virtues of living a spiritual life on the Holy Mountain and contains many saying of the Spiritual Fathers.

Prof. Angelo Karantonis
Editor, Phronema
Graduate of St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College

Writings from the Fathers of the Church

The Life and Thought of St Gregory Palamas

“WHEN SPIRITUAL JOY COMES TO THE BODY FROM THE MIND, IT SUFFERS NO DIMINUTION BY THIS COMMUNION WITH THE BODY, BUT RATHER TRANSFIGURES THE BODY, SPIRITUALIZING IT… REJECTING ALL EVIL DESIRES OF THE FLESH, IT NO LONGER WEIGHS DOWN THE SOUL BUT RISES UP WITH IT, THE WHOLE HUMAN PERSON BECOMING SPIRIT, AS IT IS WRITTEN: HE WHO IS BORN OF THE SPIRIT IS SPIRIT” TRIADS II, 2.9

Introduction
Every year, during the second Sunday of Great Lent (typically during the month of March) the Church commemorates the life and thought of St Gregory Palamas (1269-1359AD) who was canonized a saint only nine years after his death by Patriarch Philotheus at a synod held in Constantinople in 1368AD. This feast day was introduced into the Lenten liturgical calendar of the Church in the fourteenth century when the liturgical structure of this Sunday had already developed along different lines. It is for this reason the neither the epistle nor the gospel of the day have any bearing on the saint. However the Vespers and Mattins of this day outline the life and theology of this great saint. St Gregory Palamas was a monk on Mount Athos and later Archbishop of Thessalonika. He is remembered during Lent since his theology extensively focused on the Christian life, “deification” or union of the human person with God, one’s real knowledge and vision of God and the importance of the body in the Christian life.

St Gregory Palamas was born in 1296 in Constantinople, of noble background enjoying the love and respect of the Emperor. Adopting the monastic life at the age of twenty, he would soon be drawn into the arena of theological and political controversy. The complex story of St Gregory ’ life – that is the intricate theological and political issues – was a major impetus to the development of his theological system. Like other theologians, St Gregory had to seek a balance between the contrasting truth of the transcendence and immanence of God. This antimony, for St Gregory, was sharpened by the context in which it occurred, namely the Hesychastic controversy, which occasioned a response to the question: How can the utterly transcendent God, who is beyond every possibility of being named, and of being experienced, enter into a real and personal relationship with human beings? In fact, how can human beings justly assert they know and live in union with Him? These questions arose out of a dispute concerning the nature of the light in which Christ appeared to the apostles on Mt Tabor at His Transfiguration.

On the Knowledge and Vision of God
St Gregory’s opponent Barlaam, maintained that no direct knowledge of God and of the relations between the persons of the Trinity was accessible to the human intellect. St Gregory, on the contrary, disputed this ‘theological method’. He took on the position of a realist in defense of humanity’s ability to acquire “real knowledge” of God. Whereas St Gregory argued that there could be a sure and immediate knowledge apart from that provided by the senses, Barlaam insisted on the unknowability and incommunicability of God, except through direct, created means – that is revealed Scripture or induction from creation. Furthermore, St Gregory underlined that “knowledge of God” did not bear on primarily a conceptualization or propositional meaning in the Eastern tradition. Rather it was best comprehended in the more existential sense of union with God. Moreover, while St Gregory maintained a pronounced request for apophatic (or negative) theology, he nonetheless did not understand this unknowability in the nihilistic sense. Rather the apophatic way led to a vision – in fact a vision of the uncreated light which the apostles had seen on Mt Tabor.

The Light: Means and Object of Vision
On the issue of the vision of God, St Gregory affirms that the Christian experience is not only symbolic but is a real vision of the glory of God, and granted as a gift by the operation of the Spirit. It is an “hypostatic light” which is “an illumination immaterial and divine, a grace invisibly seen and ignorantly known. What it is they do not pretend to know.” Barlaam in defending his nominalistic position wishes to disparage the experience of the praying monks and therefore maintains that the light from Tabor was a physical meteorological phenomenon:

“So the light which the disciples saw on Tabor would be a light sensible and visible through the intermediary of the air, which then appeared to arouse their astonishment and immediately vanished, and which one calls divine in that it was a symbol of divinity.”

In defending the doctrine of the uncreatedness of the glory of Christ revealed to the apostles on Mt Tabor, St Gregory was arguing that this light is not subject to the senses and to the intellect. In fact it could not be seen by humanity’s natural faculties. The vision of God is a result of the whole of humanity being both deified and divinised. Summarizing St Gregory ’ position, Meyendorff, a renowned scholar in Palamite studies, writes: “To see God we must acquire ‘a divine eye’ and let God see himself in us.”

Seeing the created world, through the eyes of God has far reaching ethical consequences. So many contemporary societal problems could be solved if we could but see the world through ”divine eyes”. Moreover, the doctrine of the uncreated light safeguarded the possibility of a direct, unmediated communion with God in the present light. St Gregory asserted its reality, affirming that it was a fact of personal experience of the saints of his day. That light which was seen by the Hesychasts in prayer, was in fact uncreated in so far as it was possible to see God ‘face to face’. It was this emphasis on humanity’s unmediated union with God which would lead St Gregory to crystallize his doctrine on the distinction between divine essence and divine energy.

The Transfiguration of the Body
In the history of Eastern spirituality one can speak of two tendencies in the Christian life, namely the Macarian “heart mysticism” and Evagrian “intellectual mysticism”. For Evagrius, prayer is an ascent of the intellect towards God or a dialogue (sunomiliva) of the intellect with God. Macarius, on the other hand, maintained that, in prayer the mind was kept in the heart. For Macarius the aim of prayer is not the disincarnation of the mind, but a transfiguration of the entire person – both body and soul – through the presence of the incarnate God. Barlaam objected to a psychosomatic of prayer with a Platonic view of humanity: any bodily participation in prayer could only be an hindrance to a true “intellectual” encounter. St Gregory was able to integrate various tendencies in the Christian life – i.e. the , Macarian “heart mysticism” and Evagrian “intellectual mysticism” – into a comprehensive theological vision. His insistence on an incarnational theology, where the divine glory could be manifested through the human body, can contribute in a contemporary understanding of the Christian life.

Therefore, for St Gregory, vision of God was not something that concerned the soul alone, but something that involved the body. For St Gregory, the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor implied a transfiguration through the human body. The relevance of St Gregory for contemporary society surely lies in the fact that his spirituality takes seriously the scriptural testimony of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the human body as God’s temple. Living in a time Neo-Platonic dualistic society, whereby it was thought that God could only be experienced by the intellect after it had left the body ”ecstatically”, St Gregory affirmed the importance of the whole human person in the Christian life.

The mystical experience put forth by St Gregory rejected the Platonic tendency to disregard and undervalue sensory experience, in favor of the life of the intellect. In fact, St Gregory ” spirituality has a lot to offer modern society which has been greatly influenced by Kant’s theory of objectivity which argues that the pure knowledge can only be attained when purified from sensual content and emotion. St Gregory, on the other hand affirmed that the human body – a psychosomatic unity – was a natural and necessary condition for knowledge of God. For St Gregory the domains of sense and intellect could not be separated in this way. Even today, many contemporary spiritualities deviate into a kind of “angelicism” where the body is dismissed as little more that a hindrance and an obstruction – something quite irrelevant to the Christian life. It is often believed that humanity’s aim is to become as much like the angels as possible. In fact St Gregory went so far as to argue that the fact that human beings, in having a body makes them nor lower but higher than the angels. Human nature has greater potentialities than the angelic.

Conclusion
St Gregory Palamas is of exceptional significance for a contemporary understanding of the Christian life. He was able to interpret the Dionysian corpus affirming that the unknowability of God led to a personal experience and union with the divine in this life. For St Gregory, God can be known and experienced in this present life through the bodily eyes. His opponents, Platonist in their approach repudiated St Gregory as a materialist. However St Gregory was able to take a positive step forward in liberating the Christian mystery form Neo-Platonic categories offering us a biblical corrective to the Christian life. Moreover, he affirmed the sacredness of the body and creation in general at a time when the Platonic spiritualizing prevailed. Living in a post Christian world which seems to not need God, the Christian life according to St Gregory safeguards the presence of God in history and his real fidelity to the Church and his mysterious unity – both sacramental and mystical – with the community. Moreover, since it integrates the whole human being in the new life, it also affirms the importance and necessity of responding to the needs and concerns of today since matter is good. The Christian life according to St Gregory can act as an insightful critique of a contemporary understanding of the Christian life which tends to be concerned with religious devotions and the private life only. St Gregory Palamas” contribution lies in his proper understanding of the material world where human beings are called to become stewards and caretakers of the environment and the world and must work towards the well being of all human beings. St Gregory gently calls all human beings to make a total commitment, both body and soul, to the Lord of life and to his creation.

Dr Philip Kariatlis
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College

[1.Gregory Palamas, Triads, II. iii:8]
[2.Meyendorff, Gregory Palamas, p.187.]
[3.see especially his section “The Light: means and object of vision”, pp.173-175.]
[4.Meyendoff, opt. Cit. p.173]
[5.The intellect (nous) does not imply here simply discursive reason (ratio). The nous goes beyond this where it is able to understand things through direct intuition, through inward union with the divine Logos himself.]

The Life and Times of St. Irenaeus of Lyons

On 23 August of every year the Church celebrates the memory of an important saint and bishop of the second century Christian Church. St. Irenaeus was bishop of Lyons (Lugdunum) in the second century. Born c.a. 130 A.D. , he was to become an outstanding theologian and ecclesiastical leader; a true witness and propagator to the apostolic faith and apostolic tradition. He was an ecumenical man who, even though wrote against Gnosticism and Marcionism always stressed unity. He was most probably born in Smyrna but migrated to Gaul where he spent the mature years of his life and where he eventually died a martyr c.a. 202 A.D.

Irenaeus received a liberal education, becoming acquainted with both Holy Scripture and Greek philosophy and literature. He was greatly influenced by St. Polycarp from whom he received the seeds of the true apostolic tradition. Writing to the Roman presbyter Florinus, Irenaeus reveals this influence: “For while I was still a boy I knew you [Florinus]…in Polycarp’s house… I remember the events of those days more clearly than those that happened recently… I can speak of the place that St. Polycarp sat and disputed, how he came in and went out… the discourses which he made to the people… how he reported his influence with John and with the others who had seen the Lord.”

It is beyond doubt that Irenaeus was also well acquainted with Greek thought. He was very familiar with the writings of Greek apologists such as Justin Martyr and Athenagoras whose works he sought to explain to the Greek – speaking world.

Irenaeus left Asia Minor and went to Gaul. He probably accompanied St. Polycarp to Rome in 155 A.D. and then continued to Lyons. Lyons was a great commercial city. It was “the country in which the arena was crowded with people… famous and held in higher repute than any in the land.” It was situated on the Rhone River and was the centre of the Roman road system for Gaul. Intimate relations existed from very remote times between the ports of Asia Minor and Marseilles, which had been colonized from Asia Minor approximately six centuries before the rise of Christianity. During the Roman period, Levantine traders were regularly transporting their goods up the Rhone as far as Lyons. It was only natural that many of whom traveled and settled in Lyons were missionaries who brought Christianity to the pagan Gauls thereby founding a dynamic Church. Therefore even though Lyons was the second most important capital of the Western Roman Empire, it was still basically a Greek – speaking community. It was to this Church that Irenaeus came to serve as a presbyter. The first historical mention of Irenaeus is in 177 A.D. where he is a prominent priest in this area. During this time the Montanist controversy was raging in the Church of Phrygia. When this heresy reached Lyons a letter was written on this matter to Pope Eleutherius and which Irenaeus was delegated and entrusted to take to Rome. The letter, which on this occasion he took to the pope in Rome recommended him excellently;

“We have asked our brother and companion Irenaeus to bring this letter to you and we beg you to hold him in esteem for he is zealous for the covenant of Christ. For had we known that rank can confer righteousness on anyone, we should first of all have recommended him as being a presbyter of the church, for that is his position.”

Many scholars contend that as a result of being sent to Rome he escaped the terrible persecutions which broke out in 177 A.D. by the decree of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius was a dedicated pagan who vehemently persecuted Christians with “noisy abuse, blows, dragging along the ground, plundering stoning, imprisonment….” On his return from Rome Irenaeus was chosen to succeed Pothinus as bishop who had been previously martyred.

As bishop, Irenaeus saw himself as a successor of the apostles; a link between the historical person of Jesus and the contemporary Church. Like St. Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus saw himself as the centre of the Eucharist however he also saw himself as a teacher. Because of his confrontation with the Gnostics, Irenaeus placed appropriate importance to the continuity of teaching within the Church. Since the Gnostics appealed to a secret tradition handed down by a secret succession of pedagogues, Irenaeus answered by appealing to the tradition openly promulgated in the four canonical gospels and to the unbroken public succession of bishops within a see. He saw himself as the one, par excellence, who taught the truth.

“We should obey those presbyters in the Church who have their succession from the apostles, and who, together with succession in the episcopate, have received the assured charisma of the truth (certum charisma veritatis).”

Irenaeus viewed apostolic succession as the true sign of continuity with the apostolic faith. He saw himself as a successor of the apostles, as alter apostolus and therefore as someone who preserved the continuity of doctrinal teaching, the fullness of the Catholic faith and life.

When dealing with the heresies Irenaeus not only exposed and overthrew their teaching but also sought the orthodox interpretation and teaching as well. In spite of Irenaeus’ interest in guarding his flock from the many heresies, his main preoccupation was the individual and his salvation. He was concerned with humankind’s progress in order that he may achieve “the vision and enjoyment of God.” Far from being speculative, his theology whilst deep and complex, was certainly concerned with finding ways to help his flock apply it to their lives. Since Irenaeus main interest was soteriological, he worked hard to spread Christianity to the neighboring provinces of Lyons as well.

The next historical mention of Irenaeus is between the years 189 A.D. and 198 A.D., concerning the celebration of Pascha (Easter). The Churches of Asia celebrated Easter on the fourteenth day after the new moon with which the month of Nisan began. The rest of Christendom held that the day on which the Resurrection could be celebrated was Sunday. The pope most probably sent letters to Asia Minor requesting councils to be convoked in order to discuss the proper day for the celebration of Pascha. Church councils were held in other provinces including Rome. The decisions of the councils were unanimous except for the province of Ephesus. Pope Victor was determined to bring about uniformity to the universal Church and he attempted to do this by suppressing the custom of Asia. He endeavored to excommunicate the Church of Asia as heterodox. To this decree Irenaeus answered and warned Pope Victor. Eusebius the historian relates that Irenaeus lived up to his name as ‘peacemaker.’

“Irenaeus, whose name means ‘peaceable’ and who by temperate was a peacemaker, pleaded and negotiated thus for the peace of the churches. He corresponded by letter not only with Victor but with very many other heads of churches, setting out both sides of the question under discussion.”

This incident is important in understanding how Irenaeus saw the Church of Rome. By his intervention in the Paschal controversy, he did not recognize the primacy of authority in the Church of Rome.

After his incident with Pope Victor, Irenaeus disappears from history and it is believed that he died approximately 202 A.D. It is not before Gregory of Tours that mention is made of his having died a martyr. There is debate amongst scholars as to his martyrdom since historians such as Eusebius make no mention of this event. What is important is not when or how he died but that through his writings, one has a valuable and authentic link to the apostles. One sees a man who had a depth of knowledge, a depth of faith, a love of scripture and God Himself. He was a “curious explorer of all doctrine” as Tertullian described him. Just like a surgeon, when performing a major operation, Irenaeus too, through his writings lays bare the nerves and sinews so as to take his reader to the very heart of a heresy with the sole purpose of healing the Church from such disease. ‘Orthodoxy’ did not survive by right in the early Church, but because it had people like Irenaeus and to this lies a clue to his grandeur and to his vigor.

Dr Philip Kariatlis
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College

[1.The precise date on which he was born cannot be determined due to the lack of sources, however modern scholarship tends to place his birth c.a. 130 A.D. The birth of Irenaeus has been placed as early as 97 A.D. by Dodwell and as late as 140 A.D. by others.]
[2.Gnosticism and Marcionism were two great heresies which the early Church encountered in its early history.]
[3.The evidence that he was born in Smyrna is implied by the fact that he had St. Polycarp as teacher in his youth. However the fact that Irenaeus was in Smyrna as a boy does not demand that he be born there.]
[4.Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History, V. xx, 5 – 6.]
[5.Robinson, J.A., who is the editor of Demonstration of the Apostolic Teaching by Irenaeus argues that he studied under him in Rome as well.]
[6.Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History, V. i, 1]
[7.ibid, V. iv, 2]
[8.Cayre, F.A.A. in his Patrologie et Histoire de la Théologie writes that ‘il dut, sans doute, à ce voyage à Rome de n’être pas victime de la persécution qui sévit `a Lyon en 177 – 178, et dont saint Pothin fut la plus illustre victime.’ p.161]
[9.Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History V, i. 7]
[10.Bishop Kallistos Ware, in his article “Patterns of Episcopacy in the Early Church and Today, An Orthodox View.” in Bishop, But What Kind. p.11]
[11.By ‘presbyters’ Irenaeus means ‘bishops.’ A survival of the primitive New Testament usuage.]
[12.Against the Heresies. IV. xxvi, 2 ]
[13.For Irenaeus the bishop is alter apostolus wheras for Ignatius the bishop is alter Christus. For Irenaeus, the bishop was someone who expressed the apostolicity of the Church whereas for Ignatius the bishop was someone who took care of his flock as a living icon of Christ. There is no contradiction in the two terms but simply a difference of emphasis; the terms are complementary.]
[14.Against the Heresies. IV. xxxvii, 7.]
[15.Dufourcq writes, “Son eveque surveilles les rares églises qui y sont éparses, et, sans qu’ on puisse précisément définir son œuvre missionnaire, on voit que certaines églises, celles par exemple de Besançon et de Valence, prétendent devoir à saint Irénée la première annonce de l’ Evangile.”, cited in Cayré, F.A.A. opt. cit. p.162]
[16.Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, V, xxiv. 18.]
[17.Quasten, J. Patrology. p.288]
[18.Q.S, Tetulliani, Adversus Valentinianos, ch. 5. Ed. by Aldo Marastoni (Padova, n.d. ), p.56, [ominum doctrnarum curiosissimus explorator], taken from the article by Constantelos, D., “Irenaeus of Lyons and His Central Views on Human Nature.”]

Saint Maximus the Confessor: His Life And Basic Features of the Christian Life

“THE ONE WHO LOVES CHRIST THOROUGHLY IMITATES HIM AS MUCH AS HE CAN.” ST MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR

Introductory Remarks
St Maximus the Confessor, whose feast day is celebrated every year on the 21st January by the Orthodox Church, has been acclaimed as one of the greatest thinkers in the whole of Christianity – indeed one of the most outstanding fathers of the undivided Church of the first common Christian millennium. Modern theologians consider him to have been the “most universal spirit of the seventh century” , “the real Father of Byzantine society” and “the first great synthesizer and elucidator of earlier Patristic thought” . His works embrace nearly all major themes of Christian theology: the Trinity, cosmology, the human person as microcosm and mediator, the purpose and centrality of Christ’s incarnation for history, the sacraments, the ascetic or Christian life and his affirmation of two natural wills in Christ – thereby affirming both the perfect divinity and perfect humanity in the person of the incarnate Son of God. In particular it was St Maximus who gave the most authentic answer regarding the cause and aim of the entire creation of the world out of nothing in terms of the incarnation when he stated quite emphatically that, had not the Fall or the transgression of humanity taken place, the incarnation would still have occurred so as to fulfill God’s pre-eternal plan of salvation for, and intimate communion with, the world.

His Life
Born around 580AD, in Constantinople, St Maximus the Confessor was of noble background thereby receiving an excellent education. He was able to study philosophy, rhetoric, logic and grammar. His philosophical studies would have also included arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy along with studies in Plato, Aristotle and the Neo-Platonists. Upon completing his studies, St Maximus entered government service, where he quickly won the love and respect of the Emperor. In fact, he became the first secretary at the Imperial Court of the Emperor Heraclius. Very soon after however, upon realizing that the Emperor had been influenced by the Monothelite teaching (the heretical belief claiming that Jesus Christ had only one will thereby undermining His full humanity), and yearning for a quiet life, he renounced his career within the royal court and opted for a monastic life at the Chrysopolis monastery. His biographer claimed that, within a few years St Maximus had become the abbot of the monastery, persuaded to do so by the monks who had seen in the person of St Maximus a humble, contemplative and devoted man.

Due to political instability (in 626AD the Persians and Avars had reached the walls of Constantinople), he departed Constantinople and went through Crete, Alexandria, where he stayed for quite some time, only to arrive finally in Africa-Carthage, a city which had outrightly rejected Monothelitism. It is said, for example that in 630AD, three out of the four Eastern Patriarchates were occupied by Monothelite bishops (those of Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria). In particular, in wanting to achieve unity within the Empire, the Emperor Heraclius together with Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople issued an edict in 638 entitled the Ekthesis (‘Exposition of the Faith’) whose purpose it was to minimize the doctrinal differences which had separated the Monophysites (a large Christian group, condemned by the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 451AD who taught that in Jesus Christ there was only one nature – a divine one) from the Christian Church. Even though the Emperor soon died after the promulgation of the Exposition he was succeeded by his grandson Constans II (642-668AD) who was also a staunch advocate of the Monothelite heresy and thus would continue in his late grandfather’s footsteps. For this reason, events were not looking positive for St Maximus.

And so, from Carthage, St Maximus began to organize and write an Orthodox refutation to the false teachings of the Monothelites. It was in Carthage that the famous dispute took place with Pyrrhus, the deposed Patriarch of Constantinople who had succeeded Sergius after his death in 638AD. Indeed, this well-known challenge with Pyrrhus, which has been preserved to this day in manuscripts took place in 645AD. Its importance lies in its clear and coherent elucidation of the Christian faith in the one person of Jesus Christ in two natures, and two natural wills – a divine and human one. Pyrrhus, not being able to refute the ‘intellectual challenge’ of his opponent, soon came to acknowledge his errors, and together with St Maximus journeyed to Rome to visit Pope Theodore, who, upon receiving Pyrrhus acknowledged him as the Patriarch of Constantinople. It was in Rome that St Maximus experienced great influence, where, under his recommendation, several council of bishops were convoked to condemn Monothelitism as a heresy. As a result of a newly published edict, the Typos in 648AD, which had been commissioned by Emperor Constans II and put together by Patriarch Paul of Constantinople, St Maximus went to ask Martin, the newly elected Pope [and successor of Pope Theodore] to convene a council to examine the question of Monothelitism. In 649AD the Lateran Council was convoked where over one hundred and fifty bishops and thirty-seven representatives from the East were present, all of whom condemned Monothelitism and the Typos of Constans II.

However, severe punishment was to befall the defenders of Orthodoxy. Upon receiving the decisions of the Lateran Council, the Emperor immediately ordered the arrest of both Pope Martin and St Maximus. And so in 655AD, the saint was tried, accused of treason and sent to prison. At his trial, St Maximus has been recorded as saying of the Emperor:
“It is the business of priests, not Emperors to investigate and define the salutary dogmas of the Catholic Church.”

For his insistence, St Maximus was exiled to Thrace and Perberis where together with two of his disciples underwent the cruelest of torments. At the orders of the Emperor, the tongue of St Maximus was cut out so that he could no longer preach and his right hand was cut off so that he could no longer write. They were then exiled to Skemarum in Scythia where they suffered many difficulties along the way. Eventually on 13th August, 661AD St Maximus died, yet his defense of the faith earned him the title ‘Confessor’ at the Sixth Ecumenical Council twenty years later in 680/681AD.

The Christian Life – from Disintegration to Reintegration
It was in the earlier part of his life, whilst at the monastery in Chyrsopolis that St Maximus wrote his first comprehensive expositions of the Christian life. These works are entitled: The Four Hundred Chapters on Love and The Ascetical Life. According to these writings, as a result of the Fall, humanity is described as having become entrapped in three fundamental evils from which all other passions flow: ignorance (agnoia), self-love (philautia) and tyranny (tyrannis) or autonomy. Generally speaking, ignorance implies a failure to realize all that is truly good, seeking instead for gratification in the corruptive realm. Or to put it another way, ignorance, according to St Maximus is to exclude God from all aspects of your life – that is, making plans without brining God into the picture. Quite simply put in practical terms, for example, this could mean preparing for any forthcoming event for the day without simply saying ‘God willing’ – ‘God willing, I’ll be going to the city today’. Following on from this, a conscious or sub-conscious rejection of God naturally leads to self-love, which is the root of all evils.

Self-love arises from the many impulses mediated from the realm of the senses by the will, which cannot be overcome because the human person has forgotten God. Since God is ignored, everything is understood wrongly – that is, from the perspective of the self and not from God. For example, instead of eating simply to live, such people would choose to live in order to eat; instead of working in order to live, they would live their life in order to work. In forgetting God, such people inevitably misuse everything in the world since they have become the measure of all things, instead of God. Self-love radically changes our perception of the world. An example from our life today which could serve to illustrate what St Maximus meant is the following: instead of seeing, for example, the act of eating a meal together with others around a table as a pretext for communion, we see it purely as a means of survival. For this reason we often may choose to eat alone in front of the television since the act of eating has lost its sacred communal purpose. Such a misdirected perception colors all our activities in life. This gives rise to the misdirection of all those gifts or virtues bestowed upon all human persons which necessarily lead to: anger, despondency, gluttony, lust, avarice, vainglory, pride, dejection, rapacity (pleonexeia), resentfulness, (mnesikakia), envy (pthonos) and slander (katalalia). St Maximus arranged his list of the twelve passions according to his tripartite understanding of the soul – the concupisciple (sexual lust), irascible (anger) and rational. Indeed a life controlled by the vices, in their sum, cause, according to St Maximus a continual disintegration of the soul. Moreover they destroy the unity of the individual human person and they divide human persons from each other and from God.

Finally all this leads, according to St Maximus, to tyranny since we become deluded into thinking that we are self-sufficient and do not need God or other human persons. Indeed others around may become, if not our enemy at least people in whom we are entirely disinterested. This state could be compared to the rich man in Jesus’ parable of Lazarus, who passed by Lazarus every day and did even think perhaps to give him some food or water. This was most probably not because he hated Lazarus but because had become so self-centered that he could not see beyond himself to the needs of those around him. Indeed, the self-sufficient person is one who falsely thinks that he/she can lead a life of self-seeking pleasure rather than love. However created in the image and likeness of God, human persons are called to reflect the life of God who is love (cf 1Jn 4:8). Just like choosing to breathe in carbon dioxide, for example, instead of oxygen, leads to our biological death, so too choosing a egocentric life instead of a life of love inevitably leads to our spiritual death. If God is taken out of the picture, we may be able to survive but we do not truly live a life in all of its abundance, a loving life ultimately free from death itself. This false sense of autonomy leads to our entrapment and tyranny to the passions.

As an antidote to all this the Christian life, according to St Maximus has to do with redirecting or reintegrating our disintegrated mode of existence. Whereas the passions or vices have scattered our mind, the Christian life involves a cleansing process, a death and resurrection in Christ, the practice of the virtues (praxis) so that we can be led back into contemplation (theoria) of the mystery of God. It is only in overcoming the passions and leading a contemplative life that God can bestow upon us His gracious gift of divine life which is deification or theosis. St Maximus described this entire process in terms of being (einai), well-being (eu-einai) and eternal-being (aei-einai). Whereas the practice of the virtues leads to our being in God, a contemplative life brings us to a state of well-being in beholding God. And finally the last state of eternal-being has an eschatological and mystical character which will be bestowed upon the faithful in the age to come. What is all important in the practice of the Christian life however, according to St Maximus is the virtue of love and it is to this all-important virtue that we now briefly turn.

The Importance of Love
For St Maximus, love is the supreme virtue, which unifies all the other virtues, such as faith, the fear of God, self-mastery, patience, long suffering, hope in God and detachment. Furthermore it is only in the person’s practice of love that the following virtues find their aim: humility (tapeinosis), meekness (praotes), gentleness (praupatheia), mercy (eleos) and poverty (aktemosune) along with the Platonic virtues of courage, temperance, and justice. Love, however is the “inclusive summit of all the virtues” and the perfection of the virtuous life. In his evaluation of love, St Maximus differentiated between the love for God and the love for one’s neighbor. Yet, even though he distinguished them, he, nevertheless united them and ultimately considered love of neighbor as a prerequisite for the love of God:

“The one who loves God cannot help but love also every human being as himself even though he may be displeased by the passions of those who are not yet purified. However, when he sees their conversion and amendment, he rejoices with an unbounded and unspeakable joy.”

And elsewhere he wrote: “The one who does not love his neighbor is not… able to love the Lord.”

Moreover as a result of the supreme virtue of love, one will not only love God and neighbor alike but the three faculties of the soul of the person (namely the concupiscible, the irascible and the rational) will also be transformed so that final communion with God will be made possible. Therefore the concupiscible part of the soul would ultimately be transformed by love into a holy desire and yearning for God. And as a result of love towards one’s neighbor, the virtues of long-suffering and patience would be produced in the irascible faculty. Finally the rational element of the soul would be led, by love to humility, which is a virtue of that faculty. Maximus summarized this point:
“The soul is moved reasonably when its concupiscible element is qualified by self-mastery, its irascible element cleaves to love and turns away from hate and the rational element lives with God through prayer and spiritual contemplation.”

Therefore, the Christian life implies a restoration and transformation of the elements of the soul from perversion to its natural function. That is to say, what is called for in the Christian life is not a suppression of the passions but a replacement since evil passions are good passions which have been misdirected.

Concluding Remarks
In this brief article, we saw that the historical context into which St Maximus the Confessor was born, gave rise to harsh and difficult struggles on his part with opponents of the Christian faith who happened to hold key political and even ecclesiastical positions. It was his unwavering resistance against these people, which earned him the title ‘Confessor’ since he was not afraid to speak out against all those who were putting the integrity of the witness of the apostolic faith in Jesus Christ into question, even if they happened to be Patriarchs or Emperors. Indeed, it was these heated disputes, which led to this saint being subjected to the cruelest of torments, namely the cutting off of his tongue and right hand together with his banishment from the city of Constantinople. However in all this, never did he lose sight of the nature and purpose of all authentic theology, namely a person’s insatiable yearning to know and be in communion with God. This was evidenced in his concern to articulate clearly in all his writings the basic aspects of the Christian life since it was these which led to an intimate vision and a life in God.

Dr Philip Kariatlis
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College

[1.H.G. Beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinischen Reich (Munich, 1959), 436, quoted in J. Pelikan The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1974), 8.]
[2.J. Meyendorff, Christ in Christian Thought (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1975), 259.]
[3.S.L. Epiphanovitch, Prepodobnyi Maksim Ispovednik i Vizantiiskoe Bogoslovie (Kiev, 1915), 22, quoted in G. Telepneff and Bishop Chrysostom, ‘The Person, Pathe, Asccetism, and Spiritual Restoration in Saint Maximos’ in Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 34.3(1987): 252.]
[4.He was simply being faithful to the biblical witness which stated that the entire purpose of the world was Jesus Christ Himself: “all was created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16).]
[5.An English translation of this work exists entitled: The Disputation with Pyrrhus of our Father among the Saints Maximus the Confessor, translated from the Greek by Joseph P. Farrell, St Tikhon’s Seminary.]
[6.Cf PG 90: 109-129.]
[7.Cited in G. Florovsky, The Byzantine Fathers of the Sixth to Eighth Century (Belmont: Büchervertriebsanstalt, 1987), 211.]
[8.Both these works are available in English: The Four Hundred Centuries on Love, in The Classics of Western Spirituality (NY: Paulist Press, 1985) and The Ascetical Life, in Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 21 (NY: Newman Press, 1955).]
[9.L. Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator; the Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor (Sweeden: Hakan Ohlssons Boktrycheri, 1965) , 170.]
[10.Four Hundred Chapters on Love, 1. 67.]
[11.L. Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1985), 197.]
[12.Four Hundred Chapters on Love, I, 2.]
[13.A. Nichols, Byzantine Gospel, Maximus the Confessor in Modern Scholarship (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993) , 181.]
[14.L. Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, p.327.]
[15.Four Hundred Chapters on Love, I, 13.]
[16.ibid., I. 16.]
[17.ibid., IV, 15]

The Freedom of Obedience (Part I)

Introductory Remarks

Obedience is normally understood in terms of submission, which presupposes the resignation of one’s will to that of another higher authority. Or it is usually perceived in terms of conforming to some external rules or regulations enforced upon by another more dominant power. Indeed, in today’s society, obedience has become synonymous with subjugation and it is believed to demand the total renunciation of one’s will and ‘blind’ submission to that conglomeration of rules enforced upon that other higher reality.

Accordingly, in most people’s consciousness, obedience, by extension means to submit to a group of regulations or laws set by a superior authority (which incidentally may not always necessarily be religious – for example it could be ideological or political) and not ask any questions. Hence we have the well-established misconception of ‘blind obedience’, which stipulates ‘doing what you are told’ and for this reason it is thought to be enslavement. It follows from this that obedience comes to be seen as a weakness and a contradictory concept for the ‘enlightened’ or emancipated person since their freedom is brought into question.

Understood in such a superficial manner one can perhaps appreciate why people would even go so far as to point out the utter absurdity of obedience. Believing it to be a feature of the psychologically bound, timid and naïve, these people conclude that the practice of obedience is only for the backward and conservative. Indeed in the Hegelian-Marxist dialectic, God is seen as the enemy of freedom since He is perceived as a frightful authority figure who must be obeyed. This inevitably leads to the atheistic syllogism that: ‘since I am a free human being I need not obey. If I obey, then I am not a free human being’. Unfortunately this attitude to obedience has not only made its way into contemporary society but also into the Church where many can no longer discern or even appreciate the spiritual, let alone the practical significance of this virtue. For this reason a reflection on obedience is required in order to rediscover its organic link with freedom and life-giving communion.

However, before turning out attention to examine the Church’s understanding of obedience it must be pointed out that the reality of this virtue in contemporary society is not as foreign and detestable as it might first appear. For example, who would question the importance of the obedience displayed by athletes to their trainers as they set out to prepare for forthcoming events. Surely their carefully regulated practice sessions coupled with other rules (dietary et al.), which permeate all facets of their lives constitutes a kind of ‘blind’ obedience to the personal judgement of their coach.

One also sees the practice of obedience in those students who have an earnest desire to excel at school. They therefore know that they must put themselves entirely in the hands of their teachers if they want to succeed in their studies. Indeed the conscious or sub-conscious significance of obedience is seen in all facets of human existence right from little children whose faith and trust in their parents help immensely in their psychological growth to that of the elderly who entrust their entire well-being, on a daily basis to their doctors. All these examples serve to illustrate the degree to which all people have surrendered themselves to obedience. Indeed it is the practice of obedience which serves to bring about psychological growth and maturity on the part of the obedient person.

Church’s Experience of Obedience

In the Greek language, the term ‘obedience’ (hyp-akoe or in its verbal form hyp-akouo) is derived from the preposition ‘hypo’ meaning ‘under’ and the verb ‘to listen’. That is, the preposition ‘hypo’ shows the vertical direction in obedience – that is, between the heavenly realm and that of the world. And so obedience is to be understood in the context of an encounter between God and the human person where God ‘speaks’ and the human person actively listens. Consequently, far from implying a passive attitude to life, obedience is an active function since the action of listening requires a level of attentiveness and focused concentration in order to discern what is being said, especially when this relates to the transcendent yet immanent God. Ultimately obedience implies eagerly awaiting upon God so that with ‘ears to hear’ we may listen (cf Mk 4:23). In this sense, the meaning of obedience, as it is experienced and lived out by the Church is entirely foreign to any forms of ‘passiveness’ or fatalism since it occurs ultimately within the context of a personal relationship with God. On the contrary, obedience is less concerned with the submission of the conscience to external rules as it is with an inward transformation where life is surrendered to God corresponding to the ‘ascent’ towards heaven as it is found in the spirituality of the writings of the entire ascetic tradition, an example of which is St John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent.1 That is to say, it is only when the will of the ego is abandoned that that person can truly begin to unite and share in the eternal life of God.

Indeed in obedience the will (idion thelema) is buried (not destroyed) so that the ‘spirit’ within every human person can be resurrected and become attuned to the ‘voice’ of God as it is revealed in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit. Far from being negative, obedience as absolute trust in God becomes the means to a life infinitely greater than one’s mere biological existence. It becomes clear already that obedience essentially is a fact of communion with God and so only those who cling to this communal mode of existence and strive to live it out can claim to have entrusted themselves to, or become obedient disciples of, God. And in so doing, God begins to indwell or be in an intimate communal relationship with them. Not only does God listen to these faithful people (cf Jn 9:31)2 but makes His dwelling place in their hearts:

All who obey his commandments abide in him and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us (1 Jn 3:24).3

The significance of God remaining with the obedient ones becomes all the more apparent when we realize, that being the source of life and freedom (primarily freedom from the bounds of death) God calls all out of an isolated existence so that they can enter a relationship with Him. And if communion with God constitutes life, then obedience is that dynamic towards that life. Before further reflecting on the ‘freedom of obedience’ some brief remarks on the New Testament vision of obedience will be offered, especially as they relate to Christ’s filial obedience to God, His Father followed by some examples of obedience from the Patristic ascetical tradition.

Obedience in the New Testament

Reading the New Testament one can easily discern, throughout the entire life of Jesus, the conscious obedience which He displayed towards God His Father. Indeed Christ’s obedience involved the unwavering adherence to His Father’s will in all moments of His life. In his letter to the Philippians St Paul urged the community to live their life not out of “selfish ambition or conceit” (Phil 2:3) but primarily in humility taking Christ as their example who was obedient to God even to the point of death:

“Who, though he was in the form of God… he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8).

Such radical obedience, even to the point of death cannot be explained by any logic but will only be appreciated if it is seen from within the radically intimate relationship of profound love and trust that Jesus had to His Father. Indeed all four gospels emphasize this point as can be seen from Jesus Himself who in the gospel according to St John said:

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (Jn 6:38-39).

In this case, we see the extent to which St John went in order to emphasize Christ’s ministry and teaching in terms of His resolute obedience to all that God His Father had shown Him and given Him to do and say. Indeed what is even more profound is that the Scriptures’ insistence of Christ’s obedience, not only to God but also to other people, including his earthly parents:

“Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Lk 2:51).

By example during His earthly ministry Jesus showed the significance of obeying the commandments of God even as they are mediated through elders, in this case His earthly parents. As we shall see, this is important especially when it comes to the obedience between two people – that of a disciple to an elder.

Now, the reason for the importance of obedience is clearly stated in the New Testament. It was only in this perfect obedience to God that Christ was able to become the source of the world’s salvation. In the letter to the Hebrews we read:

Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Heb. 5:8-9).

Just as Christ’s obedience to God was the source of all glory and life, so too, our invitation5 to obey the Lord becomes our opportunity not only to show our love for Him (cf Jn 14:21-24), but above all to be graced with the gift of freedom in becoming “the glory of God’s children” (Rom 8.21). Already within the writings of the New Testament we see the importance of obedience as the means for our ultimate glorification and freedom as God’s children.

Dr Philip Kariatlis
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College

Footnotes

1. So important is obedience that it occupies the second longest chapter in St John Climacus’ Ladder. Also cf Archbishop Stylianos, ‘Ta Duvo vUyilon – vUbri” kai Upakohv’, Vema Oct(2005): 3.
2. Jn 9:31 “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will”.
3. Cf also, “and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Mt 28:20).
4. The negative or restrictive aspect of obedience as it is portrayed in the Old Testament, especially in the Decalogue “You shall not” is transformed in Christ with the manner in which He fulfilled the Law as this is exemplified, in the beatitudes.
5. Note, that Jesus did not command but rather invited people to follow Him as can be seen from the following: “Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). That first part of this phrase, ‘if any want’ is decisive since God compels no one

The Freedom of Obedience (Part II)

Introductory Remarks

In the November 2005 issue we examined the freedom of obedience by looking at the New Testament witness to this. And so in this issue, this discussion is continued by looking at the desert fathers and then critically reflecting upon the notion of obedience, indeed the freedom of obedience.

The sayings of the Desert Fathers on Obedience

Beyond the New Testament, the entire ascetic tradition emphasizes the importance of obedience for the Christian life. The Gerondikon or The Sayings of the Desert Fathers1 gives abundant examples of the significance of obedience in the Christian life and is indeed a major theme in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. A well-known anecdote recounts the story of John the Dwarf, who, upon entering the desert, was told, by his spiritual elder to continue watering a dry stick2, which had been planted into the ground, and to keep on doing this until it bore fruit. Indeed, the story is intensified when we are told that the novice had to travel throughout the whole night to collect water, something, which, besides being irrational would have been physically and mentally exhausting. The pinnacle moment of the story is reached when we discover that one morning, in the third year, upon going to water the ”dead” stick, John found that it had flowered and produced much fruit. It is said that his spiritual elder took it to the community and told the brothers: “Take and eat the fruit of obedience!”3

Another story relates the perfect obedience of a disciple, who, having been called by his spiritual father, responded immediately, not even completing the letter of the alphabet that he had been writing whilst copying a manuscript.4 From this, we can see that all sayings in the Gerondikon seek to emphasize, in the strongest of terms the importance of obedience for a person setting out to live a monastic life. At this point one may be tempted to ask: ”whatever happened to the freedom of that human person?”

All such stories will not only seem to be a stumbling block for ”logical” or ”rational” persons but also absurd, if not at the very least ambivalent, unless they are seen as the only effective means of disarming pride and one”s autonomous self-orientated existence. Indeed the extremities of obedience described are nothing other the powerful antidote or remedy needed for the extremity of the world”s fallen state. The Gerondikon is clear in stating that the practice of obedience, even when it may seem at first ”irrational” acquires a profound meaning only when it is understood as a means of training the soul of the novice. Just as disobedience was the cause of the fall of the first Adam, so too, obedience becomes the means, by which the human person can be restored to their primordial state of existence. That such a teaching is Scriptural can be seen from the letter of St Paul to the Romans, which relates to Christ”s saving obedience as a example for all human persons:

For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (Rom 5:19).

Just as Christ, through His obedience opened the door to Paradise through to God the Father, so too, will all human persons be led to the glory of God through their obedience (cf 2 Cor 9:13). That is, the self-seeking ego, which entered human history with the fall of Adam can only be transformed to a communal manner of existence – that is, a life in communion with God and the world around – with the daily struggle of the monk to become obedient in all things. And it is precisely for this reason that the practice of obedience is placed over charitable acts which a monk may perform by his own will.5 As such, obedience is considered to be ”the first of virtues”.6 In an age of radical individualism, where the human person has become the measure of all things, such stories relating to ascetical obedience become all the more important as inspiring examples which can lead to our freedom from our ”crowded solitude” – which is nothing other than a dead existence even before we die.

The Freedom of Obedience

From the above, it has become clear that the issue of obedience is extremely important both in the Scriptures and the Patristic ascetical tradition as a means for life-giving ”communion” and freedom. If one were to give some working definition, it could be said that within the life of the Church, obedience is fundamentally both a gift of communion with God and the dynamic realisation of that communion which can only occur in freedom and which leads to freedom. Understood in this way, obedience does not only signify the gift of fellowship bestowed by God on the obedient person, but also that person”s striving to make this mode of existence a permanent reality in their life. That is to say, obedience is not only a gift bestowed by God leading to communion with God but also the active response by the person towards God. Ultimately obedience is a gift from above which is bestowed upon humanity as the effective means for beginning the struggle to cease living in isolation, opting instead to allow our life to be governed by the freedom of a life in Christ which leads to life eternal (cf Eph 2:14). Indeed this can only happen in the first place because Christ has opened the way for it and bestowed upon the world this gift of communion with God. But it also requires our free acceptance in humility and obedience upon recognizing that we no longer wish to isolate ourselves from the fullness of life. Consequently it becomes apparent that the freedom of obedience comes to be seen as both a gift and goal of our Christian life. In this way, our life must be characterised by a daily struggle to receive this gift from God in all humility and increasingly offer our life willingly back to God.

Understood in this dynamic way, it becomes evident that obedience is inseparably linked with the notions of ”communion” and ”freedom” whereby the absence of one of these elements inevitably leads to a misdirected understanding of this virtue. Accordingly, obedience is in contradistinction to any tendency for a self-centred, self-serving and non-communal existence, which inevitably can only lead to death even though we may be ”alive” on a merely biological level. Obedience becomes an attitude to life, which enables the radical transformation from an individually-centred existence to that of a communally focused mode of existence. That is, in the practice of obedience, it becomes possible for persons to experience, here and now, even by way of foretaste, the existential event of God”s communal mode of life. And this cannot happen unless human persons willingly (notice again the will is not destroyed) cease to draw their existence from their individuality, which is corrupt and mortal and can therefore only lead to death, but instead, realize that the source of life is from God. In this way obedience emerges as a power beyond the human, which can destroy the barrier of egotism and isolationism opening up, instead a taste of the fullness of life offered as a communion of love. Obedience therefore implies a communal way of life, which arises from a relationship of co-operation thereby creating real bonds of co-existence.

The life of the person who has freely decided to lead an obedient life – i.e. one in communion with God – does not become diminished but on the contrary is enriched and built up. Indeed, obedience is practiced so that the person can become free, free from simply acting out of instinct. Obedience ultimately says that true freedom is born from the moment that one decides not to be conformed to one”s self-seeking will choosing instead to draw the fullness of life from God. It is only within the context of selfless love, which is nothing other than one”s commitment to obedience that freedom is borne within. Far from becoming a slave or leading a docile life, the obedient person is made free in so far as he or she is liberated from a captivated state of an isolated existence by destroying the wall raised between them and God. Paradoxically, true freedom which is liberation even from the confines of death can only take place in precisely the same manner as that of Christ – that is, it is only in surrendering our own self-will, by burying it since it has become alienated from God and has deluded itself into believing that it is self-sufficient and self-regarding, that it will be resurrected by being conformed, by grace to a communal life in God, which is eternally free. Therefore it has been clearly shown to what extent obedience can be truly seen within the context of communion and freedom.

In the next issue we will discuss the context in which this practice of obedience takes place, namely the spiritual elder.

Dr Philip Kariatlis
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College

Footnotes

1. The sayings of the desert fathers is a collection of sayings written between the fourth and fifth centuries by certain abbas and ammas inviting the reader not to imitate them blindly but rather to be inspired by their burning desire for God. As such, it is a highly relevant book which will only be understood if the reader can appreciate that these desert fathers and mothers give ”glimpses” of the fullness of a radically renewed life of the eschatological age.
2. It is said that the dry stick was the staff of the novice”s spiritual father.
3. Gerontikon [in Greek] (Astir: Athens, 1981), 44.
4. Apophthegmata, Mark the disciple of Silvanus I, 2 (293D-296B).
5. According to a saying attributed to Abba Rufus, the monk who “pursues hospitality acts by his own will. And he who is in the desert has withdrawn by his own will. But he who has patience and has renounced everything that is of his own will, depends on God and his own father”. (Cited in Stelios Ramfos, Like A Pelikan in the Wilderness (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2000), 120.
6. Cf John Climacus, Ladder 4. PG 88:680 and 717 cited in John Chryssavgis, Soul Mending: The Art of Spiritual Direction (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2000), 102.

The Freedom of Obedience
(Part III)

Introductory Remarks

In the last issue of the Voice of Orthodoxy, the virtue of obedience was examined by looking at several sayings from the desert fathers. From this we were able to reflect theologically upon the importance of obedience for a life of freedom in Christ. The third part of this study will look briefly at the context in which the freedom of obedience is lived out, namely one’s relationship with the spiritual elder.

Obedience to a Spiritual Elder

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the path to freedom, through obedience takes place within the context of a spiritual elder. That is to say, far from being an acceptance of a set of faceless rules which are to be adhered to, obedience is realised within the communal context of an intimate relationship with one’s spiritual elder. That the experience of faith in God takes place within this context of obedience is seen clearly in the letter of Jude:

Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3).

Clearly for St Jude, the experience of faith took place within the context of obedience . namely when each faithful member of the ecclesial community entrusted themselves to specific persons who had gone before them. In the case of the letter of Jude, the integrity of the faith was maintained when it was received by concrete personalities who were responsible for ‘taking’ the faithful by the hand in order to lead them to God. Clearly therefore, the relevance of this passage for today is that it affirms the fact that since our faith is something delivered to us and not something which is discovered by ourselves then we need to entrust ourselves, that is obey, those consecrated people responsible for upholding the integrity of the faith.

Indeed, the insistence, by the Orthodox tradition, that obedience is not given to any abstract collective . whether they be canons or any other form of ecclesiastical law . but to concrete persons is also stressed in the letter to the Hebrews:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. (Heb 13:7)

In accordance with the letter to the Hebrews, the Church has always taught that the integrity of obedience is expressed decisively through concrete personalities acting of course within the parameters of the true faith. Furthermore, within the ascetic tradition of the Church as a whole, so fundamental was this relationship of obedience between elder and novice that it constituted distinct areas of study for many spiritual writers. One such example is St John Climacus who in his presentation of the Christian life considered obedience to be a foundational virtue without which one could not advance spiritually in their journey to encounter God. Or to put it another way, according to Climacus it would be delusional to assume that one’s endeavour to meet the living God could be realised without the spiritual elder. From both the Biblical and Patristic witness, it becomes clear that since the Church has always had a specific group of people divinely appointed not only to express the full deposit of the fullness of the faith of the Church but also to spiritually ‘form’ the faithful, it is for this reason that the faithful have to entrust themselves freely to these people with their obedience.

Eastern Orthodox tradition

The Eastern Orthodox tradition would claim that the spiritual elder sacramentally makes present, as a living icon, God Himself and does nothing more than speak the word of God to his children. It is for this reason that even to this day, one hears monks on Mount Athos saying ‘give me a word’ precisely because in that ‘word’, from their elder they perceive the very ‘Word of God’. And so, the spiritual elder becomes the living voice of God and not simply one from whom one receives valuable private opinions. Bishop Kallistos Ware beautifully described this relationship in the following way:

In reality, this relationship is not two-sided but triangular, for in addition to the abba and his disciple there is also a third partner, God.1

It is this charismatic dimension of ‘spiritual guidance’ that has the power to transform the obedient person leading to a freedom in God beyond the confines of this transitory life, riddled with corruption and death. Consequently, far from inhibiting one.s freedom, or being reduced to mere submissiveness, obedience is that virtue which ¡°occurs within the context of loving trust and personal relationship between two people in Christ, which in itself reveals the presence of Christ¡±.2 It follows therefore that, as a fellow servant of God, the spiritual elder acts as a guide and a friend along the way. It is precisely for this reason that the spiritual elder is often depicted either as a guide who, like Moses, can lead and direct a person out of servitude and into the promised land of God’s kingdom; or as a physician who knows, through the gift of discernment how to remove the ailing wounds of the vices from the faithful thereby restoring them to spiritual whole-ness and integrity.3 Finally the spiritual elder is compared to a teacher, who takes the disciple by the hand thereby initiating them into the mysteries of God.4 With these images, the Church has wanted to emphasize the importance of the spiritual elder in liberating the faithful from their spiritual ailments. But for this to occur, the faithful have to freely abide by the teachings of God as expressed through their spiritual directors.

From all that has been said above, a point of clarification is needed so as not to leave room for any misunderstanding. That obedience is important for all faithful Christians and not simply for monks is undeniably evident. This means, those leading a married life are equally called to live a life of obedience. And so, for example, husbands and wives would need to listen to, and obey, their spouse. A monk once advised the husband of a couple who had just been married to listen and obey his wife when it came to doing tasks that she might happen to suggest around the house – even menial chores like taking out the waste without saying that he would do them later or not at all – as this could not but be one important ingredient for a blessed marriage.5 In emphasizing the importance of obedience for all however, it would seem that it would not be entirely mistaken to make a distinction between the obedience of monastics who have formally taken a special vow of obedience and the faithful in general living in the world.6 Perhaps it could be said that, just as the responsibility of all within the Church, clergy, laity and monastics is one and the same . that is, to be saved within the communal experience of the ekklesia . even though each person has a varying degree of that same responsibility within the life of the Church, so too the voluntary obedience to the will of God is one and the same for all, even though each member of the Church is called to live this out in a uniquely distinct, and therefore infinitely diverse manner.

Viewed within its communal relationship with God, what must be emphasized is that the obedient person comes under the grace of God and not under the law. Indeed, in this daily struggle to be obedient (each in his/her own unique manner), what is absolutely certain is that the person’s free will must not destroyed. According to St Barsanuphius:

Do not force people’s free will, but sow in hope; for our Lord did not compel anyone, but He preached the good news, and those who wished hearkened unto Him.7

Far from destroying the freedom of the person, the spiritual father (or mother) is there to help his or her disciples to discern the truth for themselves so that they can truly become all that God created them to be. As such obedience becomes the door to freedom and communion.

Concluding Remarks

We saw that through obedience the Christian person is able to reverse the movement towards an existentially autonomous mode of existence [which results in death] thereby beginning to restore their human nature as it was originally meant to be . that is, in communion with the grace of divine life. Experienced as such by the Church, it was shown that obedience represented the unique potential for salvation from a lonely alienated existence and a parallel co-existence in which there is no convergence either with the world around or let alone with God. Consequently obedience becomes all the more important in today’s society which tends to live in total isolation having a false sense of security in its supposed autonomy. On the contrary obedience liberates the person from becoming enclosed in his/her hardened shell of an individualistic existence (incurvatio hominis in se), which can only deprive that person from the fullness of life. Accordingly the divine gift of obedience is a radically new communal reality, which offers that person a participation and share in true freedom . that is, a gift of freedom from God even from death. Yet, in so far as the gift of obedience needs to be fully manifested and lived out in each person, it constitutes a postulate which will be fully realized in the age to come. However, already in this life, in putting their trust in God, as this is mediated through a spiritual guide, the obedient ones can be assured that their soul will continue to dwell in God. And so, unlike the proud who are not only a law unto themselves but are dictated by their instincts, the obedient ones, in surrendering themselves entirely to God will have been blessed with the eschatological gift of freedom from God, already from this life.

I end with one last example of liberating obedience, this time not from within the ascetical tradition of the Eastern Orthodox tradition but from an incident related of an uneducated yet wise and faithful man living in the twenty-first century here in Sydney, Australia. Profoundly illuminating in its simplicity, the story relates how this man, upon being ‘ordered’ by a child to leave the room that he had entered, because he had ostensibly ‘bothered’ this young boy who was watching television, obeyed and left immediately. This concrete action taken by this person (as this can obviously not be applied to all), was done not because the man’s pride was wounded or because he had become angry and did not want to express this, deciding instead to withdraw within himself by leaving the room. Rather, it is said that this simple and unassuming man was truly gifted with the virtue of obedience, like those illumined monks of the desert, so that with any given experience, he had honestly led himself to believe that any thought expressed by another . even by a little child . was exceedingly more important than his own. In this way, he had learnt to liberate himself from himself by utterly emptying himself of his ego, and, in this way allowing the grace of God . that is the very presence of God – to reign within.

Dr Philip Kariatlis
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College

Footnotes

1. Kallistos Ware, ‘The Spiritual Guide in Orthodox Christianity’, in The Inner Kingdom, vol. 1 of the Collected Works (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 2000), 144.
2. J. Chryssavgis, Soul Mending, 102.
3. Cf Sts Anastasius the Sinaite, Quaestiones 6 (PG 89:369-372), Symeon the New Theologian, Catechetical Discourses 14.
4. For a more extensive reflection on the spiritual elder as a guide, physician, teacher and sponsor see John Chryssavgis, Ascent to Heaven (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1989), 211-230.
5. A saying from a monk of the Monastery of Panagia of Pantanassa (Mangrove Creek, New South Wales, Australia).
6. Cf the late Fr Alexander Men: “A monk promises to be obedient, to do whatever his spiritual father requires. A parish priest cannot impose such a model on lay people and cannot arrogate to himself the right to give peremptory orders”. Quoted it Yves Hamant, Alexander Men: A Witness for Contemporary Russia (Torrance, CA: Oakwood Publications, 1995), 124 cited in Kallistos Ware, The Spiritual Guide in Orthodox Christianity, 142.
7. Questions and Answers, paragraphs 25, 51 and 35 cited in Kallistos Ware, The Spiritual Guide in Orthodox Christianity, 145.