Category Archives: theology

The ultimate human experience.

From a church bulletin:

The Resurrection of Jesus… was the ultimate human experience. For the first time, a human brain and a human nervous system were suffused from within by the energies of the Resurrection. The whole, material universe begins to be transformed from that moment to what Paul will call “the fullness of Christ.” For the first time, a human heart pulsed with a life beyond the power of death, the pulsation of a heart which will never stop. For all eternity that heart will beat.

Jesus was thereby manifest as the “firstborn from the dead” as he is called in the book of Revelation. His experience of rising from the dead, the first man to do so, is the secure promise of the glory that awaits all those who are joined to him in faith and Divine Grace. This will be the final stage of Salvation. The final stage of Salvation will come only at the end of the world. You see, even dying and going to heaven is not the last stage. It’s a rather important one, but it’s not the last stage. True Soteria—True Salvation—is found when our bodies will rise in glory.

—Father Patrick Henry Reardon

 

Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

The Apostles’ preaching and the Fathers’ doctrines
have established one faith for the Church.
Adorned with the robe of truth, woven from heavenly theology,
it defines and glorifies the great mystery of Orthodoxy!
-Hymn for the feast

On the seventh Sunday of Pascha we Orthodox commemorate the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. This gathering was organized by the Emperor Constantine in 325. St. Nicholas of Myra and many others whom we now know as saints were present.

Arianism (not Aryanism) had been a recurring source of controversy in the early Church, and when Constantine called for a council, it was primarily out of a desire to settle the underlying theological questions. This was the Council at Nicea in Asia Minor, held in 325, where the major part of the Nicene Creed was formulated. Many of the hymns and readings for this feast are very theological, too.

St. Athanasius

On the site linked above, we read, “A list of bishops at the council exists, including about 230 names, though there are indications that the signature lists are defective. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (Athanasius the Great) puts the number at 318, which is regarded as a mystically significant number, as in Genesis 14:14, the number of servants whom Abraham (then still named “Abram”) took with him to rescue his nephew Lot.”

Though we aren’t commemorating the Fathers of the second council today, those who completed the Creed as we know it, I wanted to post the full Symbol of Faith here, as we profess it in our daily prayers and in many services. The majesty and splendor of The Holy Trinity and of His loving plan of salvation captivate me from the first few lines, and by the time we get to “the Life of the age to come,” I am full of joy at being a participant in this Life. Here is some background:

The Creed as it now stands was formed in two stages, and the one in use today in the Orthodox Church reflects the revisions and additions made at the Second Ecumenical Council. Some centuries later, the Roman Catholic Church attempted a unilateral revision of the Creed by the addition of the Filioque, this being one of the causes of the Great Schism between Rome and the rest of the Church.”

THE CREED

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;
And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father;
And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets;
And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
We look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the Life of the age to come. Amen.

You are most glorious, O Christ our God! 
You have established the Holy Fathers
as lights on the earth! 
Through them you have guided us to the true faith! 
O greatly Compassionate One, glory to You!

Suspenseful, but not impossible.

Wholeness was the plan, when God created the cosmos. Then, humans distanced themselves from their maker, the one with whom they had walked in the garden. Harmony between the man and the woman was broken, and they both lost connection with their true selves, which had been grounded in the Giver of Life.

C.S. Lewis imagines how an unfallen world might have looked, in his novel Perelandra, which I recently re-read. A scientist with a utopian vision comes from Earth to a strange planet — of course, we have plenty of this stuff to export! — to be the tempter of the Eve figure, the Green Lady. She struggles to maintain her natural and primal, essential oneness with her god, and the drama that ensues is full of suspense.

I suppose it is because of my non-fiction fallen-world perspective that I despaired of the Green Lady being able to withstand the arguments of the oily Weston, even while descriptions of the grace-full divine dance with humans lifted my hopes. I don’t think it’s in my power to say more about this book or the whole trilogy, and what I have just written probably makes little sense, but the story came to mind when I read the poem below. Because the Green Lady won’t remain firm unless the strength comes from knowing who she is.

In this in-between world, the time of waiting for the fullness of the Kingdom, we get moments and glimpses of unity and wholeness, an intuition of how it might feel to be in full communion with one’s own being and one’s Maker, and from there, with other people. But our parts are mostly disjointed and disconnected.

IMPOSSIBLE FRIENDSHIPS

For example, with someone who no longer is,
who exists only in yellowed letters.
Or long walks beside a stream,
whose depths hold hidden
porcelain cups — and the talks about philosophy
with a timid student or the postman.
A passerby with proud eyes
whom you’ll never know.
Friendship with this world, ever more perfect
(if not for the salty smell of blood).
The old man sipping coffee
in St.-Lazare, who reminds you of someone.
Faces flashing by
in local trains—
the happy faces of travelers headed perhaps
for a splendid ball, or a beheading.
And friendship with yourself
—since after all you don’t know who you are.

-Adam Zagajewski

Father Alexander Schmemann writes about this in The Eucharist:

“… nowhere is the darkness of ignorance into which we were immersed with our fall from God more obvious than in man’s staggering ignorance of himself, and this in spite of the insatiable interest with which, having lost God, man studies himself and endeavors in his ‘sciences humaines’ to penetrate the mystery of man’s being. We live in an era of unrestrained narcissism, universal ‘turning into one’s self.’ But, as strange and even terrible as this may seem, the more elemental is this interest, the more obvious it is that it is nourished by some dark desire to dehumanize man.

“The thanksgiving offered by the Church [in the Eucharist] each time answers and destroys precisely this not only contemporary but age-old lie about the world and man. Each time it is a manifestation of man to himself, a manifestation of his essence, his place and calling in the light of the divine countenance, and therefore an act that renews and recreates man. In thanksgiving we recognize and confess above all the divine source and the divine calling of our life. The prayer of thanksgiving affirms that God brought us from nonexistence into being, which means that he created us as partakers of Being, i.e., not just something that comes from him, but something permeated by his presence, light, wisdom, [and] love….”

-Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist

This new balance remains fragile.

St. Gregory Palamas

To the brief passage below, taken from The Theology of Illness by Jean-Claude Larchet, the author attaches four footnotes, in which he references St. John Chrysostom, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Gregory Palamas, Vladimir Lossky and the Book of Job. He is a patristics scholar for sure! And he manages to incorporate many quotes from church fathers and Scripture  in the main text as well, without making it hard to read. In fact, it is pure pleasure to follow Larchet’s explanations as he gathers from great minds of the church and reveals the unity of their thought and faith.

“God, who envisions the salvation of man and through man of the entire universe, does not allow the forces of evil to submerge and destroy His creation. Man and nature remain partially protected by His Providence, which imposes certain limits on the negative activity of the Devil and his demons. Thereby God stabilizes the cosmos in its slide toward nothingness, establishing a certain order in the very heart of disorder. Even if man has lost the ‘likeness’ of God which he began to acquire, he nevertheless remains bearer of the divine ‘image,’ even if that image is veiled, obscured, and deformed.

“Thus man is not totally deprived of grace. Even in his weakness he retains sufficient spiritual power to be able, if he wishes, to turn again toward God and to obey the commandments which he continues to receive from Him (Dt 30:11-19). And thereby he is able to maintain, according to God’s own promise, a certain mastery over nature (cf. Gen 9:1-2).

“Nonetheless, this new balance remains fragile. Man and nature have become a battleground where evil and good, death and life, wage a permanent, merciless combat against each other. This combat is made evident by sickness, infirmity and suffering; and until the Incarnation of Christ, its outcome was uncertain.”

-Jean-Claude Larchet, The Theology of Illness