Gospel – a “private” book.

This new family-the body of Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit-is responsible for writing the Gospel, which is not a systematic exposition of the Christian teaching, precisely because it is not concerned with teaching. Jesus did not leave behind Him a new philosophical system, nor did He institute a mere religion. He left His body and sent His Spirit. And the Gospel consists of fundamental elements from the life of Jesus and the experience of the new community in Christ. St John the Evangelist speaks clearly of the restricted character of the Gospel: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). However, those things which the world could not contain if they were written in detail are found, made known and lived in the Church, where Jesus Himself lives. Those who think they know Christ outside the Church know very few things about Him; those who belong to the Church live “in Him”. Thus we can say that the Gospel is essentially a “private” book. It belongs to the Church, which has a world-wide mission. Or, to put it another way, outside the Church the Gospel is a sealed and incomprehensible book. This is characteristically expressed in the way that it is placed on the altar in the Orthodox Church, for it is within the Church that the ministry of the Gospel is accomplished.

Later, when needs present themselves, the Church will formulate dogma, which is only an expression, perhaps in a different way, of the truth which it has embraced from the day of Pentecost, “Having received all the spiritual illumination of the Holy Spirit…” the Fathers who proclaimed Christ “set forth the faith taught by God.”

The Gospel and dogma are expressions of the same Spirit of the Church. The Church is not producing literature when it writes the Gospel nor engaging in philosophy when it formulates dogma, but in both cases it is expressing the fulness of the new life hidden within it. For this reason, the Gospel cannot be understood outside the Church nor dogma outside worship.

Archimandrite Vasileios Hymn of Entry (p. 17-18)

19 Responses to Gospel – a “private” book.

  1. Lee says:

    Fr. Patrick – thanks for the recommendations!

  2. Lee,

    I haven’t read it sorry. “The Orthodox Church” by Bishop Kallistos Ware is a good introduction but there a good number of books available now and I have lost touch with what is there. Try looking at Light & Life (www.light-n-life.com) for a wide range of books online.

  3. Lee says:

    Fr. Patrick – I see. Thanks for your response!

    By the way – I’m planning on reading Light from the Christian East by John Payton. Do you (or does anyone else reading this) have any opinion on this book as a general introduction to the Orthodox Church?

  4. Lee,

    The participation in the Transfiguration did not necessarily mean the disciples had reached perfection but that they were the best able to be there. It also doesn’t mean that Peter couldn’t later fall; even some great ascetic warriors perfect in virtues fell during or at the end of their struggles. Nevertheless, the answer I gave presupposed the Orthodox understanding that man lives in the life to come now. It is not something only for later but it begins here; it is the first resurrection. We reign with Christ from our baptism, even though still in the flesh and with much growth needed. Theosis is possible to us before death but this occurs with only a very few. For most it is something to be experienced in the second Resurrection.

    I believe the passage as such reflects what happens in theosis. It is largely directed to the life to come but it does not exclude fulfilment by a few even before their souls’ separation from their bodies and later reunion in the final resurrection.

  5. Lee says:

    Whoops – sorry about the unruly italics. Only the “not” in “not clouded” and “Heaven” were supposed to be italicized.

  6. Lee says:

    Fr. Patrick,

    I agree that most of our minds and hearts are still clouded by sin – but I find it interesting that you except Peter, James, and John during the Transfiguration. Do the Orthodox hold that these three were granted the opportunity to witness the Transfiguration because they were not clouded by sin at that time? That seems a remarkable way to look at Peter, especially!

    I’m afraid that I’m not sure if I see an answer to my question in your reply – please bear with me. (On the other hand, perhaps my question wasn’t clear!) I see 1 Cor. 13:12 as looking forward to Heaven as when we will know as we are known (see also 1 Cor. 8:3; Gal. 4:9). Do the Orthodox see this passage as referring to theosis and fully participating in the divine nature?

  7. […] to a guy named Andrew over at Energetic Procession for the Dix […]

  8. Lee,

    Even though we meet Him fully in the Liturgy, because He is fully present in the Eucharist, it is still in a Mystery. Very few people are yet ready to see Him as He is, although some have, such as Sts Peter, John and James on the mountain during the Transfiguration. This is a mercy to us because most of our minds and hearts are still clouded by sin.

  9. Lee says:

    Fr. Patrick – you said “We meet Christ in His fullness in the Liturgy.” How does this relate to 1 Cor 13:12 “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known”?

  10. Andrew says:


    I think the inestimable Dom Gregory Dix should be drummed up here, for he addresses your question specifically:

    We know now, too, that the Apostolic paradosis of practice, like the Apostolic paradosis of doctrine, is something which actually ante-dates the writing of the New Testament documents themselves by some two or three decades. It is presupposed by those documents and referred to more than once as authoritative in them. This paradosis of practice continued to develop in complete freedom from any control by those documents for a century after they were written, before they were collected into a New Testament ‘Canon’ and recognised for the first time as authoritative ‘Scripture’ beside and above the Jewish ‘Scriptures’ of the Old Testament, which alone formed the ‘Bible’ of the Apostolic Church. Now that the history of the Canonisation of the New Testament is better understood, we can begin to shake ourselves free from the sixteenth century — or rather the mediaeval — delusion that primitive Christian Worship and Church Order must have been framed in conscious deference to the precedents of a New Testament which as such did not yet exist. The purely occasional documents now found in it do not contain, and were never intended by their authors to contain, anything like the Old Testament codes of prescriptions for the rites of worship. That was governed by the authoritative ‘Apostolic Tradition’ of practice, to which it is plain that the scattered Gentile Churches adhered pretty rigidly throughout the second century. I am not for a moment seeking to question the authoritative weight of the New Testament Scriptures for us as a written doctrinal standard. I am only trying to point out that there is available another source of information on the original and authentic Apostolic interpretation of Christianity, which the Scriptures presuppose and which must be used in the interpretation of the Scriptures. I do not deny that in time the recognition of this fact will be bound to lead to some considerable readjustment of ideas for more than one set of people. But tonight all I would say is that the liturgical tradition can be shewn to be older in some of its main elements than the New Testament Scriptures, and that down to the end of the second century, at least, it was regarded as having an ‘Apostolic’ authority of its own independently of them. We cannot look, therefore, for any attempt in this period to conform the practice of worship to them artificially. Nevertheless, the two do illustrate one another in a remarkable way.

    From The Theology Of Confirmation In Relation To Baptism


  11. Nathan,

    The Orthodox do not derive how to worship from the Scriptures but from the tradition passed onto the Apostles by Christ and passed on largely orally. It remained a matter of secrecy in the early Church and there are still elements of this in the manner of conducting the Liturgy today. This was because these things were those within the Church and not outside the Church. The Scriptures testify to Christ’s life and that of the early Church. St Paul’s letters help to show insights into the organisation and issues of the early Church but do not attempt to provide a systematic teaching of Church worship or ritual. Thus, one does not need to find things in the Scripture to establish that they are correct but rather in the continuous Tradition of the Church. The Liturgy has aspects reflected in the Scripture, such as the breaking of bread as mentioned in Corinthians. It is this coming together for this purpose that is named Liturgy but the name is not limited to this.

    The Liturgy was appointed through the Apostles by Christ for the Church to do; it is its public service so to speak. It is the life of the Church, the breaking of bread, the gathering for prayer and the preaching of the Scriptures. The Church cannot exist without the Liturgy or the Liturgy without the Church. The Liturgy properly is the work of God within which man participates and shares. It is the manifestation of the life of Christ and we unite ourselves with Him in sharing this in participating in the ritual, hearing the Scriptures and partaking of the Gifts. We offer ourselves with Christ on the Cross and share in His resurrection; we begin the life to come now with Him. We meet Christ in His fullness in the Liturgy.

    The Tradition is the overall collection of teaching and of practices from Christ given to the Apostles and passed by them onto the Church to guide its life (in parallel with the Torah given to Moses). It is preserved by the Fathers to this day. The Saintly Fathers who are recognised teachers of the Church were considered to be inspired but not always free from error, nevertheless, they are considered trustworthy for teaching on the Faith and spiritual life. Some Fathers have a greater status than others, especially St John Chrysostom, St Basil the Great and St Gregory the Theologian, who are considered Ecumenical (universal) teachers. The Scriptures hold the first place among Church writings and are considered completely reliable and written by the Apostles or their disciples. They set the rule (canon) by which other writings can be measured for there fidelity to the Tradition and as such there is no necessity to add to the Scriptures, also the condition of Apostolic writing can no longer be met since the passing of the Apostle John. God speaks continually to us and Christ never ceases as the Head of the Church guiding her and preserving her in all truth. This is chiefly manifest through the Fathers and especially in the Ecumenical Councils that defended the Faith from heresies and preserved the practical traditions from corruption. God’s word at any time is authoritative and as such it is preserved and followed along with the Scripture without needing to be directly included in books of the New Testament.

    The verse you quoted in Hebrews does refer to faith but it does not limit our participation to faith alone. Rather is points to the principle of our willingness to participate. St Paul was writing to encourage the readers to persevere in the faith rather than in an attempt to define what participation means. The testimonies of Scripture that refer to the Liturgy are in places such as St John Chapter 3 in Christ’s talk with Nicodemos, St John Chapter 6, Luke Chapter 22, Matthew Chapter 26, Corinthians 11, Luke 24 (reflect carefully on this in light of Orthodox teaching), Acts Chapters 2 and 20, all concerning the breaking of bread, the core of the Liturgy, Matthew 28, 1 Peter 3, regarding Baptism, Ephesians 5 is also an important testimony to participation as Orthodox understand it. Apart from this we have a continuous history of the Liturgy of the Church as understood by the Orthodox; it has always been part of the Church. Read St Ignatios writing around 100 AD, St Justin Martyr around 150AD, St Ireanaus around 180 AD, all these bear a similar witness to the Liturgy.

    I hope this helps.

  12. Nathan, the way you are applying 2 Timothy takes away any need for a church service at all. Missionaries should just pass out Bibles and leave. It is the Sola Scriptura heresy which the early church never believed and which has caused such division in Protestant land. The order of service is not detailed in the Bible and is why we need the Church who preserved it and passed it down to give the Gospel its proper context. It is my understanding that the Liturgy of St. James is the one the church of Acts used, and as heresies came up it was added to to make the Orthodox truth more clear. We use St. Chrysostom’s Liturgy most often, and St. Basil’s slightly longer version during Great Lent.

    We become united to Christ in the Liturgy through baptism and properly preparing for and partaking of the Eucharist. This is necessary for our salvation as explained in our literal and Incarnationally material and spiritual view of John 6.

  13. nathanwells says:

    or the St. John Chrysostom liturgy?

  14. nathanwells says:

    A quick question: Do most Orthodox churches hold to the liturgy of Saint Gregory or do they use others?

  15. nathanwells says:

    Monk Patrick,

    You said, “The Gospel cannot be divorced from this Liturgy and the Church, which is formed and is maintained in the Liturgy.”

    That is a very interesting statement – and one I believe you would have a really tough time finding in God’s word.
    For it is written: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

    Where is the litergy condoned, or given authority by God? When was the litergy given equality with Scripture and the Church? Is tradition equal with God’s word? If it is, are there any errors in what the “fathers” have written? If there are not – why are they not in the Bible? Why are they extra-biblical?

    You also said, “The Church through the Liturgy partakes of Christ in all ways to become fully united to Him in mind and body.”

    It says in Hebrews: “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,” (Hebrews 3:14)

    Based on what the Bible says, how am I to come to believe that I must become a partaker of Christ through the litergy? In this context, it is through belief (for the author is warning against unbelief – and therefore endurance refers to belief that does not fail). Where do you get this doctrine from?

    I do appreciate your interaction with me – and the time you have spent in writing. I realize our beliefs are quite different, and there are some things we have miscommunicated because of difference in “cultures”, but I am interested in learning how you interact with these thoughts and with Scripture as you seek to know and serve God.

  16. The Gospel is not concerned with teaching, not because it doesn’t teach us but because its primary aim is not about a systematic exposition of the truth rather it is a witness and testament to Christ, especially His Incarnation. It is a record in words of the revelation of Christ to us, just as the ritual of the Liturgy is also such a representation and so too are icons. They all, in their particular manner, witness to Christ. More than this they make real the presence of Christ, who is with us incarnate in these things with the Liturgy as the centre of this Incarnation. All things point to this and are fulfilled in this because they are fulfilled in Christ. The Gospel cannot be divorced from this Liturgy and the Church, which is formed and is maintained in the Liturgy. Yes it can draw men to Christ when read outside but apart from the Liturgy people see a incomplete picture of Christ; only in the Church and the Liturgy do we meet Christ in full, He in us and we in Him. This is because knowing Christ is not only an intellectual exercise but more a holistic experience of all man’s being. We must transcend intellectual knowledge because this is only an extrinsic model of God but must know Him in a way that is beyond words or description, in the uncreated Light of His glory. The importance of the distinction of essence and energies is because only thus can we truly know God, otherwise we are forever separated from Him unable to know Him except in shadows and behind veils, unable to experience the Light of His Divinity. Not to limit knowledge to vision but also including to experience the energies of God in all aspects of our life, not extrinsically but as our own.

    The Church is the Body of Christ; it is the Incarnate presence of Christ. As such we do not join the Church only abstractly by a confession of faith but also materially. The Church is not an abstract and invisible community of believers but a tangible and visible community of those united to Christ in mind and body, it also transcends this and includes those souls resting in paradise waiting for the Resurrection of the Last Day. This joining is achieved in Baptism in faith (infants are not excluded from this union but are baptised in the faith of their god-parents until they are old enough to own it for themselves), at which point we are united with Christ and to the Church. The Church through the Liturgy partakes of Christ in all ways to become fully united to Him in mind and body. Christ is personally present in each person and His Spirit dwells within our hearts, as far as we are willing to receive Him.

  17. George says:

    I’ll presume a little about what the Archmandrite is saying.

    The Gospel is “not concerned with teaching”, the Church is concerned with teaching, and healing and transformation. The Gospel (meaning the 4 Books) are one means the Church uses. But the Gospel (the 4 books) are not anything like a systematic exposition of Christian theology – neither is the whole of the New Testament.

    I like the way Fr. Gregory Hogg put it (Lutheran cleric, philosopher and theologian turned Orthodox priest). As a Lutheran he felt that when Lutheranism was pure, it was wholly aligned with the Gospel. But one Sunday he attended an Orthodox Divine Liturgy and was floored… he says that he had never in his life heard such a perfect articulation of the whole Gospel (I would have to agree). This Liturgy of the Church (the work of the Church) expresses richly what salvation is about, using the Gospels and many other means to do so. When the Archmandrite says “the Gospel cannot be understood outside the Church”, I have to say that was (and is) true in my case. Having read it hundreds of times before converting, and heard it explained in countless services, I had missed it.

    Jesus was indeed called Teacher by some, but He did not leave us a textbook on parchment. We venerate the Gospels, even physically, but there was never an intent to communicate salvation via document nor dogma. We must participate in the sacraments, become living prayer, annihilate the passions by various means, and become sinless. Or die trying. All of this activity is done in faith, and is entirely consistent with the Gospels and Epistles, but cannot be derived from the Gospels and Epistles in isolation.

  18. nathanwells says:

    Interesting post.

    I agree to a great extent. But just a few comments and questions.

    You said, “it [the Gospel] is not concerned with teaching”

    What do you call it when Jesus speaks? Are the Gospels not concerned at all with what Jesus said? And if they are, what is the word that you would use for that type of speaking?

    Also, what was a title that was given to Jesus by many (actually, Jesus even used this term of himself in Matthew 26:18)?

    Also – because what you quoted did not really define what the “Church” is, I wanted to ask: When I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, am I part of the Church instantly? Or is there something more I must do?

    What of the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26-40, was he part of the Church?

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