Church and Nationality

September 18, 2012

Here is part of a paper presented at the Orthodox Theological Research Forum recently held in Oxford, England. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware recommended it for publication, so I thought to share it here.

The sense of ethnic identity is part of self-identity. Each man has a personal character and he also reflects family, tribal, and regional or national identities or characteristics. In Christ these are placed below the unity of Christ, in that each man takes his primary identity from Christ but his human identities are not destroyed and so a man retains his personal, family and national characteristics. Thus, in the age to come there are people of all nations as all nations and yet one nation in Christ. The diverse human characteristics are united in Christ and do not divide as they do in themselves apart from Christ. Diversity is retained in the unity of Christ, except where that diversity is contrary to Christ. This unity requires that there are Church practices that are uniform to incarnate the mystery of Christ in all people and nations because that which is required to tangibly present Christ in human terms needs to be one in material/practical form since the unity of Christ includes unity in matter as well as in spirit. However, in the same manner that divinity does not consume humanity in Christ, neither does the humanity of Christ consume our humanity and so human diversity remains.

The unity of Christ is such that the Church cannot be defined along national or ethnic categories. Local and regional churches can only be defined in terms of geographical limits, within which there can only be one church, that is a synod in the form either of the bishop with his presbyters, the local diocese, or of a metropolitan with his bishops, a regional episcopal synod. However, these territorial limits can be taken from the territorial boundaries of a nation as well as those administrative boundaries within empires or states. Thus, in regional terms the synod of bishops can be defined in as those living in a particular national territory, as long as the definition is territorial rather than by any other category. Thus, if members of the Church from other regions/nations enter a territory they attend the services of the churches of that territory/nation within which they have entered rather than establishing their own churches. An exception to this is to allow parishes of different languages within the same territory to enable understanding of the services for those from other language groups. We have historical examples of this in Constantinople with Latin and Gothic parishes. Such exceptions will tend to reflect national differences but these latter differences should not be the reason for the exception but only language to enable understanding, following the teaching of St Paul.

The present situation in the UK and the US, as well as other places outside the established regions of Orthodox Churches, is rather complicated. The long established local religious communities in these places are heterodox and as such are not in unity with the Catholic Church, that is the Orthodox Churches in communion the Patriarch of Constantinople. Thus, the Orthodox emigrants to the UK or to the US did not have preexisting places of worship nor local hierarchy to establish such places. These had to be provided from their home regions. Sadly, due to lack of coordination between Orthodox Patriarchs, we have the situation of a number of hierarchs establishing churches for immigrants in the UK and the US. This situation has led to a neglect of the territorial definition of churches and to definition along national/ethnic categories, which is contrary to the teaching of Christ. We need to repent of this. It is suggested that the only way forward is to appoint and recognise a local territorially defined hierarchal structure for the UK or US with its own synod, although overseen by one of the present Patriarchs. Also, this hierarchy must attempt to convert the heterodox back to Orthodoxy and allow the local peoples to take ownership of the church within their own territory.

The use of vestments could be helpful to distinguish the hierarchy of the UK or the US from the hierarchies elsewhere. This is not in order to separate them but to highlight that the churches in the UK and the US are not part of other national churches, although most members within the churches in the UK and the US may be descended from these other nations. The churches in the UK and US should be seen as local churches in their own right. A distinction of vestments helps to provide visual recognition of this local hierarchy and to break it from being considered part of a nationally defined group. Yet, in terms of being orthodox, the vestments need to be consistent with the traditional form of vestments used through the history of the Church.

To enable the choice of vestments, even though most religious groups in the UK and the US are heterodox, some of their heritage comes from an orthodox background and maintains orthodox standards manifested in the cultural context of the UK and the US. It would be wise for the orthodox hierarchy not to impose an exterior manner of dress upon the UK and the US but rather to take what is already within that region consistent with Orthodox Tradition and establish it for use of orthodox Christians in that region. This would allow the local peoples to have greater identity and ownership of the church in their territory, rather than the church arriving as a foreign institution imposing its own national cultures as well as bringing orthodox Tradition. While it is important that each region or nation is established in the international community and participates in customs that are required for relationships across this international community, otherwise the local community becomes isolated and estranged, at the same time each region or nation should participate without losing the diversity of its own customs, where these do not go contrary to the international community. In orthodox terms the common customs of the international community are given in Holy Tradition, which is the common way of life in Christ as Christ that unites us with Christ, yet the regional customs are maintained that of self-rule in synergy with Christ as maintaining God’s image as man with the ability to govern. This governance is expressed in the diversity of customs within Tradition. For one national church to impose in entirety of its customs on another nation is to undermine and deny the self-rule of that nation thus denying the image of God in its people and the synergy of the relationship of God and man in deification.

For those wishing to look further into this here is a link to the paper of Metropolitan Kallistos on the same topic: ‘Neither Jew Nor Greek’: Catholicity And Ethnicity

How to see Tradition

September 4, 2012

There are variations in how people view Tradition. This post will briefly consider what may be two major views, although undoubtedly there are a number more and a range of nuances.

The first suggested view is that Tradition is some form of living thing that grows and develops over time and place such that how Tradition is manifest at the present time and place is how Tradition should be manifest. This means that the Tradition as presently practiced by churches in Greece is the Tradition of the Orthodox Church as it should be and this also applies in Russia, Serbia and all nations with an established Orthodox Church. While the Roman Catholic church, which sees Tradition somewhat in this manner, has centralised control over this, at least in theory, the Orthodox Churches do not have such centralised control and so Tradition becomes varied from place to place, as it has from time to time. Each variation in each place/time is seen as legitimate Tradition, even if it may be contrary to the Tradition held elsewhere because it is a continuation of that living Tradition foundered by the Apostles. An aspect of this view is that past expressions of the Tradition are no longer legitimate expressions of Tradition because they are not the expression of Tradition now. To revive such expressions becomes an innovation because they are not part of the living Tradition which only encompasses those practices/believes held now and there. This is also true of regional variations. A legitimate practice in one region is not necessarily legitimate in another because it is not the Tradition as it is in that region. The only question to legitimacy of this type of Tradition is whether one can remain in communion with other Orthodox regions. Mission is passing on the particular Tradition of the missionary in its full local form. This is because there is no means to distinguish a Church Tradition from a local custom; the two are almost synonymous. Authority, in this view, resides in the decisions of a recognised hierarchy, or the whole people, in itself. The authority is not constrained by the past, if though informed by it.

The other suggested view is that Tradition is a fixed set of teachings and practices that are passed on from generation to generation without change. This Tradition is the same in every time and place and variation from this Tradition due to time and place is not legitimate. The test for legitimacy is that of St Vincent:

This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

This view requires continuance of the Tradition to continue to be orthodox; churches retain vigilance with each other and challenge the legitimacy of change and break communion should the change be considered a breach of Tradition because the one changing is effectively denying the unity of faith. While regions can leave orthodox Tradition, they can also repent and return to orthodox Tradition. This view does not reject variation in practices unless they are contrary to the fixed practices of Tradition. Thus, a legitimate practice in the past remains legitimate at any time, excepting pastoral reasons otherwise. Legitimate ancient practices can be revived and given life again because they are expressions of the Tradition, which lives above any particular local continuance of the Tradition. Missionaries pass on the fixed Tradition, which can be distinguished from local customs, and can permit local variation in expression among those receiving the Tradition. Authority, in this view, must always be exercised in conformity with the past. Since nothing new is added, authority is always exercised in faithfulness to the past and it can be tested and judged by such.

Both views can overlap and so one with the first view can recognise a continuity with the past and one with the second view can see temporal and spacial variation.


Submitting to the Church

August 14, 2012

This post is a argument about rather then statement of the Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

What is meant when we say that that Orthodox Christians submit to the teaching of the Church? Unlike the Roman Catholics there is no central magisterium to which one can turn to find the teaching of the Church and to which to submit oneself. On this ground it would seem that speaking of submitting to the teaching of the Church is rather an import from a Roman Catholic model of the Church. The Orthodox Christian has no such authority to which to submit himself. He cannot find a normative Church voice in any particular one of the hierarchy in and of themselves. Any particular hierarch, or synod of hierarchs, is potentially fallible and cannot be said to infallibly present the teaching of the Church. Moreover what is meant by the teaching of the Church? This implies a body that teaches of itself, such again as the Roman Catholic idea of the Church headed by the Pope that operates in a manner autonomously on earth. The Orthodox Churches though have no single voice which speaks for the Church, which also cannot be conceived as separated from the Head, Christ, so the teachings of the Church are properly the teachings of Christ, her Head. The Church does not provide its own teachings but presents those of Christ; that is it teaches the Gospel. How does it present the teachings of Christ? Through its hierarchy, that is the Fathers.

So then, the Orthodox Christian follows the teachings of Christ as preserved and presented by the Fathers and submits to them as to Christ. Which Fathers? Those whom are recognised as authorities by those in the communion of the Orthodox Churches which had been received in continuity and conformity by the previous generations of the Church. Primarily it is certain canonical writings that are maintained as normative beginning with the Scriptures and including the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils, regional councils and individual Fathers. Christ’s teachings are preserved and maintained in all these writings, at least that is what is believed by the Orthodox. All these writings are both useful for salvation and require one’s belief to be in conformity to them. They establish the rule of the orthodox Faith given to the Apostles and not that of one’s own opinion. If one cannot accept any of these teachings then one is not Orthodox. If one reads some of these teachings in a manner that contracts other teachings then one is not Orthodox. If one accepts only part of the teachings held by the communion of Orthodox Churches today then one is not Orthodox in terms of this communion although such a one may consider themselves orthodox in there own opinion or that of a group separated from the Orthodox for self-opinion (heresy). While any particular Father is fallible on account of his humanity, some Fathers have been generally regarded as reliable in all of their writings, as well as those particular writings given direct normative value in the Ecumenical Councils, such as Sts Athanasius, Cyril, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Maximus the Confessor, Photius the Great, Dionysius the Areopagite, Gregory Palamas, Ignatius of Antioch and others. To understand the Faith in contraction to any of these Fathers is to not be orthodox, although on a couple of points any one of these Fathers may not present the teaching of Christ as consistent with the others but it is very unlikely to find such a point.

Being Orthodox though is more that being orthodox in Faith, it requires ecclesiological communion with those hierarchs who teach, present, and preserve the Faith passed on by previous generations of orthodox hierarchs/Fathers; the reason for this is beyond the scope of this post. There is no magic formula for knowing who these are apart from searching the truth and looking at the evidence and of course humble prayer that God leads one aright. Communion with hierarchs is distinct from a communion of believers of one mind because the hierarchy assumes structure, obedience and historical continuity. The system is bigger than an individual believer, or even hierarch, and precludes independent opinion as legitimate in its own right even if individuals, such as St Maximus the Confessor, may need to stand against the majority at that the time to ensure historical continuity of the Faith as well as geographical continuity. It also precludes self-starting a community of believers. The community must be generated by previously appointed hierarchs (Fathers). That is it is God as Father who gives birth to the members of the Church, sons of God, via the hierarchy, who bear the name Father on account of this mystery and who also ordain other hierarchs because it is from God that all authority comes.

So it is contended here that rather than speak of the submitting to the Church or the teaching of the Church, it is more appropriate for Orthodox Christians to speak of submitting to the communion of hierarchs that maintains the teaching of the Fathers who have preserved, presented and passed on the teaching of Christ, that is the Gospel. These hierarchs are the present day Fathers who pass on the Tradition once received as did the Apostles, should of course they rightly divide the word of Truth. Orthodox should speak and refer to the Fathers rather than the Church in terms of obedience and teaching. It is not wrong to say Church but it rather betrays a Roman Catholic tendency to see the Church as somewhat autonomous in itself with a single magisterium headed by the Pope. In a wider sense this is the tendency to see the church as the present day organisation without necessary reference to the previous generations so that what a church, rather its present leading authority, says now requires obedience regardless of its consistency to the past.

Cosmological/Geological Age, Evolution, Physical laws and Biblical time lines

February 22, 2012

This post is not about presenting a particular view or solution to the issues of the age of the world, evidence of evolution and the timescale recorded in the Scriptures. Rather it is intended to help a discussion on the matter by suggesting various issues that need addressing in attempting to harmonise the physical evidence that we see with the biblical evidence in terms of theological principles. Comments are welcome if they do not accuse others of ignorance, naivety nor betraying the Faith.

Since this is about an Orthodox understanding there are some basic truths that one must hold and that are not open to much debate. The first is that God is the creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. That is the universe cannot be considered to have come into being of its own accord nor by some determination or principle apart from God. Even all the laws of physics and randomness must come from God, so apart from God we cannot explain the existence of the universe. Also, we must be careful not to think of there existing a void or even nothing as a default understanding of existence; one would need to prove that the existence of non-existence can be a legitimate default position. I tend to find that the idea that non-existence exists contradictory. Rather I would argue, particularly as Orthodox Christians, that we start with the default of eternal omnipresent existing existence, that is “I am”, and move from there.

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Head coverings

February 9, 2012

I have been asked to write a post on the wearing of headscarves. The better terminology would be the wearing for head coverings of which a head scarf is one particular form of head covering.

According to St Paul men and women each have an iconic function that is: man is the image and glory of God and woman is the glory of man. This iconic function is seen in the manner of the roles of each, the appearance of each and in the relationships between them. The purpose of the iconic function is to manifest the relationship of God to man and make this relationship tangible in our daily lives. The male iconic image is to portray the governance of God over man and the female is to portray the obedience of man to God. Both govern and both obey since this is the relationship of all with God but between themselves a certain order is maintained that we may participate tangibly with God through such relationships and not merely abstractly with the unseen God. This order is manifest within the different levels of relationship between men and women. Mostly notably within the relationship of marriage where we clearly see elsewhere in St Paul the distinct roles of husband and wife in terms of Christ and the Church. However, there is also a public face in terms of permission to exercise public authority and teaching within the Church, the function of the hierarchy, which is permitted to men but not to women because it is God who governs and teaches us and we do not do these things to each other at a merely human level. Thus the male icon is appropriate for the hierarchy because it portrays the divine but the female icon portraying humanity learns in quietness and remains silent in the congregations. Women can govern and teach in private at home or among other women in a convent because man too shares in the governance and teaching of God to men. A married women is expected to exercise these roles in relation to her children. Women can serve the Church as deaconesses but this is a quiet role for ministry to women and it does not perform the same function as a male deacon in leading the congregation and exercising authority over minor orders.

Head coverings are the principle iconic form in terms of establishing ourselves as icons. This is because the main relationship aspect between God and man is in terms of governance and headship. Thus, the head is covered or uncovered to demonstrate this. Head coverings are asked of women to go with long hair as a free expression of obedience to God. Obedience is not forced of man to God but freely given by man hence long hair in itself, as a natural aspect, is not sufficient but a head covering is asked to be added in addition to show the free submission of man to God. The head covering is not merely for the wearers humility and obedience, it quietly bears testimony before all to lead all to obedience and humility. Because obedience to God is due at all times head coverings are also worn at all times, particularly in the presence of others, even in the home. Head coverings are most important though in relation to God seen when praying and also if prophesying. In these activities men uncover their heads to show the authority of God and also that mankind will reign with God in synergy. Women though remain covered to show the need of our continuing obedience to share one will with God. The symbolism of head covering is also used by male monastics to show their life of obedience, although they at times uncover their heads in recognition of the male iconic role that they also convey. The symbols and actions are also for the angels who also look upon us.

A head covering is supposed to cover the head fully as being completely under obedience to God. Thus, head scarves are appropriately wrapped around the head as are also many eastern forms of head coverings as used in Muslim, Jewish or even Hindu cultures. A small hat on top of the head, particularly one that is decorative, is not as appropriate although better than being without, which in terms of its symbolism is a sign of rebellion against God and of self-will, setting oneself as ruling like God if not done according to the will of God. Just as the relationship between God and man is true in all cultures so too is the requirement of head coverings. The only variation being in the type of material and the cut and shape of the coverings but the use of and minimum extent of the covering is to be applied in all cultures as a uniform aspect of Church culture.

Iconic functions are not merely symbolic as signs to teach of something else but there also establish the appropriate form within which Christ becomes present. Because humanity has form in its material aspect then a particular form is required to ensure the true presence of Christ in an incarnate and tangible manner to reflect the reality of our material condition. The material aspect truly participates in our life and existence and this is confirmed that specific material forms are required for mysteries to be manifest, so that the mystery encompasses both spiritual and material aspects of our existence.


A concern with Transubstantiation

February 3, 2012

Recently during a lecture referring to the change of the elements of the eucharist, a concern came to mind regarding the doctrine of transubstantiation. The concern is not whether there is a change of the elements into the body and blood of Christ but the implications of the specific teaching regarding the change of substance:

The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”

This can be understood to mean that while the appearances of the bread and wine (to be understood as wine mixed with water) remain those of bread and wine the substance of the bread and of the wine is no longer that of bread and wine but that of the body and the blood of Christ respectively. In other words it is as if the substance of bread has been replaced by the body and similarly the wine by blood. The bread and wine cease to be bread and wine and become something else. While this supports that the bread and wine have now become the body and blood of Christ, this doctrine raises a concern.

What is this concern? Considering the symbolism of the offering, the bread and wine are not merely offered as bread and wine in and of themselves but are also offered as Christ and as us. They are an offering that is at least symbolically connected to the offering of the Lord’s body and blood and also our own body and blood. Keeping in mind that transubstantiation requires a change of substance becoming something else from before, although appearing the same, if the bread and wine are the types of the body and blood of the Lord then transubstantiation can lead to the idea that the Lord’s body ceased to be what it was at His sacrifice and was transplanted by a body of another substance at His resurrection, even if keeping its appearance somewhat. In terms of the offering being our body then it would appear that for us to become the body of the Lord, that is the Church, we too must cease to be what we are and have a new substance. However, this contradicts that we know that the Lord’s body now is the same that He had from His mother’s womb; it exists in a different mode of existence but it is still the same body of the same substance. We too will be resurrected in the same body but it will be spiritualised and not existing in the same mode as now. If for the bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ requires them to cease being what they are then it would also require us to cease being what we are to become the body of Christ. This does not seem consistent with Orthodox liturgical and eschatological theology.

One may argue that our substance is different from bread but the same as the body of Christ so it doesn’t need to be replaced. Only the substance of bread and wine not being that of a human body and blood needs to be replaced by the substance of a human body. Yet, bread and wine are food that sustain our substance, they are made of the same elements and has those things that our body requires to live. Thus, bread and wine don’t have to become something else to sustain our body and blood other than to be processed by our body.

Rather it would be better to say that the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ without ceasing to be bread and wine in substance but as having a new mode of existence. Perhaps, as said above, we should not try to see bread and wine as things completely other than body and blood but that Christ can encompass all matter into His body and that He gives us His body and blood as bread and wine as food, although not ordinary bread and wine but that changed to a new mode of existence by the Holy Spirit. This mode of existence unifies the bread and wine with the body and blood of Christ because there is no division of matter in this mode, although distinctions can remain. As such, this new bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, by the power of the Spirit, while deifying us also unites us in one body without destroying the uniqueness of our own bodies. That is rather than replacing our flesh with that of Christ or by simply connecting our body to that of Christ. The common food is appropriated by each of us as the one body of the Lord yet uniquely to each hypostasis.

So, while the reality of the change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is preserved by the doctrine of transubstantiation and it is useful to this extent the teaching that the substance is changed to another substance can lead to false ideas about the eucharist and our deification. It is thought best to say that the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ without defining what happens to the substance; consistency with other theology tends to rather support that the substance does not change rather the mode of existence changes.

Any thoughts and/or opinions from the Fathers?

Gospel of righteousness means justification by works?

January 12, 2012

It is a pressing issue for some studying the Scriptures that on one hand we are given the message that we are not justified by our works and on the other hand that we must obey the commandments of God and do good works for which we will be judged. How are the two compatible?

The solution to this issue is found in the teaching of deification, which is the key to the gospel message. Deification means union with God which means not only connection with Him but also participating ourselves in the fullness of His life and existence. That is participating in His infinite and eternal life beyond our limited time/space existence. Once this is understood as the promise of God to man we can see why we are called to be perfect as He is perfect and holy as He is holy. That is we are called to live His righteousness which we know and do through obedience to His commandments. However, we also realise that we are unable of our own strength to achieve perfection because we are imperfect, which is why we confess ourselves as sinners. It is impossible for time/space creatures to transcend their condition with its limits and weaknesses by their own strength/energies. Thus, it is impossible to be justified by our works. Obedience to the Law in itself is incapable of saving us. Rather to transcend our condition we must be helped by God, He must give us to share in His energies that we may live as He does. That is we are saved by the grace of God, which sets us free from our limits to participate in His free eternal life. We are not saved by grace to escape from works but to participate in eternal works that transcend our own works. Why does not God just do this for us all and why must we still obey? Because to participate in the life of God means that we must both be unique persons and free. God cannot make us good only of Himself else it would deny our freedom and unique personhood and we would no longer be the ones participating nor would we be living as He lives freely. This is why we must have faith because in this we express our free will to live as God lives. Through faith we own God’s life as our life by obedience and doing His will. This means that we truly share in His life freely of our own will and living His life with Him. He is the only one who is truly free and only by sharing in His freedom, by uniting to His will through obedience, do we also become truly free.

So, deification means that we must live the righteousness of God as our own but our own good works of themselves cannot save us because we cannot transcend our state of life without the grace of God.

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