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Posted in New Nuggets on March 3, 2018
Fr. Seraphim (Aldea) (1965 – ) – was tonsured as an Orthodox monk in 2005 at Rasca monastery in Bucovine, North Moldavia. He has a PhD in Modern Theology from the University of Durham (UK) for a thesis on Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov)’s Ecclesiology. He is currently obeying God’s calling to found the Monastery of all Celtic Saints on the Scottish Isle of Mull. This will be the first Orthodox monastery in Celtic Britain in over a millennium (See http://www.mullmonastery.com).
“Prayer in the most early stages is something you have to do. You do it because your spiritual father says so, because the Holy Fathers say so, and because Christ Himself says so. Although this is not really prayer, by following someone else – the way the Apostles did – you lay the foundation for real prayer; this foundation is obedience. You do something not out of your own will, but because someone else tells you to. You may not be aware of it, but in doing this, you have declared war on your own nature, because it is deeply un-natural in our fallen world to oppose your own will, to reject your own logic and to let go of self-control. It is against reason, against instinct, against all the things we have become in order to survive.
When you start praying, you have in fact started your wandering through the desert. It may last less than forty years; it may last until the day you die. You may see the Promised Land while still in this life; you may die in the desert, and only enter the Kingdom after you have departed this life.
The one thing that matters is that you start; as long as you keep going, you will be all right. The advice you will find in all the Fathers is to keep praying, keep yourself on the path; although you may feel it has no effect and that it leads to nowhere, in reality the fruits of this cross are already present in you. The roots of the prayer are already growing in your flesh and soul, and that is a painful process; that is why you are in pain.
During these long years, you will not be levitating, you will not be swallowed in light, but you will become more humble, more aware of how weak and limited you are, and less inclined to judge other people. These fruits are the foundation upon which real prayer will be built at the right time. If you do not go through this process of transformation, if your faith does not survive this desert, if you do not conquer this hell by patience and humility, you will not reach the Resurrection of true prayer.”
~ Excerpt from the booklet, “On Prayer”, published by The Orthodox Monastery of All Celtic Saints
David Bentley Hart (born 1965) is an American Orthodox Christian philosophical theologian, cultural commentator and polemicist. Here, in one short essay published in First Things in 2015, Prof. Hart addresses three topics that institutional Orthodoxy would prefer to avoid: apokatastasis, Saint Origen, and the church’s chronic propensity to sleep with worldly empire (e.g., Byzantium and Russia)
Posted in New Nuggets on February 24, 2018
Fr. Seraphim (Aldea) – was tonsured as an Orthodox monk in 2005 at Rasca monastery in Bucovine, North Moldavia. He has a PhD in Modern Theology from the University of Durham (UK) for a thesis on Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov)’s Ecclesiology. He is currently obeying God’s calling to found the Monastery of all Celtic Saints on the Scottish Isle of Mull. This will be the first Orthodox monastery in Celtic Britain in over a millennium (See http://www.mullmonastery.com).
“In general terms, Fr. Sophrony used ‘hypostasis’ to refer to the ontological state of a being that has fully actualized its nature. And very frequently this is opposed with the idea or state of an ‘individual’.
Although they appear to be synonymous, the two concepts [‘hypostasis’ and ‘person’] carry different meanings for Father Sophrony. While ‘hypostasis’ denotes an ontological state of existence, the ‘personal’ principle, or ‘personhood’, refers to a process. It’s almost as if ‘hypostasis’ is the destination of a process [‘personhood’].”
~ Fr. Seraphim (Aldea) from a lecture on the theology of Fr. Sophrony (Sakharov) delivered in 2016.
Posted in Patristic Pearls on February 19, 2018
Isaac of Nineveh – 7th century ascetic and mystic, born in modern-day Qatar, was made Bishop of Nineveh between 660-680. Here he speaks of the importance of silence in monastic life.
“Love silence above all things. It brings thee near the fruit which the tongue is too weak to interpret. At first we compel ourselves to be silent. Then from our silence something is born which draws us toward silence. May God grant thee to perceive that which is born of silence. If thou beginnest with this discipline, I do not know how much light will dawn in thee through it. Concerning what is said about the admirable Arsenius: that Fathers and brethren came to see him, but that he sat with them in silence and dismissed them in silence – do not think, my brother, that this happened by the action of his will alone, though in the beginning he had to compel himself. After some time some delight is born in the heart from the exercise of this service and by force it draws the body towards remaining in silence.”
“If thou placest all labors of this discipline [solitary life] on one side and silence on the other, silence will outweigh them.”
~St. Isaac of Nineveh, from Ascetical Treatises 65
Posted in New Nuggets on February 8, 2018
“Increasingly, Christian life seems to be nothing more than a particular way of behaving, a code of good conduct. Christianity is increasingly alienated, becoming a social attribute adapted to meet the least worthy of human demands – conformity, sterile conservatism, pusillanimity and timidity; it is adapted to the trivial moralizing which seeks to adorn cowardice and individual security with the funerary decoration of social decorum.”
Fr. Richard Rohr – is a Franciscan priest, Christian mystic, and teacher of Ancient Christian Contemplative Prayer. He is the founding Director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM.
“The dialectic that we probably struggle with the most is the one Paul creates between flesh and spirit. I don’t think Paul ever intended for people to feel that their bodies are bad; he was not a Platonist. After all, God took on a human body in Jesus! Paul does not use the word “soma”, which literally means “body.” I think what Paul means by “sarx” is the trapped self, the small self, the partial self, or what Thomas Merton called the false self. Basically, spirit is the whole self, the Christ self that we were born into and yet must re-discover. The problem is not between body and spirit; it’s between part and whole. Every time Paul uses the word “flesh” [sarx], just replace it with the word “ego’, and you will be much closer to his point. Your spiritual self is your whole and True Self, which includes your body; it is not your self apart from your body. We are not angels, we are embodied human beings.” ~ From a meditation: “Paul as a Nondual Teacher“, Wednesday, May 17, 2017.
Romanides: “The schism between Eastern and Western Christianity was not between East and West Romans.”
Father John Romanides (1927 – 2001) – was a prominent 20th century Orthodox Christian theologian, priest, and writer. He was Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Holy Cross Theological School in Brookline, MA and later Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Thessaloniki, Greece. His books include: The Ecclesiology of St Ignatius of Antioch (1956); Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine: An Interplay Between Theology and Society (1982); Ancestral Sin (2002); An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics (2004); and The Life in Christ (2010).
Romanides traced the 1054 split between the Eastern and Western Christian churches to a long political, military, and ethnic struggle between the Roman East and the Germanic conquerors of the Roman West. These German tribes started with the Visigoths in AD 410, culminating with Charlemagne and the Franks in AD 800. The Great Schism of 1054 had more to do with a Frankish – Eastern Roman power struggle than it did with religious doctrine. In the West, the church was simply used as a tool in that imperial struggle.
“The schism between Eastern and Western Christianity was not between East and West Romans. In actuality, it was a split between East Romans and the conquerors of the West Romans.”
“In the background of dialogue and the Ecumenical Movement for the reunion of Christendom lies the generally recognized fact that there is an interplay between theology and society, which may lead to a dogmatic formulation and become the cause of doctrinal differences.
Within the Roman Empire doctrinal conflicts took place usually among Roman citizens in a atmosphere of religious and philosophical pluralism. With the official recognition of Orthodox Christianity, we witness the beginning of the use of doctrinal differences in support of nationalistic movements of separate identity and secession from Roman rule, both political and ecclesiastical. Both Nestorianism and so-called Monophysitism, although initially promoted by Roman nationals, were finally supported by separatist tendencies among such ethnic groups as Syrians, Copts, and Armenians. Indeed, both Persians and Arabs took care to keep Christians separated.
By the eighth century, we meet for the first time the beginning of a split in Christianity which, from the start, took on ethnic names instead of names designating the heresy itself or its leader. Thus in West European sources we find a separation between a Greek East and a Latin West. In Roman sources this same separation constitutes a schism between Franks and Romans.
One detects in both terminologies an ethnic or racial basis for the schism which may be more profound and important for descriptive analysis than the doctrinal claims of either side. Doctrine here may very well be part of a political, military, and ethnic struggle and, therefore, intelligible only when put in proper perspective. The interplay between doctrine and ethnic or racial struggle may be such that the two can be distinguished, but not separated.
The schism between Eastern and Western Christianity was not between East and West Romans. In actuality, it was a split between East Romans and the conquerors of the West Romans.
The Roman Empire was conquered in three stages: 1st by Germanic tribes who became known as Latin Christianity, 2nd by Muslim Arabs, and finally, by Muslim Turks. In contrast to this, the ecclesiastical administration of the Roman Empire disappeared in stages from West European Romania (the Western part of the Roman nation), but has survived up to modern times in the Roman Orthodox Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.
The reason for this is that the conquerors of the West Romans used the Church to suppress the Roman nation, whereas under Islam the Roman nation survived by means of the Church. In each instance of conquest, the bishops became the ethnarchs of the conquered Romans and administered Roman law on behalf of the emperor in Constantinople. As long as the bishops were Roman, the unity of the Roman Church was preserved, in spite of theological conflicts. The same was true when Romanized Franks became bishops during Merovingian times and shared with Roman bishops church administration.
During the seventh century, however, the seeds of schism appear. The Visigoths in Spain had abandoned their Arian heresy and had become nominally Orthodox. But they preserved their Arian customs of church administration, which became that of the Carolingian Franks, and finally, of the Normans. The Visigoths began subjugating the Spanish Romans by replacing Roman bishops with Goths and by 654, had abolished Roman law.
During this same century, especially after 683, the Franks also had appointed Frankish bishops en masse and had rid their government administration of Roman officials.
Earlier, during the sixth and early seventh century, rebellions of leaders in Francia were joint conspiracies of Franks and Romans. By 673, however, the rebellions had become purely Frankish. “ ~From the Introduction to “Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine; An Interplay Between Theology and Society“
Posted in First Thoughts on November 11, 2017
Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) – (1945- ) is the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, an author, and a theologian. He graduated from the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki and is one of the finest Patristic scholars living. His books include: “Orthodox Psychotherapy: (the Science of the Fathers)“, “The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition“, “The Person in the Orthodox Tradition“, and “A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain“.
Below is an excerpt on the Degrees of Spiritual Perfection from Chapter 4 of “Orthodox Spirituality, a brief introduction”, by Met. of Nafpaktos Hierotheos, pp. 40-49. This covers a number of topics central to Orthodox theology including the Fall, “Original” sin, the Church as hospital, the darkening of the nous, the cure of the nous through purification (Katharsis), illumination (Theoria), and union (Theosis), and the Essence and Energies of the Trinitarian Godhead.
“The most important work of the Church is to cure man. Therefore the Orthodox Church is a Hospital, an infirmary of the soul. This does not mean that the Church disregards other domains of pastoral activity, since she aims at the whole of man, consisting of both body and soul. She cares indeed for the physical, economic and social problems as well; yet the main weight of her pastoral service is put on the soul’s therapy, for when man’s soul is cured then many other intractable problems are solved.
Some people accuse the Orthodox Church of not being very much involved in social problems. However, the Church does care about all matters which concern man. This is evident in the content of her prayers during worship services as well as in the work and teaching of the Holy Fathers. But just as a medical Hospital is primarily interested in the treatment of the body – and through this therapy it gets involved with the rest of a person’s problems – so it is in the Orthodox Church. She cures the core of human personality and through this, she heals the whole person. That is why even during times of social upheavals, when all governmental mechanisms are virtually brought to a halt – even peoples’ external freedoms are disrupted – the Church maintains its work: to treat and cure the person.
Healing of man’s personality is in fact his progress toward perfection which is actually identified as “theosis”, for in patristic theology theosis and perfection are synonymous terms. And this therapy is absolutely necessary, because man’s fall, effected in the person of Adam, constitutes the sickness of man’s nature.
In Paradise, before the Fall, Adam was in a state of “theoria” (vision) of God. The study of the book of Genesis reveals that Adam was in communion with God; however it was necessary for him to remain in that state, by virtue of his voluntary struggle, in order for him to become more stabilized and reach perfect communion and union with Him. St. John of Damascus describes this state of primordial “justice” characteristically. Adam was purified and nourished at the same time by the vision of God. His nous* was illumined, and this signifies above all that he was a temple of the Holy Spirit, and was experiencing unceasing remembrance of God.
“Original” sin consists of the darkening of the nous and the loss of communion with God. This, of course, had other repercussions, as well: man was clothed in the fleshly garments of decay and mortality The nous experienced a deep darkness. In other words, man lost the illumination of his nous; it became impure, impassioned and his body bore corruption and mortality. Thus, from the day of our birth, we bear within us corruption and death: a human life is brought into the world bound for death. Hence, because of the fall we experience universal malady. Both soul and body are sick and naturally, since man is the summation of all creation, – the microcosmos within the megacosmos – corruption also befell all of creation.
“My mind is wounded, my body has grown feeble, my spirit is sick, my speech has lost its power, my life is dead; then end is at the door. What shalt thou do, then, miserable soul, when the Judge comes to examine thy deeds?” (Great Canon).
In fact, when we speak of original sin and its consequences, we mean three things: first, the malfunction of the nous, since the nous ceased to work properly; secondly, the identification of the nous with reason (and to a certain extent, deification of reason) and thirdly the nous’ enslavement to the passions, anxiety and the conditions of the environment. And this constitutes man’s real death.
He experiences total disorganization; his inner self is deadened – his nous is overcome by darkness. And just as when the eye of the body is hurt,the whole body is obscure, so also when the eye of the soul – the nous – suffers blindness, the spiritual self as a whole becomes sick. It falls into the deepest darkness. This is what the Lord is referring, when He says: “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6, 23).
In addition to the disruption of the soul’s entire inner workings, original sin resulted also in the disorganization of man outwardly. He now confronts his fellow-men, God, the world and all of creation in a different way. The nous is unable to encounter God; so reason undertakes the effort. Thus idols of God are created leading to pagan religions and even heretical deviations.
Incapable of seeing man as an image of God, the nous encounters him under the influence of the passions. He ambitiously exploits his fellow-man, through his love of pleasure and material gain. He regards him as a vessel or instrument of pleasure; at the same time he idolizes all creation, which is what the Apostle Paul describes in his Epistle to the Romans: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (Rom. 1, 22-23).
Therefore man needs to be cured, that is to be purified, to reach the illumination of the nous – Adam’s state before the Fall – and then attain theosis. This is achieved precisely through Christ’s incarnation and the entire work of the Divine Economy and of the Church. It is within this frame of reference we must see many liturgical texts according to which Christ is characterised a physician and healer of souls and bodies. Moreover, in the same framework various patristics texts should be studied, where it is apparent that the work of Christ is first and foremost a therapeutic one.
After the Fall man needed a cure. This was effected by the Incarnation of Christ and ever since then it has been the work of the Church. She cures and is curing man; she primarily cures his ailing personality – his nous and heart. All the Fathers of the Church exhort men to seek to be cured. Man is cured by the energy of God whose source is uncreated and revealed “in the person of Jesus Christ”. Christ’s energy, from which comes man’s cure, is granted freely, and for this reason is called divine grace. Therefore, whether we say uncreated energy or divine grace makes no difference; we mean the same thing. The Apostle Paul writes: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God” (Eph. 2, 8).
Living within the Church by grace, man must first cleanse his heart of the passions; attain the illumination of the nous – Adam’s state before the Fall – and then ascend to theosis, which constitutes man’s communion and union with God and is identified with salvation. These are the steps of spiritual perfection – the foundations of Orthodox spirituality.
Yet a few things about the divine grace need to be said before we see the stages of spiritual perfection – the method and way of man’s therapy – for it is closely connected with purification, illumination, and theosis.
In Orthodox spirituality purification, illumination and theosis are not stages of anthropocentric activity, but rather are results of the uncreated energy of God. When the divine grace (energy of God) purifies man from passions, it is call purifying; when it illumines his nous it is called illuminating; and when it deifies man it is called deifying. The same grace and energy of God is given various names according to its effects.
Throughout all patristic tradition the Fathers allude to the three stages of spiritual perfection as the three degrees of one’s cure. St. Dionysios the Areopagite makes mention of purification, illumination and perfection. St. Gregory of Nyssa also makes use of the same distinction. St. Maximos the Confessor refers, as well, to practical philosophy (purification), natural theoria (illumination) and mystical theology (theosis). St. Symeon the New Theologian, in his writings divides certain chapters into practical, gnostic, and theological. In all of Orthodox Tradition these three stages of perfection are frequently mentioned. In this way man is cured and experiences Holy Tradition; he becomes “Tradition” and creates “Tradition”. He is a bearer of Tradition. Distinctive is the subtitle of Philokalia which is the work of St. Nicodemos, of the Holy Mountain and of St. Makarios, Bishop of Corinth. In this work which is a compilation of the writings of the Holy Fathers [from the 4th to the 15th centuries], how man cures his nous by going through the three stages of spiritual life is discussed. And it is known that the Philokalia, which contains the complete method of cure for humans is a fundamental manual of the spiritual life.”
*Nous: The word has various uses in Patristic teaching, It indicates either the soul or the heart or even an energy of the soul. Yet, the nous is mainly the eye of the soul; the purest part of the soul; the highest attention. It is also called noetic energy and it is not identified with reason.
Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia – (b. 1934) is a titular metropolitan of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate in Great Britain. From 1966-2001, he was Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford University, and has authored numerous books and articles pertaining to the Orthodox faith. The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 11 of Met. Kallistos’ book, The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity (1993)
“Our social programme, said the Russian thinker Fedorov, is the dogma of the Trinity. Orthodoxy believes most passionately that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not a piece of ‘high theology’ reserved for the professional scholar, but something that has a living, practical importance for every Christian. Man, so the Bible teaches, is made in the image of God, and to Christians God means the Trinity: thus it is only in the light of the dogma of the Trinity that man can understand who he is and what God intends him to be. Our private lives, our personal relations, and all our plans of forming a Christian society depend upon a right theology of the Trinity. ‘Between the Trinity and Hell there lies no other choice (V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 66). As an Anglican writer has put it: ‘In this doctrine is summed up the new way of thinking about God, in the power of which the fishermen. went out to convert the Greco-Roman world. It marks a saving revolution in human thought (D. J. Chitty, ‘The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity told to the Children,’ in Sobornost, series 4, no. 5, 1961, p. 241).
The basic elements in the Orthodox doctrine of God have already been mentioned in the first part of this book, so that here they will only be summarized briefly:
1. God is absolutely transcendent.
‘No single thing of all that is created has or ever will have even the slightest communion with the supreme nature or nearness to it (Gregory Palamas, P.G. 150, 1176c (quoted on p. 77)). This absolute transcendence Orthodoxy safeguards by its emphatic use of the ‘way of negation,’ of ‘apophatic’ theology. Positive or ‘cataphatic’ theology — the ‘way of affirmation’ — must always be balanced and corrected by the employment of negative language. Our positive statements about God — that He is good, wise, just and so on — are true as far as they go, yet they cannot adequately describe the inner nature of the deity. These positive statements, said John of Damascus, reveal ‘not the nature, but the things around the nature.’ ‘That there is a God is clear; but what He is by essence and nature, this is altogether beyond our comprehension and knowledge (On the Orthodox Faith, 1, 4 (P.G. 94, 800B, 797B)).
2. God, although absolutely transcendent, is not cut of from the world which He has made.
God is above and outside His creation, yet He also exists within it. As a much used Orthodox prayer puts it: ‘Thou art everywhere and finest all things.’ Orthodoxy therefore distinguishes between God’s essence and His energies, thus safeguarding both divine transcendence and divine immanence: God’s essence remains unapproachable, but His energies come down to us. God’s energies, which are God Himself, permeate all His creation, and we experience them in the form of deifying grace and divine light. Truly our God is a God who hides Himself, yet He is also a God who acts — the God of history, intervening directly in concrete situations.
3. God is personal, that a to say, Trinitarian.
This God who acts is not only a God of energies, but a personal God. When man participates in the divine energies, he is not overwhelmed by some vague and nameless power, but he is brought face to face with a person. Nor is this all: God is not simply a single person confined within his own being, but a Trinity of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom ‘dwells’ in the other two, by virtue of a perpetual movement of love. God is not only a unity but a union.
4. Our God is an Incarnate God.
God has come down to man, not only through His energies, but in His own person. The Second Person of the Trinity, ‘true God from true God,’ was made man: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). A closer union than this between God and His creation there could not be. God Himself became one of His creatures (For the first and second of these four points, see pp. 72-9; for the third and fourth points, see pp. 28-37).
Those brought up in other traditions have sometimes found it difficult to accept the Orthodox emphasis on apophatic theology and the distinction between essence and energies; but apart from these two matters, Orthodox agree in their doctrine of God with the overwhelming majority of all who call themselves Christians. Monophysites and Lutherans, Nestorians and Roman Catholics, Calvinists, Anglicans, and Orthodox: all alike worship One God in Three Persons and confess Christ as Incarnate Son of God (In the past hundred years, under the influence of ‘Modernism,’ many Protestants have virtually abandoned the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. Thus when I speak here of Calvinists, Lutherans, and Anglicans, I have in mind those who still respect the classical Protestant formularies of the sixteenth century).
Yet there is one point in the doctrine of God the Trinity over which east and west part company — the filioque. We have already seen how decisive a part this one word played in the unhappy fragmentation of Christendom. But granted that the filioque is important historically, does it really matter from a theological point of view? Many people today — not excluding many Orthodox — find the whole dispute so technical and obscure that they are tempted to dismiss it as utterly trivial. From the viewpoint of traditional Orthodox theology there can be but one rejoinder to this: technical and obscure it undoubtedly is, like most questions of Trinitarian theology; but it is not trivial. Since belief in the Trinity lies at the very heart of the Christian faith, a tiny difference in Trinitarian theology is bound to have repercussions upon every aspect of Christian life and thought. Let us try therefore to understand some of the issues involved in the filioque dispute.
One essence in three persons. God is one and God is three: the Holy Trinity is a mystery of unity in diversity, and of diversity in unity. Father, Son, and Spirit are ‘one in essence’ (homoousios), yet each is distinguished from the other two by personal characteristics. ‘The divine is indivisible in its divisions (Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 31, 14). for the persons are ‘united yet not confused, distinct yet not divided’ (John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith, 1, 8 (P.G. 94, 809A)); ‘both the distinction and the union alike are paradoxical’ (Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 25, 17).
But if each of the persons is distinct, what holds the Holy Trinity together? Here the Orthodox Church, following the Cappadocian Fathers, answers that there is one God because there is one Father. In the language of theology, the Father is the ‘cause’ or ‘source’ of Godhead, He is the principle (arche) of unity among the three; and it is in this sense that Orthodoxy talks of the ‘monarchy’ of the Father. The other two persons trace their origin to the Father and are defined in terms of their relation to Him. The Father is the source of Godhead, born of none and proceeding from none; the Son is born of the Father from all eternity (‘before all ages,’ as the Creed says); the Spirit proceeds from the Father from all eternity.
It is at this point that Roman Catholic theology begins to disagree. According to Roman theology, the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son; and this means that the Father ceases to be the unique source of Godhead, since the Son also is a source. Since the principle of unity in the Godhead can no longer be the person of the Father, Rome finds its principle of unity in the substance or essence which all three persons share. In Orthodoxy the principle of God’s unity is personal, in Roman Catholicism it is not.
But what is meant by the term ‘proceed?’ Unless this is properly understood, nothing is understood. The Church believes that Christ underwent two births, the one eternal, the other at a particular point in time: he was born of the Father ‘before all ages,’ and born of the Virgin Mary in the days of Herod, King of Judaea, and of Augustus, Emperor of Rome. In the same way a firm distinction must be drawn between the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit, and the temporal mission, the sending of the Spirit to the world: the one concerns the relations existing from all eternity within the Godhead, the other concerns the relation of God to creation. Thus when the west says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and when Orthodoxy says that He proceeds from the Father alone, both sides are referring not to the outward action of the Trinity towards creation, but to certain eternal relations within the Godhead — relations which existed before ever the world was. But Orthodoxy, while disagreeing with the west over the eternal procession of the Spirit, agrees with the west in saying that, so far as the mission of the Spirit to the world is concerned, He is sent by the Son, and is indeed the ‘Spirit of the Son.’
The Orthodox position is based on John 15:26, where Christ says: ‘When the Comforter has come, whom I will send to you from the Father — the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father — he will bear witness to me.’ Christ sends the Spirit, but the Spirit proceeds from the Father: so the Bible teaches, and so Orthodoxy believes. What Orthodoxy does not teach, and what the Bible never says, is that the Spirit proceeds from the Son.
An eternal procession from Father and Son: such is the western position. An eternal procession of the Spirit from the Father alone, a temporal mission from the Son: such was the position upheld by Saint Photius against the west. But Byzantine writers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries — most notably Gregory of Cyprus, Patriarch of Constantinople from 1283 to 1289, and Gregory Palamas — went somewhat further than Photius, in an attempt to bridge the gulf between east and west. They were willing to allow not only a temporal mission, but an eternal manifestation of the Holy Spirit by the Son. While Photius had spoken only of a temporal relation between Son and Spirit, they admitted an eternal relation. Yet on the essential point the two Gregories agreed with Photius: the Spirit is manifested by the Son, but does not proceed from the Son. The Father is the unique origin, source, and cause of Godhead.
Such in outline are the positions taken up by either side; let us now consider the Orthodox objections to the western position. The filioque leads either to ditheism or to semi-Sabellianism (Sabellius, a heretic of the second century, regarded Father, Son, and Spirit not as three distinct persons, but simply as varying ‘modes’ or ‘aspects’ of the deity). If the Son as well as the Father is an arche, a principle or source of Godhead, are there then (the Orthodox asked) two independent sources, two separate principles in the Trinity? Obviously not, since this would be tantamount to belief in two Gods; and so the Reunion Councils of Lyons (1274) and Florence (1438-1439) were most careful to state that the Spirit proceeds from Father and Son ‘as from one principle,’ tanquam ex (or ab) uno principio. From the Orthodox point of view, however, this is equally objectionable: ditheism is avoided, but the persons of Father and Son are merged and confused. The Cappadocians regarded the ‘monarchy’ as the distinctive characteristic of the Father: He alone is a principle or arche within the Trinity. But western theology ascribes the distinctive characteristic of the Father to the Son as well, thus fusing the two persons into one; and what else is this but ‘Sabellius reborn, or rather some semi-Sabellian monster,’ as Saint Photius put it? (P.G. 102, 289B).
Let us look more carefully at this charge of semi-Sabellianism. Orthodox Trinitarian theology has a personal principle of unity, but the west finds its unitary principle in the essence of God. In Latin Scholastic theology, so it seems to Orthodox, the persons are overshadowed by the common nature, and God is thought of not so much in concrete and personal terms, but as an essence in which various relations are distinguished. This way of thinking about God comes to full development in Thomas Aquinas, who went so far as to identify the persons with the relations: personae sunt ipsae relationes (Summa Theologica, 1, question 40, article 2). Orthodox thinkers find this a very meagre idea of personality. The relations, they would say, are not the persons — they are the personal characteristics of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and (as Gregory Palamas put it) ‘personal characteristics do not constitute the person, but they characterize the person’ (Quoted in J. Meyendorff, Introduction à 1’étude de Grégoire Palamas, Paris, 1959, p. 294). The relations, while designating the persons, in no way exhaust the mystery of each.
Latin Scholastic theology, emphasizing as it does the essence at the expense of the persons, comes near to turning God into an abstract idea. He becomes a remote and impersonal being, whose existence has to be proved by metaphysical arguments — a God of the philosophers, not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, has been far less concerned than the Latin west to find philosophical proofs of God’s existence: what is important is not that a man should argue about the deity, but that he should have a direct and living encounter with a concrete and personal God.
Such are some of the reasons why Orthodox regard the filioque as dangerous and heretical. Filioquism confuses the persons, and destroys the proper balance between unity and diversity in the Godhead. The oneness of the deity is emphasized at the expense of His threeness; God is regarded too much in terms of abstract essence and too little in terms of concrete personality.
But this is not all. Many Orthodox feel that, as a result of the filioque, the Holy Spirit in western thought has become subordinated to the Son — if not in theory, then at any rate in practice. The west pays insufficient attention to the work of the Spirit in the world, in the Church, in the daily life of each man.
Orthodox writers also argue that these two consequences of the filioque — subordination of the Holy Spirit, over-emphasis on the unity of God — have helped to bring about a distortion in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Church. Because the role of the Spirit has been neglected in the west, the Church has come to be regarded too much as an institution of this world, governed in terms of earthly power and jurisdiction. And just as in the western doctrine of God unity was stressed at the expense of diversity, so in the western conception of the Church unity has triumphed over diversity, and the result has been too great a centralization and too great an emphasis on Papal authority.
Such in outline is the Orthodox attitude to the filioque, although not all would state the case in such an uncompromising form. In particular, many of the criticisms given above apply only to a decadent form of Scholasticism, not to Latin theology as a whole.”
Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) – (1945- ) is the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, an author, and a theologian. He graduated from the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki and is one of the finest Patristic scholars living. His books include: “Orthodox Psychotherapy: (the Science of the Fathers)“, “The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition“, “The Person in the Orthodox Tradition“, and “A night in the desert of the Holy Mountain“.
Below is an excerpt of a discussion with an Athonite hermit on the Jesus Prayer. From “A night in the desert of the Holy Mountain”, by Met. of Nafpaktos Hierotheos, pp. 57-59
“- Gerondas, allow me a few questions which arose while you were talking about the stages of the Jesus Prayer. What do you mean by the word heart?
– According to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, the heart is the center of the spiritual world. Among the many opinions of the Fathers on this subject I will mention a distinctive one of St. Epiphanios, Bishop of Konstantia in Cyprus: “For this reason, we need not in any way define or ascertain in what part of man the image of God rather is accomplished, but we need to confess that the image of God does exist in man, so that we will not despise the grace of God and disbelieve in Him. For whatever God says is true, although His word has to a certain extent, escaped our capacity to receive it”. Just as a beam when it falls upon a prism is refracted and shown from all sides, in the same way does the soul also express herself through the whole human being.
When we say the Jesus Prayer, however, we fix our attention on the physical organ, on the heart, so that we are distracted away from the outside world and bring it back into ourselves, into the “deep heart”. In this way the nous – the eye of the soul – returns to its home and is united there with the other powers.
– Allow me a second question. Do all who are enchanted by the enjoyment of God follow the course you have just described to me?
– Yes, most of them do. There are some however who, from the very beginning, seek to unite the nous with the heart by doing breathing exercise. They breath in the word “Lord Jesus Christ” and exhale the words “have mercy on me”. They follow the air as it comes into the nose all the way to the heart, and there they rest a little.
This, of course, is done to allow the nous to be fixed on the prayer, The Holy Fathers have also handed over to us another method, We breath in saying all the words of the Jesus Prayer and we breath out saying them again. This method, however, requires maturity in spiritual development. But using this way of breathing can cause many difficulties, many problems; that is why it should be avoided, if there is no guidance from a spiritual father. It can be used, however, simply to fix the nous on the words of the prayer so that the nous is not distracted. I repeat, this needs a special blessing (permission) of a discerning father.
– You said before, Gerondas, that the aim of the Jesus Prayer is to bring the nous back into the heart, that is the energy into the essence. We can experience this specifically at the third stage [prayer of the heart] of this holy pathway. When, however, you recounted the fifth stage [Christ living in the heart], you referred to a quotation from St. Basil the Great: “he who loves God having avoided all these, departs toward God”. How does the nous come into the heart and depart towards God? Is this perhaps a contradiction?
– No it is not, the holy hermit answered. As the Holy and God-fearing Fathers teach, those who pray are at various stages. There are the beginners as well as the advance; as they are better called to the teaching of the Fathers, the practical and the theoretical ones. For the practical ones, prayer is born of fear of God and a firm hope in Him, whereas to the theoretical ones, prayer is begotten by a divinely intense longing for God and by total purification. The characteristics of the first state – that of the practical ones – is the concentration of the nous within the heart; when the nous prays to God without distraction. The characteristic of the second state of prayer – that of the theoretical ones – is the rapture of the nous by the divine Light, so that it is aware neither of the world nor of itself. This is the ravishment (ecstasy) of the nous, and we say that, at this stage the nous “departs” to God. The god-bearing Fathers who experienced these blessed states describe the divine ravishment; “it is the ravishment of the nous by the divine and infinite light, so that is aware neither of itself nor of any created thing, but only of Him Who through love, has activated such radiance in the nous”. (St. Maximos)”