Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Triumph of Orthodoxy Vespers Message

Fr. John H. Erickson, Dean
St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary

Holy Trinity Orthodox Church
East Meadow, New York

February 25, 2007

We are here today for our annual celebration of the Triumph of Orthodoxy – to commemorate an event from what is now the very distant past: the official and definitive reestablishment of the veneration of the holy icons after over a century of controversy and sporadic persecution, an event that took place in Constantinople on the first Sunday of Lent in 843 AD. It would be easy for the professor in me to use this as an opportunity for an extended lecture about this past event and its circumstances – to explain, for example, the role of the empress of the day, Theodora, whose name is mentioned repeatedly in the troparia for the matins canon for the day – counted 6-7 times. “Our devout and pious Empress.” And what about her son the God-crowned emperor Michael, who also is mentioned, but much less often? Just hearing their names and titles reminds us how distant that past event now is, how remote Byzantium is from our world today.

I could provide lots of details about such past events. I won’t, not simply because you might get bored, or because that wouldn’t really be a sermon. That wouldn’t really be history either. As one of my favorite historians, Henry Glassie, has observed: “History is not the past. History is a story about the past, told in the present, and designed to be useful in constructing the future.” On an occasion like this, we naturally look back at the past, and we remember that past with affection and gratitude and pride. But as we do so, we have to remember where we are today, in the present – in 21st century America, not in 9th century Byzantium, not in a world of pious empresses and God-crowned emperors. What story do we tell about our glorious past, by our words but also by our actions, when we gather for a pan-Orthodox vespers service like this one, when we are in our home parishes, when we go about our daily lives? How do we present Orthodoxy to ourselves and to others? How we answer says a lot about what kind of future we can expect for Orthodoxy in America.

This evening we made an impressive procession with icons and proclaimed the triumph of Orthodoxy over the heresy of iconoclasm with the solemn reading of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy. But today isn’t just about icons, however beautiful. And it’s not just about controversies from the distant past. As all of us know, as we have heard many times, the controversy over the icons was not just about interior decoration. It was about the significance of the incarnation, the central doctrine of our faith. Today we are commemorating the restoration of the icons in 843 AD, but in doing so we are celebrating the coming of God in the flesh, which for us is the central event in human history.

We believe that with the incarnation a radical change came about in God’s relation to the world. This is how St. John of Damascus puts it: “Of old God was not depicted at all. But now that God has appeared in the flesh and lived among humans, I make an image of the God who can be seen. I do not worship matter, but I worship the Creator of matter who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter brought about my salvation.”

Matter, in other words, is not the opposite of spirit, as the iconoclasts seemed to think. We don’t become spiritual by escaping from matter, by somehow fleeing from the time and space of this world. It is in and through matter, the common stuff of this world, that God has revealed himself – has revealed his love, his mercy, his power and his glory. He has revealed himself, fully and definitively, in Jesus Christ, who is not a dematerialized spirit but truly human, flesh and blood, who entered into the time and space of this world for the salvation of this world.

This fundamental teaching is what justifies the making and veneration of icons. It also poses several challenges for us today, as we celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy. A friend of mine, a very good Orthodox priest, says that he always dreads this Sunday. Why? Because so often our celebration of the Triumph of Orthodoxy becomes a testimony to the triumphalism of Orthodoxy.

Just consider what message we are sending – to ourselves and to others: We get together for this once-a-year event, we display the rich diversity of our traditions – in many places we hear a little Slavonic, a little Greek, a little Arabic, maybe a little Romanian, In some places there may be a pot-luck reception featuring an assortment of ethnic specialties for Lent. We pay lip service to the ideal of eventual structural unity. We rightly say that this is “inevitable,” but we act as though this will happen without our active engagement. We may even set forth our dreams for “making America Orthodox.” But most of the time we are content to congratulate ourselves on our “spiritual” unity – as though this is all we need.. Who are we kidding? We claim to value visible, structural unity because unity is an essential mark of the Church, not just a desirable option. We believe that unity can’t remain simply “spiritual. It can’t remain disincarnate. To be faithful to Orthodoxy, we must express our spiritual unity in tangible, material ways. But as we all know, on a global level just as on a national level, we are divided. And as a result, we give a less-than-credible witness to the world. We appear to be simply a collection of fractious ethnic groups, with little to say to each other, and even less to say to the world in which we live.

Let’s turn back to another aspect of the iconoclast controversy – an aspect of the past that we easily can miss. The dispute was not just about the place of images in the church. It was also about the place of the church in society. Opposition to the icons had been spearheaded by a series of emperors who not only had theological reservations about “image worship” but also wanted to assert their own supreme authority in all aspects of the life of the empire, religion included. Defenders of the icons objected to the emperors’ attempts to dictate dogma, but their insistence on the Church’s integrity – its moral autonomy – had wider implications. They did not reject iconoclasm simply in order to preserve the otherworldly purity of the Church’s dogmas and cultic life – and with it the use of icons. Their goal was not just to be left alone in self-righteous isolation, to hand over “this world” and its life to the emperor and to the dictates of a society that did not take seriously the Gospel message. This would have been contrary to the very theology that they were defending - a theology that insists that matter can become sanctified, that “this world” can be filled with divine beauty, that this world is called to salvation, that it is capable of transfiguration and participation in divine life.

It is no coincidence that after the defeat of iconoclasm, the Church entered into a period of particularly lively engagement with the world and its concerns. The Church made its voice heard in the public square. It tried to mold society and state policy according to Christian standards. Even the image of imperial authority was affected. Hitherto emperors most often had been depicted as triumphant warrior-kings, just as they had been in pagan times. By contrast, the most famous portrayal of an emperor from the period after iconoclasm, a mosaic over one of the principal entrances to the great church of Haghia Sophia, shows the emperor prostrate before Christ the Pantokrator, Christ the ruler over all the world.

To this day we decorate our churches with this image of Christ the Pantokrator, the ruler over all – most often in the central dome. We decorate our churches with this image of Christ, and we may even accept Him as ruler over what happens within our churches. But do we really believe that his kingly rule extends more widely, beyond the walls of our churches to the whole world? Is Christ present – are we Orthodox Christians present – in the public square today? Do we take seriously the moral challenges facing the society in which we live, the society of which we are a part? Inside our churches, we proclaim the triumph of Orthodoxy, but outside we are mute, invisible, and perfectly content to be marginalized – except in cases when we feel that our public image has been slighted in some way, e.g., when the colorful eastern pageantry of our Holy Week and Pascha observances or our parish festivals have not been adequately covered by the press. What image do we project? What story do we tell? What story do we live out? In fact, as polls and statistics suggest, when it comes to moral and social issues we Orthodox in America simply reflect the opinions and behaviors of the wider society in which we live. Christos Yannaras, an important modern Greek theologian, has pointed out that “Sometimes the Church transfigures the world, and sometimes the Church is transfigured by the world.” We seem to be at this latter point, transfigured by the world, notwithstanding the images of Christ Pantokrator that adorn the domes of our churches.

As I said a moment ago, after the defeat of iconoclasm the Church entered into a period of particularly lively engagement with the world. This was expressed through the Church’s efforts to address the moral and social issues of the day – the sanctity of marriage, the problems of poverty and homelessness. But this was also expressed through mission. It is enough just to remind ourselves of the work of Sts. Cyril and Methodius among the Slavs in this period. They aimed – to use a fancy word – at enculturation, at incarnating the universal values of the Christian faith in what was then a new and very different cultural context. We today are heirs to their incarnational approach to mission, just as we are heirs to an incarnational understanding of the icon. And we very often take great pride in this approach to mission, contrasting it with the cultural chauvinism that we associate with western approaches. But how willing are we to support an Orthodox understanding of mission in our own lives?

I am always overjoyed to hear about the work of the OCMC, the Orthodox Christian Missions Center. OCMC has helped bring our attention back to the importance of mission – of responding to the Great Commission, to go out, preach, baptize even to the ends of the earth. OCMC – and other pan-Orthodox agencies, such as IOCC and Project Mexico – also have given us precious experience of working together, of acting like one church, despite our jurisdictional dividedness. But certainly we can do more. OCMC, for example, now supports approximately 17 long-term missionaries in places like Albania and Africa. This number may sound impressive to us, but it is miniscule compared to what is being done by other Christian – and non-Christian – groups. A single Protestant mega-church in the United States may support that many missionaries, not to mention other forms of evangelism and outreach.

We also have to consider our responsibility for mission and evangelism here at home, locally, on the personal and parish level. Icons of Sts Cyril and Methodius adorn many of our churches. But do we ourselves, in our daily lives, in any way try to imitate them? Our gospel reading this morning was from St. John’s account of the calling of the disciples. We read: “Philip found Nathanael and said to him: We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote – Jesus of Nazareth.” Nathanael was skeptical. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip says simply, “Come and see.” It’s easy to understand why this Gospel is appropriate for the day. With the incarnation, God has become visible in the flesh. He can be seen, and therefore he can be depicted in icons. But how can someone be expected to “see” if no one has first said “come”? How many of us even think of inviting co-workers, friends and acquaintances to come to church with us? We feel perfectly comfortable about recommending our favorite restaurant or mechanic or hair stylist to them, but we become acutely uncomfortable when it comes to matters related to our faith. I am not suggesting that we should get up on a soapbox at work, but I am suggesting that we stop hiding our Orthodox identity. If not through words, then at least through our behavior – by being fair and honest in our business dealings, by being conscientious employees rather than slackers, by being helpful to others, by being genuinely concerned about them, by avoiding sleaziness of all sorts - we should invite those around us to “come and see.”

This evening we have been looking back at the past, commemorating that first Sunday of Orthodoxy in 843 AD. But the stories we tell about that past event – right now in this present moment, through our words, through our actions – seem to take us in any number of contrary directions, suggesting that we have no clear vision for the future of Orthodoxy in America and in the world. We all agree on some things: on the importance of icons, for example, rooted as they are in the doctrine of the incarnation. I believe we also agree that Orthodoxy is meant to permeate the whole of life, the whole of culture, if it is to bring about the cosmic transformation that lies at the heart of our doctrine of salvation. But often our words and actions betray these professed beliefs. On the one hand, all too often our life at home, our conduct in the workplace, our involvement in the public square simply mirrors that of the society in which we live – so well-integrated are we into the American way of life and value system. We love to have our churches beautifully decorated with icons, but we see no pressing need to bring the theology that lies behind these icons into a wider world. On the other hand, we find in all our churches, whatever the jurisdiction, an increasingly vocal element arguing that America is incapable of the kind of transfiguration that once took place in our Old World empires, in Byzantium, in Holy Russia or Holy Serbia – arguing that to maintain authentic Orthodoxy we have to flee from the world, to withdraw from wider society in various ways, by adopting a style of life and practice that visibly distinguishes and separates us from the increasingly secular, pluralistic culture around us. In both cases, I suggest, we must acknowledge our lack of faith. We must acknowledge how weak our faith in God is.

All of us want to see the triumph of Orthodoxy, but often we conceive of this triumph in external terms. For some this means increased respectability on the American scene; for others this means increased purity of our Orthodox practice. For some this means increased income for maintaining our many philanthropic and cultural programs; for others this means an increased number of church services and prostrations at them. The real triumph of Orthodoxy cannot be measured so easily. From its very beginnings our faith has taken its power from a very unlikely source: Christ crucified, abandoned by nearly everyone, hanging on the cross. He never triumphed more gloriously or reigned more truly than when he hung there dying, his arms outstretched in love to embrace all, to draw the whole world to himself. “Now the son of man is glorified,” we read in St. John’s gospel. Though defeated, crucified, laid in the tomb, he arose in power, filling even the tomb with life. This is the foundation of the faith we claim to hold: “This is the apostolic faith; this is the Orthodox faith; this is the faith of our fathers; this is the faith that is the foundation of the world” – to quote the words of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy that we just recited. The real triumph of Orthodoxy in the future may not be marked by any of the external signs that we imagine, whether we are among those who risk becoming submerged in the world around us or among those who try to escape from this world. But by God’s grace Orthodoxy will triumph – or rather, the triumph of Christ will be fulfilled in his Church. Let us pray that his triumph will also be fulfilled in each one of us! Amen.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

LENT! Or, What am I doing out here in the desert, when it was so comfortable in front of the TV last week?

by V. Rev. Fr. James Rosselli

Twice a year, the Church observes 40-day periods which permit us to take a vacation from the excuses we ordinarily make to ourselves and claim the freedom to be, frankly and unapologetically, seekers of holiness.

This is pretty embarrassing stuff, most of the time. After all, how many people at your office walk around murmuring the Jesus Prayer all day? How many business lunches have you attended where everybody orders lentil soup and water? In truth, how many opportunities does one get in the normal course of life to engage in self-sacrifice, without looking unacceptably weird?

In Lent. however, all that is turned around. We can get away with almost anything! Conversations that tend to go one way at most times can go in whole different directions.

For example:

Outside of Lent:

Harry: “Hey, Bob, did you see Sexually Desperate Survivors in the City last night?

Bob: “Sorry, Harry, I don’t watch TV.”

Harry: “What are you some kind of religious nut? What’s next? You gonna go hijack a plane?”

In Lent, however, it might go something like this:

Harry: “Hey, you wanna go out for a steak and a brew after work?”

Bob: “Sorry, Harry, I’m giving that up for Lent.”

Harry: “What are you, kidding?”

Bob: “No, I’m really giving those up for Lent.”

Harry: “Wow!” (pause) “Hey, Bob, could you give me some advice about…”

See? Lent brings heroic stature to acts of mental, physical and spiritual health that at other times simply come off as blue-nosed prudishness.

On the other hand, what’s wrong with blue-nosed prudishness? Can’t I take the odd occasion to not indulge myself? Is there a law telling me I have to sit staring at a box for hours, filling my mind with garbage? If someone should pass my office door sometime after Pascha and find me crossing myself, even if all the vampires are out having lunch, am I the one who needs to feel funny, if it doesn’t go over?

Lent gets us into habits of holiness. It gets us used to separating ourselves from the values and behaviors of the kingdom of Mammon, and more in practice about being an ambassador for the Kingdom of God. Additionally, it gives the people around us an opportunity to “get used to” us as Christians—which might well result in an occasion somewhere down the road to bring Christ into a conversation, and maybe win a new soul for the Kingdom of God.

Not a bad way to spend the rest of the year, come to think of it!

Fr. Jim is a mitred archpriest with the Community of the Holy Spirit, UAOC.

The Love that Overcomes

by Alice C. Linsley

IN the beginning there was Love: generative and giving of itself in such a manner as only Love can. Love made the verdant fields and sprinkled them with wild flowers. Love made long-necked beasts and earth-hugging creatures. Love was patient in nurture and watchful, ever mindful of universes and planets, and a certain planet earth, and a certain people Israel. Love gave sons, even when men denied them or the flesh failed. So Sarah conceived and laughed. So Tamar became the mother of twins. So Ruth, under the robe of Boaz, became great grandmother to David, anointed King. So the Handmaid of the Lord, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, conceived Love in her womb, the Love from before all time.

Eternal Love through millennia prepared salvation and the hearts of men; deliverance from floods, from prison, from enemies, from slavery, from exile, from sin and death. Love overcame all things and endured all things. Love set boundaries to preserve Love’s inheritance, and established statutes to instruct in the way of Life. Love led the Patriarchs to water and preserved their wells. Love spoke face to face with a woman at Jacob’s well and gave her grace to go and sin no more.

Out of a cistern, Love lifted the Prophet who came in the name of Love. Many were the despisers of Love. They cast Love’s servants into pits, stoned them, sold them into slavery, betrayed them to their enemies and nailed them to crosses. Other lovers of Love were burned, flayed or beheaded. Some suffered quietly until their hearts ceased within them and they entered into Love’s rest. The number of those despised is greater than a man could count and each name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Love never forgets.

Love remembers every deed, every thought and every impulse. Imposters came and went, but Love remained. Sexual love vied for first tart in every generation and lacked grace. Sentimental love played silly tricks and lacked endurance. Intellectual love became lost in meandering phantasmal trails. Egotistical love shouted for glory until red-faced and hoarse. The vanities parade themselves as slaves in the market. The virtues go home with Love as beloved children.

To His beloved, Love shows His face in the radiance of the sun, in the dark catacomb, in the bloody imprint of Veronica’s cloth, in the smiling faces of the saints, in the gasps and groans of victorious confessors and martyrs. Love never hides, yet the first Adam continues to hide his face from Love.

Men hide themselves and their sins, but Love knows and sees all things. Love overcomes all things. There is none like Love: eternal, generative, patient, mindful, attentive and ever present. Therefore, seek Love and live, for apart from Love there is no life.

Items of Interest - First Week of Veliki Post 2007

A Study on the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete
For the 2005 Fall Class, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America's Internet School of Orthodox Studies presented this in Real Media format, and has made it available online.

Dostoevsky and Memory Eternal: An Eastern Orthodox Approach to The Brothers Karamazov
"Central to Eastern Orthodox Christendom is the singing, at the end of every Orthodox funeral, of the song known as "Memory Eternal" (in Church Slavonic: Vechnaya Pamyat). This song also concludes Dostoevsky's great, final novel, The Brothers Karamazov...To know something of this song's meaning is to comprehend both the Eastern Orthodox faith and Dostoevsky's greatest novel."

The Blood of Martyrs is the Life-Giving Seed of Christianity!
Translated by Anastasia Donets. “The 20th century – the century of 1000 years since the baptism of Russia – also became the century marked by the most severe and cruel persecutions of the Russian Orthodox Church. Churches and wholly objects were mercilessly wrecked and defiled, innocent people of faith were killed and tortured – all of this became essentially the thorny, cross-bearing path of Christ, which many and many believers followed. Among them were church hierarchs, priests, monks and laity – men, women, and children. More than 1600 of these people who suffered for Christ have been canonized as saints by the Russian Orthodox Church.”

Serbian New Hieromartyr Sabbas (Trlaich), Bishop of Gornji Karlovac (+ 1941)
The bishop and the priests were told that they were undesirables and that they must abandon their flocks. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Zagreb, Aloysius Stepinac, openly told Vladyka that he must leave ‘Croatian’ Karlovac, otherwise he would be liquidated. Vladyka answered him: ‘Even if it costs me my head, I will not abandon my people!’

Lent in the South
Fr. Stephen Freeman reflects on Orthodoxy in the American South. His essay ends with a link to Fr. Paul Yerger's address Orthodoxy and the Christ-Haunted Culture of the South, a must-read.

The Orthodoxy of Dickens, Augustine and the Bulgarian
Christopher Orr shares his Lenten reading.

The Meanings Of Some Essential Biblical Names
From Orthodox England. As we read the Scriptures, we may be accustomed to seeking the spiritual meaning of the words, in addition to the more obvious literal meaning. Sometimes we are so intent on this that we miss the meanings of the names found therein. In the Old Testament these meanings are often explained, but not so in the New Testament.

Solidarity
by W.H. Chellis, a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America. An interesting article on the corporate unity of mankind.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Metropolitan St. Philaret - Orthodox Biblicist

In watching the discussion of Scripture, Tradition, and Authority unfold on the Orthodox-Lutheran Dialogue, I have frequently found myself calling to remembrance a theologian-hierarch who, perhaps more than any other, has been influential on the manner in which I think about these, as well as so many other, issues; indeed one whom the brilliant Florovsky often called "probably the greatest theologian of the Russian Church in modern times": our father among the Saints Philaret (Drozdov), Metropolitan of Moscow and All-Russia.

I will not here give the standard hagiography; such exist here and here. The focus of this presentation is on the character and views of St. Philaret, for which I present below Fr. Florovsky's excellent summary from Ways of Russian Theology. Let the reader be warned: it is somewhat lengthy, but then, in order to capture an adequate picture of this great hierarch and teacher it must be; in some ways it is, perhaps, not long enough.

Filaret (1782-1867) had a long life, literally from the annexation of the Crimea to the "Great Reforms." But he was a man of the Alexandrine age. He was born in sleepy, oblivious Kolomna and studied in a pre-reform seminary where students were taught in Latin from Latin books. However, at the Holy Trinity monastery seminary, where he finished his studies and became a teacher, the spirit of Protestant scholasticism was mitigated and moderated by the winnowing of that churchly pietism so typically exemplified in Metropolitan Platon Levshin.

Archimandrite Evgraf (Muzalevskii-Platonov), the rector, taught from Protestant texts. Filaret recalled that "Evgraf would assign selected passages to be copied from Hollatius." Lessons consisted of translating and commenting on these dictated passages. "Those doctrines which Orthodox and Protestants have in common, such as the Holy Trinity, Redemption, and so on were studied systematically, but others, for example, the doctrine of the Church, were not read at all. Evgraf did not receive a systematic education, although he recognized the necessity for studying the church fathers and he studied them." Evgraf typifies a generation in transition. He loved mystical interpretations of the Bible and would become quite transported by such explanations. "The Kingdom of God is contained not in the word, but in strength." He attempted a transition to Russian language instruction. Subsequently he served as rector of the reformed St. Petersburg Theological Academy, but he died soon after his appointment.

Filaret did not judge him too harshly when he said that: "An inexperienced teacher instructed us in theology, but he did so with great application." Filaret's personal recollections of the "pre-reform" seminary were wholly negative. "What was there to admire?" Filaret himself acquired a brilliant command of classical languages and a sound preparation in stylistics and philology from such a school. As a consequence he knew ancient languages better than modern ones and never studied German at all. For the rest, he could thank his personal talents and dedication to hard work. Thus, in an important sense, there was some basis for his fond description of himself as a self-educated man.

In 1809 the newly tonsured hierodeacon Filaret was summoned from the quiet refuge of a Holy Trinity Monastery bathed in the spirit of pious reverie to St. Petersburg "for inspection" and for service in the newly reformed ecclesiastical schools. For Filaret the startling contrast and the sudden transfer gave St. Petersburg a strange appearance: "The course of affairs is entirely incomprehensible to me," he admitted in a letter to his father. He could recall those first impressions of St. Petersburg for the rest of his life. The Synod greeted him with the advice to read "Swedenborg's Miracles" [Shvedenborgovy chudesa] and learn French. He was taken to court to view the fireworks and attend a masquerade party in order to meet Prince Golitsyn, the Over Procurator of the Holy Synod, quite literally "amidst the noise of the ball."

Then a short man, his breast adorned with stars and medals, entered the room and began threading his way through the hall. He was wearing a three-cornered hat and some sort of silk cape over an embroidered uniform. Then he ascended to the balcony where the clergy were decorously seated. He mingled politely with the members of the Synod, nodding to them, shaking their hands, briefly murmuring a word or two first to one, then to another. No one seemed surprised either at his attire or his familiarity.

This was Filaret's first masquerade ball, and he had never before seen a domino. "At the time I was an object of amusement in the Synod " Filaret recalled, "and I have remained a fool."

Filaret received a cool welcome in St. Petersburg, and he was not immediately permitted to teach at the academy. But by early 1812 he had become the academy rector and an archimandrite, with the task of supervising the Iur'ev Monastery in Novgorod. He advanced primarily through his ardor, his distinguished "preaching of the Word of God " and his "edifying and eloquent homilies on the truths of faith." Filaret had already attracted attention as a stylist and a preacher while at the Holy Trinity Monastery. He truly did have a gift and feeling for words.

Platon and Anastasii Bratanovskii among Russian preachers influenced him. In St. Petersburg he became acquainted with seventeenth century French sermonists, especially Massillon, Bourdaloue, and most of all, Fenelon. But the influence of the eastern fathers, Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian, whom Filaret always particularly loved and valued, is quite pronounced. Filaret chose contemporary themes for his sermons. He spoke about the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, the mystery of the Cross, "a voice crying in the wilderness"-the favorite topics of pietism and quietism. He frequently preached in Prince Golitsyn's chapel, even on weekdays. Grigorii (Postnikov), a former student and friend, commented rather unfavorably on these early sermons. He wrote to Filaret, frankly saying that these sermons displayed "a studied concern for wordplay, ingenuity, and circumlocution, which could truly vex a heart seeking the unalloyed and edifying truth." In fact, during those first years, Filaret spoke with an overly intense and ornamental style. Later he became calmer and more cautious, but his language always remained complex and his phrases were always arranged as if in counterpoint. Such features do not diminish the expressiveness of his sermons. Even Herzen admitted Filaret possessed a rare control over language. "He masterfully commanded the Russian language, skillfully interweaving it with Church Slavic." This "mastery" of language provides the principal reason for his powerful style: he writes with the living word, a word which seems to be thinking, an inspired and vocal pondering. Filaret always preached the Gospel and never tried to achieve mere rhetorical effect. Precisely during those early St. Petersburg years, he produced his original and exemplary sermons on Good Friday (in 1813, and especially in 1816). Filaret's scholarly and pedagogical duties during those years display a still greater intensity. A burdensome and severe ordeal awaited him. "I had to teach what I had never been taught." In the short time from 1810 to 1817, he had to prepare himself and construct practically an entire course in theology in all of its branches, including exegetical theology, canon law, and church antiquities. It was not surprising that he complained of extreme exhaustion. Nor is it surprising that these first attempts did not always succeed or represent complete originality. They often produced diverse and overly fresh impressions. "Influences" would be too strong a word. Filaret's first books, An Outline of Church-Biblical History [Nachertanie tserkovnobibleiskoi istorii, 1816] and Notes on the Book of Genesis [Zapiski na knigu Bytiia, 1816], were modelled on Buddeus. He also borrowed Buddeus's scholarly apparatus. Such borrowing was simply unavoidable given his deadline and the haste of the work. The students had to be given textbooks and other manuals in order to take the examinations.

Filaret was an inspiring and brilliant professor.

He spoke distinctly with an incisive, lofty, and intelligent manner; but [he spoke] more to the intellect than to the heart. He freely expounded Holy Scriptures, as if the words simply flowed from his mouth. The students became so taken by him, that when the time came for him to stop teaching, a great desire always remained to go on listening without regard for food or drink. He produced a powerful impression through his lessons. Those lessons seemed truly pleasing and perfect to everyone. During class, he appeared as a wise and eloquent speaker and a skillful writer. Everything indicated he devoted much time to scholarship.

This is Archimandrite Fotii's own assessment. He adds that Filaret strongly advocated monasticism "and was very compassionate." Fotii had an opportunity to experience that compassion during his difficult and troubled year at the academy. As Sturdza noted, at that time Filaret was "agitated by the promptings of many quite diverse influences." Along with everyone else, he read Jung-Stilling, Eckartshausen, Fenelon, and Guyon, as well as Kerner's The Seer of Prevorst. Traces of such reading unquestionably remained an indelible part of his spiritual and intellectual make-up. Filaret could find a common language not only with Golitsyn, but also with Labzin and even with itinerant Quakers. Every dimension of religious life interested him and attracted him. However, for all such interests, Filaret stayed squarely within the church and inwardly remained untouched by this mystical awakening. Because he was always so impressionable, Filaret inclined toward suspicion: he noted everything and probed and reflected deeply on each detail, a discomforting habit for those around him. But he preferred a certain reserve, while subduing and disciplining himself above all others. Even Fotii, who in his memoirs reproached Filaret for many things and strongly disliked him, admitted that, while a student "living under the sharp eye of Archimandrite Filaret," he "never noticed, or could have noticed, even the slightest blemish on the teaching about the church, either in classes at the academy or in private." Fotii furiously attacks Filaret for only one thing: his excessive patience and extreme taciturnity.

Innokentii Smirnov advised Fotii to pay Filaret frequent visits, where he might learn what silence means. Such a trait actually was one of Filaret's characteristics. He appeared secretive and evasive. In is memoirs, Sturdza writes that there was "something enigmatic" in his entire being. Completely open only before God, and not before men-at least not indiscriminately-"Filaret never allowed himself moments of unguarded confidences." With partial justification, he might be accused of excessive timidity and caution, for he did not wish to risk challenging powerful authority. ("We two archimandrites of the Iur'ev and Pustynsk monasteries will not save the Church, if it contains some defect," Filaret told Innokentii.) But Filaret's caution had another dimension. He had no faith in the utility or reliability of harshly restrictive measures, and he was in no hurry to meddle or pass judgment. Always able to distinguish the error from the person making it, he looked benevolently on every sincere impulse of the soul. Even in the yearnings of the mystics he sensed a true religious thirst, a spiritual restlessness which stumbled along errant paths, only because "the rightful path had been poorly constructed." Thus, for polemical purposes, prohibitions alone would not be sufficient. Above all, education was needed. For that constructive and creative struggle with error which Filaret wished to wage, one must teach, reason, and refrain from impatient quarrels.

Behind the facade of mystical seductions, Filaret could recognize a vital need for religion, a thirst for religious instruction and enlightenment: hence his enthusiastic participation in the work of the Bible Society. The work attracted him, for he believed that the church should expend its energies on translation of the Bible, "so that the bread might not be taken from the children." He firmly believed in the power of renewal found in the Word of God, and forever linked his name with and his selflessly dedicated life to, the translation of the Russian Bible. His labor on behalf of the Bible is difficult to value at its true worth. For him personally the work meant great personal trials and humiliations. At the height of the "uprising" against the Bible in St. Petersburg, Filaret, in Moscow, replied that "such a desire to read the Bible, is already a sign of moral improvement." If some prefer to live on roots rather than pure bread, the Bible cannot be held responsible. To the anticipated question: "Why this innovation in a matter so ancient and unneedful of change as Christianity and the Bible?" Filaret replied,

Why this innovation? What is new? Dogmas? Precepts living? But the Bible Society preaches none of these things but instead places into the hands of those who desire it a book from which the truths of the Church always have been drawn, and from which Orthodox dogmas and also the pure precepts for living continue to be derived. The Society is a new one? Yet it introduces nothing new into Christianity or produces the slightest alteration in the Church . . . .`Why this innovation of foreign origin?' they continue. In reply to that question, one might point out for our worthy compatriots many things and ask a similar question: `Why are they not only of foreign origin, but even entirely foreign'? . . .

As one contemporary put it, "some of the most devout people held the unfortunate belief that people would go mad from reading this sacred book." For a time students in the military schools were officially forbidden to read the Bible, ostensibly as a precautionary measure, for two cadets had already become addled. Many others "regarded it as a book only for use in church and suited solely to priests." From fear of mystical errors and excesses, people suddenly began to shun the writings of Macarius of Egypt and Isaac the Syrian, whose "wise prayer of the heart has been destroyed and derided as a pestilence and a ruination."

Somewhat later Filaret had to prove that it was permissible to write new commentaries on St. Paul's epistles, despite the fact that Chrysostom had long ago provided explanations. "Smoke consumes one's eyes, arid they say `the light of the sun consumes them.' Choking from the smoke, they gasp, `how poisonous is the water from the spring of life.'"

Such a spirit of timid theological endeavor always disturbed Filaret, wherever and whenever it appeared. "Human nature contains a strange ambivalence and contradictory tendencies," he. once said.

On the one hand exists a sense of need for the Divine and a desire for communion with God; on the other hand, there is a mysterious disinclination to occupy oneself with Divine matters and an impulse to avoid any discourse with God. . . .The first of these tendencies belongs to man's original nature, while the other derives from a nature blemished by sin.

Possession and preservation of faith are not sufficient: "perhaps you have doubts you actually possess faith, or how you possess it. . . ." Filaret continues.

As long as your faith resides in the Word of God and in the Creed, then your faith belongs to God, His prophets, Apostles, and Fathers of the Church and not to you. When you hold your faith in your thoughts and memory, then you begin to acquire it as your own; but I still fear for your acquisition [of it], because the living faith in your thoughts is, perhaps, still only a token of that treasure you have yet to receive, that is the living power of faith.

In other words, faith, in the fullness of its dogmatic content, must become the vital principle or focus in life. Each person must not merely remember the content of that faith, but acquire it with the labor of the mind and with the entirety of the soul. Filaret was not afraid to awaken thought, although he knew temptations could only be overcome and conquered by the creative act and not by frightened concealment. Subsequently he wrote: "The necessity to do battle with enemies and with teachings contrary to dogma is quite a sufficient task. What purpose is served by combatting options which are not inimical to any dogmatic truth?" Filaret always emphasized the necessity to engage in theology as the single and immutable foundation for a complete religious life. "Christianity is not being a fool for Christ's sake [iurodstvo], nor is it ignorance, but it is the wisdom of God." Hence no Christian dares halt at the beginning or remain only at an elementary stage. Christianity is a path or a way. Filaret constantly recalls that "[we] should consider no wisdom, even that which is secret and hidden, to be alien and unrelated to us, but with humility we should direct our minds toward contemplation of God." Christian personality is shaped only through such reasoning and understanding; only in this manner is the "perfect man of God" shaped, and formed. Filaret's favorite aphorism, "theology reasons," is a commandment "to reason" given to everyone and not to the few. He considered overly detailed textbooks harmful, and for quite characteristic reasons. "A student having before him a large textbook, that he cannot absorb even that which had been prepared for him Consequently, the possibility of constructing something for himself seems impossible. Thus the mind is not stirred to activity and the memory retains the words rather than the ideas from the pages of book." What is actually needed is to arouse and exercise the "mind's ability to function," and not simply to develop the memory. Herein lies the solution or explanation for the fervor with which Filaret all of his life fought on behalf of the Russian language, both for the Bible and for theological instruction. He wished, and strove to make theology accessible to everyone, and for that reason he seemed terrible and dangerous to his opponents. General accessibility is just what they did not want. "Translation of the New Testament into the simple dialect left a permanent and indelible stain upon him," wrote Fotii.

It was necessary to wage war on two fronts in order to achieve the use of Russian in school instruction. First, one had to combat the civil authorities (and during Nicholas I's reign all "thought" was regarded as the embryo of revolution). The so-called Committee of 6 December (1826-1830) completely opposed the proposal for instruction in Russian, arguing that the necessary addition of new Russian language textbook editions for dogmatic and hermeneutical theology might attract the attention of unenlightened people to questions about faith: "Providing an opportunity for unfounded explanations and conjectures." Second, one had to debate with the represeritatives of the old learning about the use of Latin in theological instruction. Very many such representatives still survived. After Golitsyn's departure, Metropolitan Evgenii of Kiev had been summoned to the Synod. He was entrusted with a new construction of the ecclesiastical schools, "for the establishment of ecclesiastical schools on the firm and steadfast foundation of Orthodoxy," as Metropolitan Seraphim wrote. Fotii recommended Evgenii and openly counterposed him to Filaret as "wiser than Filaret and at the same time an Orthodox and great man and a pillar of the Church: ' (Fotii gave Evgenii a solemn greeting.) However, once in St. Petersburg, Evgenii became too preoccupied with his personal and archeological interests to be able to devote much attention to the large questions of church politics. Nevertheless, a reactionary spirit could be felt quite strongly among the new membership of the Commission on Ecclesiastical Schools. Filaret of Moscow did not attend the sessions of the Synod during those troubled years (if one does not count the brief session of the Synod in Moscow at Nicholas's coronation). He occupied himself with the affairs of his diocese, and only in 1827 did he return to St. Petersburg. During the first weeks after his arrival, he was called upon to discuss the question of church reform. Someone had presented the emperor with a proposal for fundamental reforms aimed at "saddling the Church with a kind of Protestant consistory composed of clergy and laymen," in Filaret's understanding of the proposal's intent. Apparently General Merder, Nicholas's former tutor, had transmitted the proposal. Filaret believed the author to be A. A. Pavlov, the cohort of Fotii and Shishkov during the "uprising" of 1824. The Synod struggled to compose a reply to the substance of the proposal. Filaret also presented a personal note, which was submitted by the Synod as the opinion of one of its members. The Emperor wrote the word "just" [spravedlivo] on this report, in which Filaret had once again raised the question of Biblical translation. But Filaret's suggestion could make no further progress in view of Metropolitan Seraphim's unqualified opposition. Filaret did not insist. "I do not wish to produce a schism in the Church."

In the next few years, Filaret had one other opportunity to set forth in detail his views on the question of church schools. Once again the opportunity came in connection with those same proposals for reform. He roundly condemned the scholastic schools, and still more emphatically castigated the belated attempts to return to such superannuated models.

Before the reform several ecclesiastical schools were distinguished by a knowledge of Latin. . . .As a result, priest knew Latin pagan authors well, but hardly knew religious and Church writers. They could speak and write in Latin better than in Russian. With their exquisite phrases in a dead language, they were more able to shine in a circle of scholars than illuminate the people with the living knowledge of truth. Only dogmatic theology was taught, and then in the school manner. The result was a dry, cold knowledge, a lack of a sufficiently practical capacity to inform, a forced tone, fruitless teaching, and an inability to speak to the people about the truths which seem so familiar in the schools. Since the reforms of the church schools in 1814, instruction in practical theology [deiatel'noe bogoslovie] has been introduced, thereby making the study of theology closer to the demands of life. . . .The Russian language was permitted in teaching theology. Knowledge of Latin became weaker, but at the same time the school terminology began to give way to a purer and cleaner exposition of truth. The extension of true knowledge was strengthened and its communication to the people made easier. . .

Filaret emphasized that: "Theological understanding, crushed by the great weight of school terminology taught in Latin, did not freely act on the mind during the period of study, and after study only with the greatest difficulty was it transposed into Russian for communication to the people." He then criticized the latest directives from the Commission on Ecclesiastical Schools. True, he agreed, not all teachers constructed their courses successfully, but should teaching from "one's own lectures" be totally prohibited for that reason? Must Latin once again become compulsory and Feofilakt's theology textbook, "copied from Buddeus's Lutheran theology," be assigned once again? Filaret once more adduced an argument based on effectiveness. "Return to Latin scholasticism from instruction in a comprehensible native language cannot facilitate the improvement of education. It is surprising that a time which is being praised for its zeal for Orthodoxy should prefer a return to Latin."

Another Filaret, the archbishop of Riazan' and later metropolitan of Kiev, responded to this determined note. Without quarrelling directly with Filaret of Moscow, he insisted upon preserving Latin for various reasons: as a defensive measure for scholarship, but more importantly as a precaution, so that errors and heresies refuted in dogmatic theology would not gain public attention through Russian books. Nevertheless, he did agree with certain points, and proposed that catechisms, particularly the Orthodox Confession, be published for popular use in Russian and Church Slavic. He also admitted that practical theology could best be taught in Russian. Finally, he thought it desirable to organize the translation of patristic writings into Russian from Greek and Latin. Filaret of Moscow had to give way. The final report did not include a proposal for theological instruction in Russian.

I proposed that theology be taught in Russian at the seminaries in order that its study and its transmission to the people might be made easier and so that those who are distrustful will not ask why we conceal the Holy Gospel in a non-Orthodox language. I stated that it is strange and crippling to give sway to Latin in the Greek Church and that Feofan Prokopovich, by doing so, had disfigured our learning, contrary to the general opinion of the Russian hierarchy at that time, and contrary to the example of all Eastern antiquity; but I had to be silent, in order to end those disagreements which could impede our work.

However, Filaret did achieve one thing: a special point was added to the Synodal resolution; "in order that instruction conducted in the ecclesiastical schools might be more fruitfully directed toward the goal of popular education in faith and morality by means of an educated clergy, to that end capable people should be encouraged to prepare theology textbooks which expound truths in a precise way, unobscured by scholastic subtleties, and which modify [theology] to suit the circumstances of the Eastern Greco-Russian Church."

The dispute over the language of instruction was decided with out preliminary debate. Despite the prohibition, in a short time Russian became the language of the schools everywhere. Filaret had already lectured in Russian at the St. Petersburg Academy, as did his successor Grigorii (Postnikov). Kirill (Bogoslovskii-Platonov) did so in Moscow. Both Grigorii and Kirill were graduates in the first class at the St. Petersburg Academy. Moisei, the rector at the Kiev Academy, l44 had already taught in Russian. Meletii (L.eontovich), and later Innokentii, followed his example. Gradually Latin fell by the wayside in the seminaries so that by the 1840's scarcely any school still taught, theology in Latin. Nevertheless, the transition to Russian still did not signify a genuine liberation from the captivity or slavery of scholasticism. In the 1840's Russian theology had to suffer still another relapse of Latin scholasticism. Once again the initiative belonged to the vising Over Procurator.

Filaret wrote very little. The circumstances of his life were unfavorable to writing. Only in his youth could he give himself to scholarship without too much interference. But he was compelled to work hastily. These years were actually more devoted to study than to independent creativity. Soon called to serve in the upper hierarchy, Filaret thereafter had neither the freedom nor the leisure to systematically investigate and study theology. And in his mature years, Filaret was able to be a theologian only as a preacher. In fact, his Sermons and Addresses [Slova i rechi] remains his principal theological legacy. Filaret never constructed a theological system. His sermons are only fragments, but they contain an inner wholeness and unity. It is not a unity of system, it is a unity of conception. These fragments reveal a living theological experience tormented and tempered in an ordeal of prayer and vigil. Filaret of Moscow was the first person in the history of modern Russian theology for whom theology once more became the aim of life, the essential step toward spiritual progress and construction. He was not merely a theologian, he lived theology. From the ambo or his episcopal seat in the cathedral, he firmly and judiciously taught the lessons of faith. Filaret was a disciplined speaker. He never simply spoke, but always read or followed a written text, an oratorical requirement from his school days.

As a theologian and teacher he was above all a Biblicist. His sermons dwelled most frequently on the Word of God. He did not consult Holy Scriptures for proofs: he proceeded from the sacred texts. In Bukharev's apt phrase, for Filaret Biblical texts "were the thoughts of the Living and All-wise God emanating from his unknowableness for our understanding." His thoughts lived in the Biblical element. He pondered aloud while sifting the nuances of a Biblical image or story. Filaret, notes Bukharev, never allowed his theology to become a "legal investigation governed by a dogmatic code of laws," as was usually the case before Filaret's time and as too often recurred during the epoch of the "return to the time of scholasticism."

During his first few years of teaching, Filaret worked out a general plan for a course in theology, A Survey of Theology [Obozrenie bogoslovskikh nauk, 1814]. It was a very characteristic plan, for it was a course in Biblical theology. In Filaret's view, the aim of a theological system was to "link in their proper order" the individual facts and truths of Revelation. A "system" of theology was something fully dependent and derivative. History came before system, for Revelation was given in history and events.

The formalism of the "old Protestant" theological school in which Filaret was raised and educated exercised a strong influence on him, especially in his younger days. He did not at once formally break with the Russian tradition of Prokopovich. A great deal in his definitions and manner of expression was suggested by, or he simply copied from, Protestant books. He refers to such books in his Survey; hence the incompleteness and scholastic imprecision of Filaret's early formulations. He had the habit of referring to Holy Scriptures as "the sole pure and sufficient source of teaching about faith" and added that "to grant the unwritten Word of God equal weight with the written, not only in the functioning of the Church, but in its dogmas is to subject oneself to the danger of destroying God's commandment for the sake of human tradition: ' This was said, of course, in the heat of polemics. But it does seem that if he did not deny it, then Filaret minimized the importance of Tradition in the Church. He shared and reproduced the Protestant idea of the so-called "self-sufficiency" of Holy Scripture. In his early work, An exposition of the differences between the Eastern and Western Churches in the teaching of faith [Izlozhenie raznostei mezhdu Postochnoi i Zapadnoi tserkvi v uchenii very] written in 1811 for the Empress Elizabeth Alekseevna and even in the early editions of the Catechism, Filaret says very little about Tradition or traditions. And in the final redaction of the Catechism during the 1830's, the questions and answers about Tradition were added at the prompting of others.

Yet this was more a fault of the peculiar language of the period than an actual mistake or error. In any case, Filaret never looked upon Scripture abstractly or in isolation. The Bible is given to and is maintained in the Church. The Church gives it to the faithful for reading and guidance. Scripture is written Tradition, and as such it is a witness to the living knowledge and understanding of the Church. Scripture is the record of Tradition, not ordinary traditions of human recollection, but Holy Tradition. To put it another way, it is the sacred memory embodied in writing "for the uninterrupted and uniform preservation of Divine Words."

Scripture, as Filaret explained it, is "only the continuation of Tradition and Tradition's unalterably constructed form." When he spoke of Scripture as the "sole and sufficient" source of teaching about faith, he did not have in mind a book with leather covers, but the Word of God which lives in the Church, and awakens in each living soul that which the Church acknowledges and teaches. Scripture is Tradition. Furthermore, true and holy Tradition is not "simply the visible and verbal tradition of the teachings, canons, ceremonies, and rituals, but it is also the invisible and actual instruction by grace and sanctification." It is the unity of the Holy Spirit, the communion of the sacraments. And for Filaret the main thing was not historical memory, but the uninterrupted flow of Grace. Therefore, only in the Church is authentic tradition possible. Only in the Church does the Grace of the Holy Spirit pour forth revealed truth in an unbroken stream and admonish with it.

Filaret's intense Biblicism was intimately and deeply bound up with his conception of the Church. This was a return to the patristic style and habit in theology. At the same time Filaret emphasized that modern philological studies must provide a precise definition for the "formal meaning" of Scripture. Scripture is the Word of God, not merely the word about God spoken or recorded at one time. It is the efficacious word acting eternally through the ages. It is a certain Divine mystery, the unalterable appearance of grace and power. "Light is concealed in every trace of God's Word, and wisdom is heard in every sound." And Filaret added, "the authenticity of Holy Scripture extends beyond the limits of our reason." It is a kind of Divine treasury: the unceasing, creative, life-giving Word. And the Church is that holy treasury in which this word is preserved. It is a special construction of the Spirit of God.

Authentic and undoubted, Holy Tradition is the indisputable "source" of faith. But the question remains, how does one recognize and discern this "undoubted" tradition? How is the tradition of faith distinguished from the traditions of the schools? It was precisely this question which constantly occupied Filaret's attention. He was reluctant to discuss appeals to tradition, not what constituted Tradition. He protested against the scholastic custom and habit of establishing or proving doctrinal propositions with a simple selection of texts or authoritative testimony. He emphasized that it was impossible to equate any non-Biblical testimony with that of the Bible, and the realm of direct Divine inspiration is precisely described by the boundary of canon. "Is it possible to define precisely that moment when a church writer becomes a saint and is no longer simply a writer subject to the usual human weaknesses?" Filaret did not place limits on the educational authority of the Church. He only limited the authority of the schools.

Historical tradition, in any case, is subject to confirmation, and Filaret had a lively sense of history. It was this sense, which separated him from later scholastics with their logical pedantry and from the mystics such as Speranskii, Labzin, and Skovoroda earlier for whom the Bible became an allegory or a symbol. For Filaret the Bible was always and above all a book of history. It begins with a description of the creation of heaven and earth and concludes with the appearance of a new heaven and earth, "the entire history of the existing world ", Filaret remarked. And this history of the world is the history of God's covenant with man. It is also the history of the Church which begins even earlier. "The history of the Church begins simultaneously with the history of the world. The creation of the world in itself may be seen as a kind of preparation for the creation of the Church because the purpose for which the kingdom of nature was made resides in the kingdom of grace." The world was created for the sake of man, and with the creation of man came the original Church, founded in the very image and likeness of God. Man was introduced into the world of nature as a priest and a prophet, so that the light of Grace would reach out through him to all the created world. In freedom, man was called upon to answer this creative love, "and then the Son of God would reside in men and reign openly and triumphantly throughout the world. Heavenly light and power would pour down ceaselessly on earth until at last the earth was no longer distinct from heaven."

The heavenly Covenant with God was abrogated by the Fall; the original Church was destroyed. Man stifled within himself the eternal life-giving attention of Divine glory, and he likewise blocked the flow of grace to all the world. In the fallen world, however, creative Divine purpose continued to operate. It acts as a promise and a calling. And the created world (submerged beneath the abyss of Divine infinity and hovering above the abyss of personal non-being) preserves the Word of God.

All history is the journey of God toward man and the journey of man toward God. This holy pulse of time and history especially can be felt in the Old Testament. That was a time of messianic expectations and preparations. Mankind awaits and expects the promised Savior, and God equally expects the exercise of human freedom and love. For that reason there is a tension in time: "the created world moves in definite cycles by necessity and cannot be hurried." The Old Testament was a time of prefigurations and premonitions; a time of multiple and multiform Epiphanies, and at the same time it was a returning of the chosen among men to an encounter with the approaching God. "The common ground of Epiphany, especially in its human dimension, is the Incarnation of the Son of God, for the root and foundation of His holy humanity is found in men from the time of the very first progenitors." In this sense, the Old Testament is a genealogy of the Savior.

The image of the Mother of God is sharply and clearly etched in Filaret's theological consciousness. And the Day of Annunciation was for him the most glorious day of all. With the Annunciation in Nazareth the Old Testament ends and the New Testament begins. The tension of expectation is dissolved. Human freedom responds in the Mother of God. "She unreservedly entrusted herself to the desire of the King of Kings, and the marriage of the Divine with mankind was consummated." And in the Birth of Christ the Church, destroyed forever by the disobedience of the earthly Adam, is recreated indestructibly and forever. The Kingdom of Grace is revealed and the Kingdom of Glory is already slightly visible.

In Filaret's view, the Church is the Body of Christ, "the unity of one life" in Him. It is not the union of all under one authority, even under the royal authority of Christ. Moreover, the Church is a continuing Pentecost: a unity in the Spirit of Christ. The sanctifying stream of grace as an unquenchable fount flows to the very threshold of the coming Kingdom of Glory. "When the mysterious body of the last Adam, composed and constituted by Him through the mutual linking of the members by the appropriate actions of each of them, grows in its composition and is perfectly and finally created, then, upheld by His Head, infused with the Holy Spirit, the image of God triumphantly appears in all its members and the great Sabbath of God and man ensues." The circle of time is closed. The Lord Pantocrator is enthroned and the marriage of the Lamb begins.

In his theological speculations Filaret always proceeded from the facts of Revelation and moved among them. He never departed from history in order hurriedly to ascend to "the exalted heights of contemplation" by means of abstract theology. He had no love for "cold philosophy" and was guided in theology not so much by logical conclusions as by historical phenomena. He was always conscious of the Divine Mysteries in their historical manifestations and actions. And all history is revealed before him as a single great unfolding of Divine Love and Divine Glory in the created world. The theme of his theology was always the Covenant of God and man, in all the complexity and multiform character of its historical fate.

Filaret's "system" was not constructed under "influences" and "impressions," for its inner structure is patristic (compare it especially with Gregory of Nyssa). He dwelled with particular attention on two themes: first, the mystery of the Cross, the mystery of Redemption. And second, the description of the life of Grace, the life in the Spirit Christ revealed to the faithful. Christ is the mysterious First Priest who is offered and who brings the offering. He is the Lamb of God and the Great Hierarch (see the Epistle to the Hebrews). It was the Cross of Golgotha he saw in the Gospels. It was the passion of the Savior he saw in the God-man. "The fate of the world is suspended from His cross, the life of the world lies in His grave. The Cross illuminates the weeping land of life; the sun of blessed immortality streams forth from His grave." The mystery of the Cross is the mystery of Divine Love. "Thus in the spiritual realm of mystery, along the entire dimensions of the Cross of Christ, contemplation is overwhelmed in the limitless love of God." On Good Friday Filaret once preached on the passage "And God so loved the world." He urged that the ultimate meaning of the Cross be grasped. "Behold! . . . There is nothing except the holy and blessed Love of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit toward a sinful and despairing mankind. The Love of the Father in the act of crucifying; the Love of the Son who is crucified; the Love of the Spirit which triumphs by the power of the Cross."

Filaret was completely free of any sentimental or moralistic misinterpretations of the love of the Cross. On the contrary, he emphasized that the Cross of Christ is rooted in the inscrutableness of Divine benevolence. The mystery of the Cross begins in eternity "in the sanctuary of the Tri-hypostatic Godhead which is inaccessible to the created world. Thus, Christ is spoken of in Scriptures as the Lamb of God, forewarned or even crucified from the time of the world's creation. "The death of Christ is the center of created being. The Cross of Jesus, built by the animosity of the Jews and the bloodthirstiness of the pagans, is the earthly image and shadow of this heavenly Cross of love." In his sermons, especially on days recalling the Passion, Filaret ascended to the heights of lyrical prayer; a trembling of the heart can be heard in these addresses. His sermons are impossible to paraphrase; it is only possible to reread and repeat them. We find no integrated system in Filaret, for he always spoke "on occasion." We do find something greater: a unity of living experience, a depth of intellectual conception, "a mysterious visitation of the Spirit." And this is the clue or explanation for his influence on theology. He had practically no direct disciples, nor did he create a school; he created something more important: a spiritual movement. Filaret was always reserved in his theological judgments and he urged others to exercise the same responsible caution. This unremitting sense of responsibility, in which pastoral and theological motives were intertwined, was always at work on him and gave him a stern countenance. It was rightly said that "he was a bishop from morning to night and from night to morning." This was a source of his caution. But he had another motive as well, an instinctive need to justify his every conclusion. It is precisely this need which explains all of his reservations. "Each theological thought must be accepted only in the measure of its strength." Filaret always opposed the transformation of private opinions into required ones which might restrict rather than guide perceptive and searching thought. That is why he was such an unpleasant and impatient censor and editor. His report on Innokentii's Passion Week [Strastnaia Sed initsa] is characteristic: "I wish that calm reason might accompany the labor of a lively and powerful imagination and cleanse this book." Filaret did not reject "imagination," but he subjected it to strict verification, and not so much verification by reason as by the testimony of Revelation.

Not much may be expected by relying on one's own philosophical reasoning for those subjects not found in life on earth. It is more fitting to follow Divine Revelation and the explanations of it given by people who have prayed, labored, cleansed their inner and outer lives more than we. The image of God is more apparent and the sight is clearer in those whose spirits here on earth border more closely on heaven than our own.

Obviously, Filaret was not so preoccupied with authority as with inner reliability.

Filaret appeared too pliable or excessively timid to others in direct proportion to his own demands and caution. Some accused Filaret of "Jacobinism in theology" because he always demanded "proofs" and very cautiously distinguished between "opinion" and "definition." "The people did not love him and called him a Mason" (Herzen). Others considered him a dark reactionary and (strangely enough) preferred Count Pratasov (this applies not only to Nikanor Brovkovich but also to Rostislavov). Still others were confused because Filaret would not condemn the Latin faith as heresy or even as a schism, but instead he argued that it was only an "opinion" and not a ruling of the Church. In particular he tried to guard against exaggeration: "Placing the Papal Church on the same level as the Armenian Church is cruel and useless." He seemed too cautious when he argued that the Eastern Church "does not possess an autocratic interpreter of its teachings who might give the weight of dogma to his explanations." It seemed that he left too much to the "individual judgment and conscience" of the faithful, even though it was "assisted by the teachers of the Church and was under the guidance of the Word of God."

Some could not find adequate words to describe Filaret's oppressive tyrannical character. In this connection, the hostile autobiographical "notes" of the historian S. M. Solov'ev were especially typical. In Solov'ev's description, Filaret was a sort of evil genius, who smothered the least inkling of creativity and independence in his subordinates. Solov'ev insisted that Filaret destroyed any creative spirit in the Moscow Theological Academy. Something must be said about this later. Here it is enough to note that Solov'ev's calumny can be countered by considerable contrary evidence. One example, which is supplied by a person whom it is difficult to suspect of partiality toward Filaret, must be enough. This was the statement of G. Z. Eliseev, the famous radical and editor of Notes of the Fatherland [Zapiski otechestva]. He was a student in the Moscow Academy at the beginning of the 1840's and then a baccalaureate and professor in Kazan'. In Eliseev's estimation, there was too much freedom and an exceptional environment of heartfelt warmth, softness, and camaraderie at the Moscow Academy.

Solov'ev was shortsighted and partial in his judgments. He was not able, nor did he wish, to find any redeeming qualities in those who did not agree with him. He was particularly irritated by people of a "restless mind," who offended his cozy night-Hegelian worldview. Filaret was not the only one whom Solov'ev condemned in this fashion. He found only harsh and foul words for Khomiakov. But Solov'ev was unfair to Filaret even as an historian. He could not and would not understand that Filaret's outward severity sprang from grief and anxiety. "This man has a hot head and a cold heart." This characterization is a deceptive half truth. It is true that Filaret's mind was fervent and hot, and restless thoughts left a deep impress on his withered face. But it is simply nonsense and a lie that Filaret's heart was cold. It flowed sensitively and impressionistically. And it burned in an uncanny and terrible anxiety. His obvious achievements and obvious integrity could conceal this grief and anxiety, this inner suffering, only from a shortsighted observer. Filaret's difficult and courageous silence hardly concealed or quieted his uneasiness about what was happening in Russia. "It seems that we no longer live even in the suburbs of Babylon, but in Babylon itself," he declared one day.

Khomiakov once noted that Filaret was compelled to travel by "devious routes" in order not to provide a pretext for being attacked. "Submission required detours, while his exactness perhaps made it less likely that they would be on the watch and inflict an unexpected blow," wrote another contemporary. Filaret once wrote to Grigorii [Postnikov] : "It is a great misfortune if those against whom they seek an opportunity to attack provide that opportunity. . . ."

Filaret did not like easy and safe paths, for he did not believe that easy paths could lead to truth - the narrow path could hardly turn out to be an easy one. "I fear only that joy on earth which thinks it has nothing to fear. . . ."

Items of Interest - Week of the Last Judgement 2007

The Dread Judgment Seat of Christ
Fr. Stephen Freeman on what proceeds from the heart of man.

"We make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet"
Christopher Orr comments on understanding the meaning of Scripture.

Something of an Aesthetic of Perversion
From the Ochlophobist: "Much of what we call art these days is nothing but sexualized affectation in various media forms. It is sad that many Christians, albeit to a lesser extent than the culture at large, embrace this art."

Toward a Biblical View of Obscenity
Peter J. Leithart on how the Bible describes sex, and how Christian writers and theologians should describe sex.

Should We Worry About a Bosnian Muslim Massacring People in Trolley Square?
Mary Mostert, from Banner of Liberty, tells the truth about the February 12 attack.

MSNBC: A Bosnian Kills Americans? Blame the Serbs!
by Julia Gorin. "As if we couldn’t have seen this one coming..."

The Religious Left vs. "Demonic" America
by Mark Tooley. Mainline American Protestantism, when its elites were still theologically orthodox, viewed the United States as a providential instrument for prosperity and freedom. But after its elites abandoned traditional Christianity for a plethora of radical ideologies, it discovered that America is actually “demonic.”

The Supreme Court Opinions of Clarence Thomas
Joseph Klein reviews Henry Mark Holzer's The Supreme Court Opinions of Clarence Thomas, 1991-2006: A Conservative’s Perspective, a book which demolishes the liberal mythology about Justice Thomas as a race-betraying right-wing ideologue in the shadow of Justice Scalia.

The Allende School for Subverting Democracy
By Daniel Mandel. Latin America's anti-American Left enjoys a second wind.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Scripture and Tradition: An Orthodox Point of View

By Fr. Georges Florovsky

I

The Large Catechism of the Russian Orthodox Church opens with chapters on "Divine Revelation" and on "Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture." The question is asked: "In what manner is divine revelation propagated among men and preserved in the true church?" The answer is: "In a twofold manner, first by Tradition and then by Scripture." Now, Tradition is described in the following sentence, "The true believers transmit to each other — and one generation to the other — by word and example, the teaching of faith, the law of God, sacraments and holy rites." The keeper of tradition is the church. "All true believers, united by the sacred tradition of faith, jointly and in succession, constitute the church," which is the "pillar and foundation of truth." Tradition as a method of preserving divine revelation has the priority in time.

There was no Scripture before Moses. Christ himself instructed his disciples orally by word and example, and so did the apostles in the beginning. The Scripture was given in order to fix revelation in precise terms for future times. Then follows the description of the biblical canon. The Old Testament books are numbered according to the Hebrew canon, with a reference to Cyril of Jerusalem and Athanasius. The Holy Tradition is complementary to Holy Writ in the sense that it directs the right understanding of Scripture, the right administration of the sacraments, and the preservation of sacred rites in the purity of their original institution. Tradition must be kept in so far as it is in conformity with the divine revelation and the Holy Scripture.

In the later sections of the Catechism where it speaks of the church, the infallibility of the church is professed and acknowledged, as she is given and promised the guidance and assistance of the Holy Spirit. It should be added that in the whole course of the Catechism abundant references to Scripture are given, and proof-texts are quoted. References to tradition are comparatively rare. The most important of them are precisely in the chapter on tradition itself: a quotation from St. Irenaeus and a lengthy passage from St. Basil’s On The Holy Spirit, chapter 27.

The Large Catechism is not a "symbolical book" in the technical sense, as the term is used in the West. Yet, it is an authoritative exposition of Orthodox faith, approved by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church and intended for the general instruction of believers. It was drafted by the greatest Russian theologian of the last century, Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow. It is safe, therefore, to take the statements of the Catechism as the starting point of presentation of the Orthodox conception of Scripture and Tradition, in their essence and in their mutual relationship.

The term tradition is used in the Catechism only in order to clarify the manner of propagating and preserving divine revelation. It is the paradosis, the handing down of what God chose to disclose and communicate to men. It is not a particular "source" of truth or doctrine. Revelation is adequately recorded in Scripture. But Scripture is, as it were, "stored" or "deposited" in the church. On the other hand, tradition is equated with the mind and continuous memory of the church. And in this sense it is the guiding principle and criterion of scriptural interpretation. Accordingly, tradition does not and cannot add anything to Scripture, but only elicits what is contained in Holy Writ and puts it in the right perspective. The Scriptures "belong" to the church, are committed to her and not to individual believers. A faithful guide is required for true exegesis. The church catholic is that guide. Or in other words, Scripture is given and preserved in tradition. Tradition and Scripture are inseparable.

II

This approach to the problem of Scripture and tradition is itself traditional. In fact, it was the approach of the ancient church. St. Irenaeus and St. Basil were appropriately quoted in the Russian Catechism. The problem of correct exegesis was a burning issue in the ancient church during the struggle and contest with heresies. All parties in the dispute used to appeal to Scripture. Moreover, at that time exegesis was the main, and even the only, theological method, and the authority of Scripture was sovereign and supreme. The orthodox leaders were bound to raise the hermeneutical question: What was the principle of interpretation? Now, in the second century the term "Scripture" still denoted primarily the Old Testament. It was in this same century that the authority of the Old Testament was sharply and radically challenged, and actually rejected, by Marcion. The unity of the Bible had to be proved and vindicated. What was the basis and the warrant of a Christian and christological understanding of "prophecy," that is, of the Old Testament? It was in this historic situation that the authority of tradition was first invoked.

Scripture belonged to the church, and it was only in the church, within the community of right faith, that Scripture could be adequately understood and correctly interpreted. Heretics, namely, those outside of the church, had no key to the mind of the Scripture. It was not enough simply to quote scriptural words and texts (the "letter"). Rather, the true meaning of Scripture, taken as an integrated whole, had to be grasped and elicited. In the admirable phrase of St. Hilary of Poitiers, "scripturae enim non in legendo sunt, sed in intelligendo." The phrase was also repeated by St. Jerome. One had to grasp in advance, as it were, the true pattern of scriptural revelation, the great and comprehensive design of God's redemptive providence (the oeconomia), and this could be done only by an insight of faith. It was by faith that the witness to Christ could be discerned in the Old Testament. It was by faith that the unity of the tetramorphic gospel could be properly ascertained.

Now, this faith was not an arbitrary and subjective insight of individuals; it was the faith of the church, rooted in the apostolic message or kerygma and authenticated by it. Those outside of the church, that is, outside of her living and apostolic tradition, failed to have precisely this basic and overarching message, the very heart of the gospel. With them Scripture was an array of disconnected passages and stories or of proof-texts which they endeavored to arrange and re-arrange according to their own pattern, derived from alien sources. They had "another faith."

III

This was the main method and the main argument of Tertullian in his passionate treatise De praescriptione. He could not discuss Scriptures with heretics, with those outside the communion of apostolic faith. For they had no right to use the Scriptures: the Scriptures did not belong to them. They were the possession of the church. Tertullian emphatically insisted on the priority of the "rule of faith." It was the only key to the Scriptures, the indispensable prerequisite of authentic biblical interpretation. And this rule was apostolic; it was rooted in and derived from the original apostolic preaching. The New Testament itself had to be taken in the comprehensive context of the total apostolic preaching, which was still vividly remembered in the church.

The basic intention of this appeal to the apostolic "rule of faith" in the early church is obvious. When Christians spoke of the "rule of faith" as apostolic, they did not mean that the apostles had formulated it. What they meant was that the profession of belief which every catechumen recited before his baptism did embody in summary form the faith which the apostles had taught and had committed to their disciples after them. This profession of faith was the same everywhere, although the actual phrasing could vary from place to place. It was always intimately related to the baptismal formula itself (Cf. C. H. Turner). Apart from this "rule" the Scriptures could only be misinterpreted, contended Tertullian and St. Irenaeus a bit earlier.

The apostolic tradition of faith was the indispensable guide in the understanding of Scripture and the ultimate warrant of right interpretation. The church was not an external authority which could be the judge over Scripture, but was rather the keeper and guardian of that divine truth which has been stored and deposited in Holy Writ. The "rule of faith," of which the early church fathers spoke, was intimately related to the sacrament of Christian initiation. It was the "rule" to which believers are committed (and into which they were previously initiated) by their baptismal profession. On the other hand, this "rule" was nothing other than the "truth" which the apostles had deposited in the church and entrusted to her, to be continuously handed down by the succession of accredited pastors, under the abiding guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The image of the church as a "treasury of truth" comes from St. Irenaeus. The treasure is indeed the Scripture, but also the living faith by which the mystery of the Scripture is assessed. Tradition in the early church was, first of all, a hermeneutical principle and method. Scripture could be rightly and fully comprehended only in the light and in the context of the living apostolic tradition, which was an integral factor of Christian existence. It was so not because tradition could add anything to what has been manifested in the Scripture, but because it provided that living context, the comprehensive perspective, in which alone the true intention and the total design of the Holy Writ, and especially of the divine revelation itself, could be adequately grasped and acknowledged. The Christian truth was, in the phrase of St. Irenaeus, a "well-grounded system," a corpus veritatis, or a "harmonious melody." And it was precisely this harmony that could be apprehended by faith alone. The apostolic tradition, as it was maintained and understood in the early church, was not a fixed core or complex of binding propositions, but rather an insight into the meaning and power of the revelatory events, of the revelation of the "God who acts" and has acted.

IV

The situation did not change in the fourth century. The dispute with the Arians was centered again in the exegetical field, at least in its early phase. The Arians and their supporters had produced an impressive array of scriptural texts in defense of their doctrinal position. They wanted to restrict theological discussion to the biblical ground alone. Their claim had to be met precisely on this ground. Their exegetical method was much the same as that of the earlier dissenters. They were operating with selected proof-texts, without much concern for the total context of revelation. It was imperative for the orthodox to appeal to the mind of the church, to that "faith" which had been once delivered and then faithfully kept. This was the chief concern and the usual method of the great Athanasius. In his arguments he persistently invoked the "rule of faith," much in the same manner as it had been done by the fathers of the second century.

Only the "rule of faith" allows the theologian to grasp the true intention of Holy Scripture, the scopos, the genuine design and intent of the revelation. The "scope" of the faith or the Scriptures was precisely their credal core, which was condensed in the "rule of faith," as this had been handed down and transmitted "from fathers to fathers." In contrast, the Arians had "no fathers" to support their doctrinal claims. Their blasphemy was a sheer innovation totally alien to apostolic tradition and to the overarching message of the Bible. St. Athanasius regarded this traditional "rule of faith" as the norm and ultimate principle of interpretation, opposing "the ecclesiastical sense" to "the private opinions" of the heretics. Indeed, for him Scripture was an adequate and sufficient source of doctrine, sacred and inspired. Only it had to be properly interpreted in the context of the living credal tradition, under the guidance and control of the "rule of faith."

Moreover, this "rule" was in no sense an extraneous authority which could be imposed on the Holy Writ. It was, in fact, the same apostolic preaching which had been deposited in writing in the books of the New Testament. But it was, as it were, this preaching in epitome, Sometimes Athanasius described the Scripture itself as an apostolic paradosis. In the whole discussion with the Arians there is no single reference to any "traditions" in the plural. The only appeal is to Tradition. "Let us look at that very tradition, teaching and faith of the cathlolic church from the very beginning, which the Lord handed down, the apostles preached and the fathers preserved. Upon this the church is established." (St. Athanasius, ad Serap., T. 28). Thus, he teaches that "tradition" is even more than apostolic; it is dominical coming from the Lord Himself.

The first reference to "unwritten traditions" is to be found in the famous treatise of St. Basil, On the Holy Spirit; And, at first glance, it may seem as if St. Basil admitted a double authority and double standard — unwritten traditions alongside of the Scriptures. The fact is however, that he is far from doing so. His terminology is peculiar. His main distnction is between kerygmata and dogmata. In his phraseology, kerygmata are precisely what in the later terminology was denoted as doctrine, that is, formal and authoritative teaching and ruling in matters of faith or the public teaching. On the other hand, dogmata are the total complex of "unwritten habits" — in fact, the total structure of liturgical and sacramental life. These "habits" were handed down, says St. Basil, en mysterio. It would be a flagrant mistranslation if we took these words to mean "in secret." The only accurate rendering is: "by way of mysteries." This means, under the form of rites and liturgical usages. Indeed, all the examples which St. Basil cites in this connection are ritual and symbolic. These rites and symbols are means of communication. In a sense they are extra-scriptural. But their purpose is to impart to the candidates for baptism the "rule of faith" and prepare them for their baptismal profession of faith. St. Basil's appeal to these "unwritten habits" was no more than an appeal to the faith of the church, to her sensus catholicus. He had to break the deadlock created by the obstinate and narrow-minded pseudo-biblicism of his Arian, or Eunomian, opponents. And he pleaded that, apart from this "unwritten" rule of faith, expressed in sacramental rites and habits, it was impossible to grasp the true intention of the Scripture.

V

To conclude this brief excursus on the ancient tradition we should mention St. Vincent of Lerins and his famous Commonitorium. Sometimes it is asserted that Vincent admitted the double authority of Scripture and Tradition. Actually he held the opposite view. Indeed, the true faith could be recognized, according toVincent, in a double manner, duplici modo, that is, by the authority of the divine law (i.e. Scripture) and by ecclesiastical tradition. This does not imply, however, that there are two sources of Christian doctrine. The "rule" of Scripture was for St. Vincent "perfect and self-sufficient." Why then was it imperative to invoke also the "authority of ecclesiastical understanding," (ecclesiasticae intelligentiae auctoritas)? The reason is obvious: Scripture was variously interpreted and twisted by individual writers for their subjective purposes. And to this confusing variety of discordant interpretations and private opinions, St. Vincent opposes the mind of the church catholic (ut propheticae et apostolicae interpretationis linea secundum ecclesiastici et catholici sensus normam derigatur). Thus tradition for St. Vincent is not an independent instance nor a complementary source of doctrine. It is no more than Scripture being interpreted according to the catholic mind of the church, which is the guardian of the apostolic "rule of faith." St. Vincent repeats and summarizes the continuous attitude of the ancient church on this matter. Scripture is an adequate source of doctrine: ad omnia satis superque sufficiat. Tradition is the authentic guide in interpretation, providing the context and perspective in which Scripture discloses its genuine message.

The Orthodox Church is faithfully committed to this ancient and traditional view on the sources of Christian doctrine. Scripture is an adequate source. But only in so far as it is read and interpreted in the church which is the guardian both of the Holy Writ and of the total apostolic paradosis of faith, order and life. Tradition alone allows the church to go beyond the "letter" to the very Word of Life.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Metr. St. Philaret of Moscow on Christian Education

It is very true that the gift and the duty to teach are not everybody's lot, and rare are those whom the Church has honoured with the name of Theologian. However, it is not permissible to anyone in Christianity to know nothing at all and to remain ignorant. Was not the Lord Himself called Master, and did He not call His followers disciples? Christians, before they assumed this title, bore the name of disciples. Would these terms be vain or meaningless? And why did the Lord send Apostles into the world? It was first and foremost to teach all nations... If you refuse to teach or to learn within Christianity, you are not disciples of Christ and you do not follow Him; the Apostles were not sent for you; you are not what all Christians were from the very beginning of Christianity. I do not know what you are, nor what shall become of you.

(Sermon preached in 1841, on the feast of St. Alexis)

The Lost Scriptural Mind

by Fr. Georges Florovsky

“As the Truth is in Jesus” (Eph 4:21)

Christian ministers are not supposed to preach their private opinions, at least from the pulpit. Ministers are commissioned and ordained in the church precisely to preach the Word of God. They are given some fixed terms of reference — namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ — and they are committed to this sole and perennial message. They are expected to propagate and to sustain “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Of course, the Word of God must be preached “efficiently.” That is, it should always be so presented as to carry conviction and command the allegiance of every new generation and every particular group. It may be restated in new categories, if the circumstances require. But, above all, the identity of the message must be preserved.

One has to be sure that one is preaching the same gospel that was delivered and that one is not introducing instead any “strange gospel” of his own. The Word of God cannot be easily adjusted or accommodated to the fleeting customs and attitudes of any particular age, including our own time. Unfortunately, we are often inclined to measure the Word of God by our own stature, instead of checking our mind by the stature of Christ. The “modern mind” also stands under the judgment of the Word of God.

Modern Man and Scripture

But it is precisely at this point that our major difficulty begins. Most of us have lost the integrity of the scriptural mind, even if some bits of biblical phraseology are retained. The modern man often complains that the truth of God is offered to him in an “archaic idiom” — i.e., in the language of the Bible — which is no more his own and cannot be used spontaneously. It has recently been suggested that we should radically “demythologize” Scripture, meaning to replace the antiquated categories of the Holy Writ by something more modern. Yet the question cannot be evaded: Is the language of Scripture really nothing else than an accidental and external wrapping out of which some “eternal idea” is to be extricated and disentangled, or is it rather a perennial vehicle of the divine message, which was once delivered for all time?

We are in danger of losing the uniqueness of the Word of God in the process of continuous “reinterpretation.” But how can we interpret at all if we have forgotten the original language? Would it not be safer to bend our thought to the mental habits of the biblical language and to relearn the idiom of the Bible? No man can receive the gospel unless he repents — “changes his mind.” For in the language of the gospel “repentance” (metanoeite) does not mean merely acknowledgment of and contrition for sins, but precisely a “change of mind” — a profound change of man's mental and emotional attitude, an integral renewal of man's self, which begins in his self-renunciation and is accomplished and sealed by the Spirit.

We are living now in an age of intellectual chaos and disintegration. Possibly modern man has not yet made up his mind, and the variety of opinions is beyond any hope of reconciliation. Probably the only luminous signpost we have to guide us through the mental fog of our desperate age is just the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” obsolete or archaic as the idiom of the Early Church may seem to be, judged by our fleeting standards.

Preach the Creeds!

What, then, are we going to preach? What would I preach to my contemporaries “in a time such as this?” There is no room for hesitation: I am going to preach Jesus, and him crucified and risen. I am going to preach and to commend to all whom I may be called to address the message of salvation, as it has been handed down to me by an uninterrupted tradition of the Church Universal. I would not isolate myself in my own age. In other words, I am going to preach the “doctrines of the creed.”

I am fully aware that creeds are a stumbling block for many in our own generation. “The creeds are venerable symbols, like the tattered flags upon the walls of national churches; but for the present warfare of the church in Asia, in Africa, in Europe and America the creeds, when they are understood, are about as serviceable as a battle-ax or an arquebus in the hands of a modern soldier.” This was written some years ago by a prominent British scholar who is a devout minister too. Possibly he would not write them today. But there are still many who would wholeheartedly make this vigorous statement their own. Let us remember, however, that the early creeds were deliberately scriptural, and it is precisely their scriptural phraseology that makes them difficult for the modern man.

Thus we face the same problem again: What can we offer instead of Holy Scripture? I would prefer the language of the Tradition, not because of a lazy and credulous “conservatism” or a blind “obedience” to some external “authorities,” but simply because I cannot find any better phraseology. I am prepared to expose myself to the inevitable charge of being “antiquarian” and “fundamentalist.” And I would protest that such a charge is gratuitous and wrong. I do keep and hold the “doctrines of the creed,” conscientiously and wholeheartedly, because I apprehend by faith their perennial adequacy and relevance to all ages and to all situations, including “a time such as this.” And I believe it is precisely the “doctrines of the creed” that can enable a desperate generation like ours to regain Christian courage and vision.

The Tradition Lives

“The church is neither a museum of dead deposits nor a society of research.” The deposits are alive — depositum juvenescens, to use the phrase of St. Irenaeus. The creed is not a relic of the past, but rather the “sword of the Spirit.” The reconversion of the world to Christianity is what we have to preach in our day. This is the only way out of that impasse into which the world has been driven by the failure of Christians to be truly Christian. Obviously, Christian doctrine does not answer directly any practical question in the field of politics or economics. Neither does the gospel of Christ. Yet its impact on the whole course of human history has been enormous. The recognition of human dignity, mercy and justice roots in the gospel. The new world can be built only by a new man.

What Chalcedon Meant

“And was made man.” What is the ultimate connotation of this creedal statement? Or, in other words, who was Jesus, the Christ and the Lord? What does it mean, in the language of the Council of Chalcedon, that the same Jesus was “perfect man” and “perfect God,” yet a single and unique personality? “Modern man” is usually very critical of that definition of Chalcedon. It fails to convey any meaning to him. The “imagery” of the creed is for him nothing more than a piece of poetry, if anything at all. The whole approach, I think, is wrong. The “definition” of Chalcedon is not a metaphysical statement, and was never meant to be treated as such. Nor was the mystery of the Incarnation just a “metaphysical miracle.” The formula of Chalcedon was a statement of faith, and therefore cannot be understood when taken out of the total experience of the church. In fact, it is an “existential statement.”

Chalcedon's formula is, as it were, an intellectual contour of the mystery which is apprehended by faith. Our Redeemer is not a man, but God himself. Here lies the existential emphasis of the statement. Our Redeemer is one who “came down” and who, by “being made man,” identified himself with men in the fellowship of a truly human life and nature. Not only the initiative was divine, but the Captain of Salvation was a divine Person. The fullness of the human nature of Christ means simply the adequacy and truth of this redeeming identification. God enters human history and becomes a historical person.

This sounds paradoxical. Indeed there is a mystery: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifested in the flesh.” But this mystery was a revelation; the true character of God had been disclosed in the Incarnation. God was so much and so intimately concerned with the destiny of man (and precisely with the destiny of every one of “the little ones”) as to intervene in person in the chaos and misery of the lost life. The divine providence therefore is not merely an omnipotent ruling of the universe from an august distance by the divine majesty, but a kenosis, a “self-humiliation” of the God of glory. There is a personal relationship between God and man.

Tragedy in a New Light

The whole of the human tragedy appears therefore in a new light. The mystery of the Incarnation was a mystery of the love divine, of the divine identification with lost man. And the climax of Incarnation was the cross. It is the turning point of human destiny. But the awful mystery of the cross is comprehensible only in the wider perspective of an integral Christology; that is, only if we believe that the Crucified was in very truth “'the Son of the living God.” The death of Christ was God's entrance into the misery of human death (again in person), a descent into Hades, and this meant the end of death and the inauguration of life everlasting for man.

There is an amazing coherence in the body of the traditional doctrine. But it can be apprehended and understood only in the living context of faith, by which I mean in a personal communion with the personal God. Faith alone makes formulas convincing; faith alone makes formulas live. “It seems paradoxical, yet it is the experience of all observers of spiritual things: no one profits by the Gospels unless he be first in love with Christ.” For Christ is not a text but a living Person, and he abides in his body, the church.

A New Nestorianism

It may seem ridiculous to suggest that one should preach the doctrine of Chalcedon “in a time such as this.” Yet it is precisely this doctrine — that reality to which this doctrine bears witness — that can change the whole spiritual outlook of modern man. It brings him a true freedom. Man is not alone in this world, and God is taking personal interest in the events of human history. This is an immediate implication of the integral conception of the Incarnation. It is an illusion that the Christological disputes of the past are irrelevant to the contemporary situation. In fact, they are continued and repeated in the controversies of our own age. Modern man, deliberately or subconsciously, is tempted by the Nestorian extreme. That is to say, he does not take the Incarnation in earnest. He does not dare to believe that Christ is a divine person. He wants to have a human redeemer, only assisted by God. He is more interested in human psychology of the Redeemer than in the mystery of the divine love. Because, in the last resort, he believes optimistically in the dignity of man.

A New Monophysitism

On the other extreme we have in our days a revival of “monophysite” tendencies in theology and religion, when man is reduced to complete passivity and is allowed only to listen and to hope. The present tension between “liberalism” and “neo-orthodoxy” is in fact a re-enactment of the old Christological struggle, on a new existential level and in a new spiritual key. The conflict will never be settled or solved in the field of theology, unless a wider vision is acquired.

In the early church the preaching was emphatically theological. It was not a vain speculation. The New Testament itself is a theological book. Neglect of theology in the instruction given to laity in modern times is responsible both for the decay of personal religion and for that sense of frustration which dominates the modern mood. What we need in Christendom “in a time such as this” is precisely a sound and existential theology. In fact, both clergy and the laity are hungry for theology. And because no theology is usually preached, they adopt some “strange ideologies” and combine them with the fragments of traditional beliefs. The whole appeal of the “rival gospel” in our days is that they offer some sort of pseudo theology, a system of pseudo dogmas. They are gladly accepted by those who cannot find any theology in the reduced Christianity of “modern” style. That existential alternative which many face in our days has been aptly formulated by an English theologian, “Dogma or… death.” The age of a-dogmatism and pragmatism has closed. And therefore the ministers of the church have to preach again doctrines and dogmas — the Word of God.

The Modern Crisis

The first task of the contemporary preacher is the “reconstruction of belief.” It is by no means an intellectual endeavor. Belief is just the map of the true world, and should not be mistaken for reality. Modern man has been too much concerned with his own ideas and convictions, his own attitudes and reactions. The modern crisis precipitated by humanism (an undeniable fact) has been brought about by the rediscovery of the real world, in which we do believe. The rediscovery of the church is the most decisive aspect of this new spiritual realism. Reality is no more screened from us by the wall of our own ideas. It is again accessible. It is again realized that the church is not just a company of believers, but the “Body of Christ.” This is a rediscovery of a new dimension, a rediscovery of the continuing presence of the divine Redeemer in the midst of his faithful flock. This discovery throws a new flood of light on the misery of our disintegrated existence in a world thoroughly secularized. It is already recognized by many that the true solution of all social problems lies somehow in the reconstruction of the church. “In a time such as this” one has to preach the “whole Christ,” Christ and the church — totus Christus, caput et corpus, to use the famous phrase of St. Augustine. Possibly this preaching is still unusual, but it seems to be the only way to preach the Word of God efficiently in a period of doom and despair like ours.

The Relevance of the Fathers

I have often a strange feeling. When I read the ancient classics of Christian theology, the fathers of the church, I find them more relevant to the troubles and problems of my own time than the production of modern theologians. The fathers were wrestling with existential problems, with those revelations of the eternal issues which were described and recorded in Holy Scripture. I would risk a suggestion that St. Athanasius and St. Augustine are much more up to date than many of our theological contemporaries. The reason is very simple: they were dealing with things and not with the maps, they were concerned not so much with what man can believe as with what God had done for man. We have, “in a time such as this,” to enlarge our perspective, to acknowledge the masters of old, and to attempt for our own age an existential synthesis of Christian experience.

“The Lost Scriptural Mind” originally appeared in the December 19, 1951 issue of The Christian Century as “As the Truth is in Jesus.” Copyright by The Christian Century Foundation.