In the Eastern Church, spirituality is lived dogma. That is why even in the midst of discussions that divide opponents we experience a spontaneous transition to personal attitudes closer to what we may call a devotion common to all Christians. Strictly speaking one should not pray to Christ but through Christ, as Origen warned us.
It comes as no surprise that Christians love Christ. But how? Ancient liturgies praised him, thanked him, worshipped and implored him. Tenderness and intimacy began to be emphasized only with some reservations in the early days: by the martyrs, by pilgrims to Jerusalem, in Syriac religious poetry. Yet even the Byzantines have An Office of the Most Sweet Jesus which antedates the Jubilus attributed to St. Bernard.
From the entire tradition, it is good that we quote at least one anonymous writer included in the Philokalia, who greatly praised the excellence of the famous Jesus Prayer.
This is the doctrine that has been handed down to us by our inspired Fathers. The whole effort of their lives was to fill themselves with the sweetness of Jesus. Their whole hunger was for Jesus. This is what filled them with indescribable spiritual joy. By calling on the sweet name of Jesus they received special charisms and were elevated above the cares of the flesh and of the world.
There are two paths which can lead to a tender love for the Savior: the sweetness of God because he is God; and his human amiability, because no man has ever spoken as did he. These two paths ultimately merge, for Christ is a single divine-human person.
It is our love of Jesus that allows us to join ourselves to Him in worshipping the Father in the Spirit. In worshipping the Father we, of course worship Christ and the Spirit. The complexity of the Trinity can be daunting. You will note that every prayer in our services ends with a doxology to Father, Son and Spirit. The Son taught us how to pray, saying, Our Father Who art in heaven
While we are well-enough informed about the liturgical life of the early Church and the Fathers, we are not very informed about their private prayer. The reason for this is the fact that they advised everyone not to talk about it. This was their secret hidden work. The secret inner work was a constant inner conversation with God. God was in the inner temple of the soul and man was in constant communion with Him. This inner communion was not easy. A struggle, a spiritual combat was needed with the hostile powers that sought to divert their attention from God. We all have, I am sure, experienced this constant struggle. The world and all of its things (especially now with the advent of technology — who can live without their cell phone today) can distract us from the primary task of life: a deeper union with God. Part of this hidden work was repeating over and over again to oneself either quietly or more loudly certain prayers or Scripture verses or entire Psalms. This allow them to engage their memory about life’s primary task. In the process, the thoughts sank not only into the memory but into the depths of their souls and minds.
St. John Climacus refers to this secret occupation when he writes: Not even in the dinning room did they stop mental activity but according to a certain custom, these blessed men reminded one another of interior prayer by secret signs and gestures.
In this manner the soul is converted into a temple of God, a monastery, where prayer is continually offered to God. For, let us remember, there is not one liturgy but three liturgies:
1) the liturgy of corporate prayer celebrated in Church;
2) the liturgy of private prayer offered constantly in the chapel of the heart; and
3) the “liturgy after the liturgy;” the liturgy that begins when we leave church and continues all week long: the liturgy of love and service to the world performed in the name of Christ.
The practice of the presence of God is not beyond your ability. The main thing is to attempt to make it real in your life. Try it, you’ll like it!
In 858, fifteen years after the triumph of icons under Theodora, Photius became the Patriarch of Constantinople. He has been termed the most distinguished thinker, the most outstanding politician, and the most skillful diplomat ever to hold the office of Patriarch. Soon after his accession he became involved in a dispute with Pope Nicolas I (858-67). The previous Patriarch, Ignatius, had been exiled by the Emperor and while in exile had resigned under pressure. The supporters of Ignatius, declining to regard this resignation as valid, considered Photius a usurper. When Photius sent a letter to the Pope announcing his accession (the long-held custom was that churches would inform others when new patriarchs were chosen – they never asked permission). Nicolas decided that before recognizing Photius he would look further Into the quarrel between the new Patriarch and the Ignatian party. Accordingly in 86i he sent legates to Constantinople.
Photius had no desire to start a dispute with the Papacy. He treated the legates with great deference, inviting them to preside at a council in Constantinople, which was to settle the issue between Ignatius and himself. The legates agreed, and together with the rest of the council they decided that Photius was the legitimate Patriarch. But when his legates returned to Rome, Nicolas declared that they had exceeded their powers, and he disowned their decision. He then proceeded to retry the case himself at Rome: a council held under his
presidency in 863 recognized Ignatius as Patriarch and proclaimed Photius to be deposed from all priestly dignity. The Byzantines took no notice of this condemnation and sent no answer to the Pope’s letters. Thus an open breach existed between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople.
The dispute clearly involved the Papal claims. Nicolas was a great reforming Pope, with an exalted idea of the prerogatives of his see, and he had already done much to establish an absolute power over all bishops in the west. But he believed this absolute power to extend to the east also: as he put it in a letter of 865, the Pope is endowed with authority over all the earth, that is, over every Church. This was precisely what the Byzantines were not prepared to grant. Confronted with the dispute between Photius and Ignatius, Nicolas thought that he saw a golden opportunity to enforce his claim to universal jurisdiction: he would make both parties submit to his arbitration.
Origen’s teaching about the Christian mystery and the Liturgy is the soil from which grew one strand in the Byzantine tradition of liturgical interpretation. Developed by Dionysius the Areopagite in the fifth century and Maximus the Confessor in the seventh, it was taken up and given its finial form in the fifteenth century by Symeon of Thessalonike.
In order to fully understand the resultant interpretation of the Liturgy, however, we must backtrack to the fourth century and consider the beginning connection between doctrine and worship.
In 313 Constantine issued the edit of tolerance which transformed the situation of Christians in the Roman Empire. Up until that time, Christians were persecuted because of their refusal to worship idols and serve in the army. After the edit, the Church was under imperial patronage, and in the East Constantine, though not baptized until the end of his life, came to be venerated as equal to the apostles.
It must be remembered that much like Volodymyr in Rus (Ukraine), Constantine was brought to the faith by
his mother, Helena. Representations of the Emperor, and of his mother Helena, together with the cross she
found in Jerusalem, are often found in the decorative scheme of later Byzantine churches. Favored by
Constantine at the beginning of the century, Christianity became the official religion of the Empire
towards its end, under Theodosius I.
Imperial patronage had immediate and profound consequences for the Church, not least in its worship. The Emperor’s influence soon made itself felt, even in the domain of doctrine. The fourth century was one of fierce doctrinal conflicts within the Church. Early in the century the Alexandrian priest Arius raised a storm that was to rage for half a century and disturb Christendom for far longer by teaching that the Son was not God as the Father was God, but was a creature, albeit the first and highest of all created beings. A good deal of early Christian writing did imply the subordination of the Son to the Father. But once the explicit affirmation of his inferiority had been made, it was seen to strike at the heart of Christian faith in salvation through Christ. If it was not God who was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, then we are not saved.
We must always remember that there was no separation between Church and State. The emperor was the Head of the Church and the State (Two-headed Eagle)
The readings appointed today for our worship are rich in spiritual content. The Gospel, which is Luke’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Man, addresses a question which should be on our lips: What must I do to share in everlasting life. The Epistle, on the other hand, which is taken from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, exhorts us to Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in us. The practice of virtue, which was at the very core of all of the Lord’s teachings, is the key for us sharing in everlasting life.
The question is, What keeps most of us from the practice of virtue? In a few simple words, our possessions and their connectedness to the uncertainties of life. Perhaps the greatest challenge that we humans face during this earthly existence is the challenge of not having any real control over life. Our possessions give us a sense of having control, even though it is deceptive since there are many things (e.g. tornado, fire, theif) that immediately take our things away from us. We collect things to ward off the fears that are truly connected with the vicissitudes of life.
In his comment on this Gospel story, St. Clement of Alexandria provides us with some insight into its meaning. Clement asks: What made the young man depart from the Master, from the entreaty, the hope, the life, previously pursued with ardor? It was the Master’s exhortation to Sell your possessions. Christ does not bid the young man to throw away the substance he possessed and abandon his property. Rather, according to Clement, Christ bids him to banish from his soul his notions about wealth, his excitement and morbid feeling about it, the anxieties, which are the thorns of existence, which choke the seed of life. Clement further points out that many have disposed of their wealth to no benefit, if their underlying passions remain – their simple longing for the feeling of security that they believe their possessions and wealth provide.
St. John Chrysostom noted that even the poor are lost if they have within themselves the same overwhelming attraction to possessions and wealth. The things of this world cannot really give us security against the feelings connected to the uncertainties of life.
The only true solution to facing the uncertainties of life is: belief in the love of God our Father. Belief in the love of our Heavenly Father provides us with the security that is needed. Think about how secure we feel when we feel loved.
I suspect, however, that one of the things that keeps us from feeling that we are loved by God is our fear that He will punish us for being weak and human! It is our belief that He became man and, therefore, understands us and does not punish us for being human.
As I began to share in the last issue of this article, we need to imagine Paul’s approach as much more conversational. Consider the story in ACTS 16 of Paul’s conversion of a Gentile ”God-lover” named Lydia, whom he met in a Jewish gathering just outside the gates of Philippi in northern Greece (I would encourage you to pick up your New Testament and read this chapter in ACTS). Lydia was a successful businesswoman. A dealer in purple dye, which was highly valued and expensive in the ancient world. She was from Thyatira in Asia Minor and was now in Greece. Obviously very competent and intelligent, she had become attracted to Judaism.
According to ACTS, Paul engaged her in conversation. Soon she and her whole household converted to become Christ-followers. What might Paul have said to Lydia? It seems implausible that Paul simply proclaimed, as some Christian preaching does today, that we are all sinners and that Jesus died for our sins, so we can be forgiven and go to heaven if we believe in Him. Why would Lydia respond to that kind of message?
Instead, we need to image Paul telling her about Jesus, about the kind of man he was, what he taught, and what he did; about his execution by the authorities; about Paul’s own experience of Jesus appearing to him, convincing him that the way of Jesus was the way of the God of the Bible; and that Jesus was Lord and Messiah, the promised one of Israel. In short, Paul would have talked about Jesus and testified to his meaning and significance. He would have emphasized that in Jesus a new form of Judaism had been created in which Gentiles could be full participants “In Christ,” as he wrote in one of his most famous verses, “There is no longer Jew or Greek” (Galatians 3:28). He would have invited her into a new community in which she could be both Gentile and Jew. Indeed, Paul’s purpose was to create communities of Christ-followers or to integrate converts into communities that already existed.
Paul’s communities of Christ-followers are called “churches” in most English translations of the New Testament. Doing so is potentially misleading, because of the modern associations with the world “church.” It most commonly means a building and/or a community of Christians, large or small, organized for “religious” purposes with designated leadership roles and a set of beliefs or doctrines.
The communities of Paul were not churches in this modern sense. The first church building dates from the mid-200s, and churches were not common until after Constantine legalized Christianity and became its patron in the 300s. He was, as you know, highly influenced by his mother.
It was writers at Charlemagne’s court who first made the Filioque into an issue of controversy, accusing the Greeks of heresy because they recited the Creed in its original form. But Rome, with typical conservatism, continued to use the Creed without the Filioque until the start of the eleventh century. In 808 Pope Leo III wrote, in a letter to Charlemagne, that, although he himself believed the Filioque to be doctrinally sound, yet he considered it a mistake to tamper with the wording of the Creed. Leo deliberately had the Creed, without the Filioque, inscribed on silver plaques and set up in St Peter’s. For the time being Rome acted as a mediator between the Franks and Byzantium.
It was not until 860 that the Greeks paid much attention to the Filioque, but once they did, their reaction was sharply critical. The Eastern Church objected (and still does) to this addition to the Creed, for two reasons: (1) the Creed is the common possession of the whole Church and, if any change is to be made in it, it must be done by an Ecumenical Council. The west, in altering the Creed without consulting the east, is guilty, as one author puts it, of moral fratricide – of a sin against the unity of the Church; and (2) most of the Easter Church believes that the Filioque to be theologically untrue. They hold that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, and consider it a heresy to say that He proceeds from the Son as well. There are, however, some Orthodox who consider that the Filioque is not in itself heretical, and is indeed admissible as a theological opinion – not a dogma – provided that it is properly explained. But even those who take this more moderate view still regard it as an unauthorized addition.
It is all about how we understand the life of the Trinity and the roles that each Person plays within the Trinity. Of course this is all in accord with human thought and not something that God has revealed to us. The role of the Father is to “beget” the other two Persons. He is the Creator. However, since all Three Persons in the Trinity are equal and one, this, in reality, is a mute point.
Besides these two major issues (i.e.. the role of the Pope and the Filioque, there were certain lesser matters of Church worship and discipline which caused trouble between east and west: the Greeks allowed married clergy, the Latins insisted on priestly celibacy; the two sides had different rules of fasting; the Greeks used leavened bread in the Eucharist, the Latins unleavened bread.
Since we are still living it, I shall continue to present ideas about the Great Schism