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
To the third century, if not earlier, may be traced the roots of that symbolic interpretation of the Liturgy which was to become an integral part of the Byzantine tradition. The third-century Alexandrian theologian Origen, building upon an earlier tradition, developed a theology of the Christian mystery which profoundly influenced subsequent Eastern theology. The mystery is the reality of salvation, made present in a visible sign which both reveals and conceals it. Origen applies this sacramental principal to the whole of the Christian economy. Christ himself is the fundamental Christian mystery in whom God and man are united, so that the divinity is both concealed by the humanity, yet revealed by it to those who have eyes to see. Those who have faith see humanity, but believe in the God who indwells it.
The mystery who is Christ is presented to us in the Scriptures, the Church, and the mysteries/sacraments. In all three the literal, outward and apparent reality conceals an inner spiritual reality. We must learn to see in the letter of Scripture the spirit, in the Christian community the incarnate Word, and in her visible rites and ceremonies the saving activity of God.
I believe this is a very important point. In the Scriptures, if we truly take to heart what is written, we find the way to live, the spirit we must attempt to interject into all of our interactions with others. In the community we must come to see Christ. It is the second school (the first being the family) that we have to learn how to live like Jesus lived. The Christian community should teach us how to treat others so that when we go out into the world we can treat others like Jesus treated the people He encountered.
The eucharistic banquet is a symbol of the union of the soul with the divine Word of God, and prefigures the perfect union to which we look forward at the end of time. But the different aspects of the rite also have symbolic value, as well as the whole. The altar, for instance, is the symbol of our interior worship; the smoke of the incense represents the prayers offered by a pure conscience; the priest is a symbol of the apostles and the kiss of peace expresses genuine love. For Origen the Christian rite fulfills its prefigurations in the Old Testament, expresses the spiritual worship we are meant to offer now, and is the image and anticipation of the worship of heaven. But all this requires that those taking part in the rite be initiated into its true significance, which does not lie on the surface
At Your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, worship of the Trinity was revealed, for the Father’s voice bore witness to You, call You His “beloved son” and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words. O Christ God, Who appeared and enlightened the world, glory be to You.
This weekend continues our celebration of the feast of Theophany. It is perhaps the greatest of the various manifestations God has made of Himself to humankind. It is the event that began Jesus’ ministry and, since we see Him as our Teacher and Master, we embrace with faith what it reveals to us.
What does it reveal? It reveals to us that God, when he created humanity, did have an understanding of how humans should think and behave in order to understand the meaning and purpose of life on earth. It did reveal that this earthly existence is, in effect, a place where we can learn how to be spiritual, human beings.
How do we know this? Our reading today from St. Matthew’s Gospel states this: From that time on Jesus began to proclaim this theme: “Reform your lives! The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” So our earthly existence is all about learning how to be the spiritual-human beings that God intended when He created us.
This idea is reinforced by the message we receive from Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. He states: Each of us has received God’s favor in the measure in which Christ bestows it….till we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son.” When we become one in faith and knowledge of God’s Son, we begin to understand how to live and learn how to be God’s children. God the Father called Jesus, the God-man, His beloved Son. In saying this God revealed to us that we humans are His beloved children – sons and daughters – and He has brought us into existence at this time in order to: (1) complete His creation, and (2) allow us the greatest opportunity to spiritually grow.
It is my sincerest belief that each of us is born at a particular point in time and have certain people enter into our life for the purpose of helping us spiritually develop our ability to be God’s children.
In the Divine Liturgy we articulate our understanding that God the Father so loved His world that He gave His Son so that the whole divine plan concerning us could be completed. The whole divine plan concerning us is this: We are given various opportunities in life and various people in order to help us come to a true understanding of the meaning and purpose of life. We believe that God wills all of us to come to the fullness of life and we believe that He has done everything possible, even coming into the world in the Person of His Son Jesus, to help us come to this understanding. His only desire is that we might come to know Him as our loving and caring Father.
As many have surmised, I have been encouraging through this article the practice of the presence of God as a means to become a vibrant Christian and, therefore, help the community to become a vibrant parish. This practice is one of the oldest approaches used by the Eastern Church to promote spirituality. It is an approach that promotes an awareness of God within and also interior peace. It is only in quiet that we can hear God speak to us and to sense His presence.
One author suggests that perhaps this is the reason God makes silences in every life: the silence of sleep, the silence of sickness, the silence of sorrow, and then the last great silence of death. One of the hardest things in the world is to get little children to keep still. They are in a state of perpetual activity, restless, eager, questioning, alert. And just as a mother says to her child, “Be still,” and hushes it to sleep that it may rest, so God does sooner or later with all of us. What a quiet, still place the sick room is! What a time for self-examination! What silence there is in a house where a loved one has died! How the voices are hushed, and every footstep soft. Had we the choosing of our own affairs we would never have chosen such an hour as that; and yet how often it is rich in blessing. All the activities of our years may not have taught us quite so much as we learned in the silences of sickness, sorrow and death. So God comes, in his irresistible way, which never ceases to be a way of love, and says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”:
It must be understood that silent prayer cannot stand alone. It is intimately related to public worship. As one of the saints said, “There can be no closet prayer without common prayer.” It is common prayer that gives us the inspiration and enthusiasm to practice closet prayer.
What the Church hopes will happen is that when we come together for common prayer we will be motivated to continue that prayer at home during the rest of the week. The Divine Liturgy should inspire us, since it reminds us that we are joined to God and others in the common bond of life, to pray in private and continue experiencing the presence of God.
Have you set any goals for the new year? I do think that it is important that we set, in particular, spiritual goals for the coming year. When we do this we are reminded that there is truly nothing more important than our spiritual growth. To do this will help you to become serious about your faith and spiritual life.
Think about this! Our faith tells us that life is immortal and that we will live forever and that how we spend the future is dependent upon what we learn during this lifetime. So, can we ever be too concerned about our spiritual life? Think about it.
Formulate a goal today!