By Demetrios Constantelos
From: Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church, Hellenic College Press, Brookline, Massachusetts 1998.
Mystical Life and the Orthodox Faith
Mysticism cannot be defined, but in broad terms it is the religious experience of the individual who seeks a life of harmony, peace, and continuous communion with the Supreme Being. Introspection, contemplation, and solitude are prerequisites for the development of an inner religious experience. Constant prayer assures divine intervention, which illuminates the human soul. Divine grace and man's continuous quest assure revelation, or acquisition of divine presence. Mysticism is primarily a personal religious experience within the broad framework of the Church and tends to stress the individualistic approach of religion.
In one way or another, to some degree, every individual is a mystic. Christian mysticism has its beginning in the teachings of Jesus, Saint Paul, Saint John, and several early Church Fathers and saints. But mysticism developed into an influential theological stream after the fourth century under the influence of Saints Methodios of Olympos, Makarios of Egypt, John Klimakos, Dionysios the Pseudo-Areopagite, and Maximos the Confessor. All emphasized the need for solitude, meditation, cultivation of the inner life, and continuous communication with the divine. The theological disputes of the fourth and fifth centuries contributed to the cultivation of mysticism, for they convinced certain holy persons that the way to God is inward cultivation. For example, when in the fourth century churchmen argued over the terms ousia and hypostasis with reference to God, Evagrios of Pontos advised: "In silence let us worship the incomprehensible."
Some Orthodox thinkers have stressed that the exclusive purpose of Christianity is a direct and intuitive experience of God. Among many others Makarios of Egypt views the relationship between God and the individual soul as similar to the intimate relationship between a groom and his bride. The mystical experience is the result of a marriage between the individual soul and Christ. "The soul is wounded by Eros or Agape for Christ, as a result of which she longs for her consubstantial union with him."
The mystical union is beyond the senses, imagination, or rational explanation. Not all believers can claim such an experience, and the Church acknowledges that God has bestowed different gifts on different people. There is no need to doubt the existence of such religious experiences. If we accept that the human soul is of God, created by Him in His own image and likeness, it is not difficult to understand that the human soul longs for God and finds no contentment, peace, joy, or certainty apart from Him.
The human soul lives in the divine reality even though this reality transcends the soul and the world and at the same time is in the soul and in the world. The human person lives in God but is not absorbed in or dictated by God. The relationship between the two is one of love. The human intellect and will become subordinate to God's love and will. The creator loves His creature, and the creature is continuously drawn to its creator. The prevailing theme in Orthodox mystical theology is the love affair between God and His creatures, who meet in the person of the God-man, Christ.
God manifests His love throughout His creation as the creator, the redeemer, and the restorer. By grace a person can imitate God, however imperfectly, as restorer and reformer of the human social order and of the condition of all humanity in general.
The emphasis on the love that God communicates to people and divine experience to which they are invited reveals the ethos of Greek Christianity, which is not so much psychological security, freedom from fear, or even doctrinal guidance, but communion with God. The doctrine that man is made in the likeness of God leads to the doctrine of the deification of man. Thus to imitate God's love, or philanthropia, is "to practice being God," as Clement of Alexandria formulated it. The imitator of God's philanthropia lives the very life of God. Orthodox spirituality, as expressed in several liturgical services, teaches that God is not distant, abstract, remote, or unapproachable, but that He is the Father whose name is Philanthropos and whose nature is philanthropia; that is God's name and nature are love. "And the more one loves God, the more one enters within God," as Clement of Alexandria writes.
The soul's imitation of God's love is not ordinary stirring or movement of the soul but a divine gift, made in response to its longings, to its faith and desire. The gift is a "divine energy," which induces a fire in the soul and wins it to God's love and will. The eleventh-century mystic Saint Symeon calls God "Holy Love" in one of his homilies:
Ο Holy Love, he who does not know you has never tasted the sweetness of your mercies which only living experience can give us. But he who has known you, or who has been known by you, can never again have even the smallest doubt. For you are the fulfilment of the law, and you fill, burn, enkindle, embrace my heart with measureless charity. You are the teacher of the prophets, the faithful friend of the apostles, the strength of the martyrs, the inspiration of fathers and doctors, the perfecting of all the saints. And you, Ο Love, prepare even me for the true service of God.
The true lover of God is also a genuine lover of persons. Elsewhere Symeon writes of love as the crown of all other virtues, such as humility, penitence and faith. Love enables the soul to know the purpose of its divinity and its destiny upon earth. The fulfilment of human life is to love, and through the experience of love the soul is united with God. Symeon cries out in praise of love: "Ο blessed bond, Ο indescribable strength, Ο heavenly disposition, how excellent is the soul which is animated by the divine inspiration and perfected in exceeding love of God and man."
Similar views were developed later by Nicholas Kabasilas. Ιn his famous Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, Kabasilas called upon man to offer doxologies to God's exceeding and unfathomable love for man, out of which He emptied himself of His supernatural exaltation, assuming flesh in order to walk among His adopted brethren and draw them back to the eternal God.
Because God's presence in the world is an existential reality, with concrete illustrations of His concern for the cosmos and human beings in particular, they ought to reciprocate and express their love for God with love for their fellow human beings. Orthodox theology takes very seriously the biblical verses: "If any one says, 'Ι love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also" (1 Jn. 4.20-21).
The concept of a vertically and horizontally understood philanthropia is important for our age and relevant for any epoch. Because of God's example, the whole human family becomes an object of concern for all believers. The dialogue of love escapes the realm of sentimental yearning and transforms itself into a reality. On the basis of the same reasoning, Christ who manifested the Father's as well as His own agape, is acknowledged as the cosmic redeemer, drawing to himself all people who display a genuine concern for the destiny of the human family.
It is certain that the apophatic element dominates liturgical and patristic theology. God and the divine are beyond human ability to comprehend. We know that God is "he who is," and "infinite and incomprehensible," to use the classic words of Saint John of Damascus. Nevertheless, God manifests His energies, including philanthropia, which is the crown of them all and ecumenical in character: it leads to the final restoration of justice, the salvation of human beings, and the realization of God's desire for their participation in God's eternal life.
Philanthropos or Christos Eleemon or Christos Evergetes -here is revealed the ideal Christ, whose deep concern over humanity Christians must imitate in their daily lives. Believers in and imitators of the philanthropia of God are no longer individualists living by and for themselves; they become their "brothers' keepers." The theme of God's search and love for man is diffused throughout the Divine Liturgy and the other sacraments of the Church. On the other hand there is the holiness and transcendence, the awe and mystery, the "metaphysical" wonder, of God and on the other hand there is the realized immanence and presence, the "unfathomable philanthropia" of God. It is because of His merry, love, and compassion that God condescends to walk among us in order to raise us to godhood. "Lord, have merry upon us, you who suffered for us to free us from our iniquities, you who humbled yourself in order to raise us," as the congregation sings in one of the Church's hymns.
Ιn the liturgy we glorify God's great mercy. It is because of God's constant manifestation of philanthropy that the weakling becomes mighty, the carnal becomes spiritual, and the spiritual sees the glory of the fountainhead from which the soul derives strength, courage, and achievement.
Greek Orthodoxy views God as Being, as personal, individual, and distinct from nature and man, but also as the being in whom all other beings participate and in whom all existence moves. People apprehend God as immediately as their own existence and come to know Him fully through their interactions and relationships with their fellow human beings.
The concept of Theos Philanthropos implies a special understanding of history.
One sees the continuity of creation from the event of cosmogony to the resurrection of life after Christ's victory over death. The philanthropia of God brought the world into being before time was, it was manifested in the historical person of Christ and it is perpetuated in the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore all events and all history are dominated by God's love in action, permanent, constant, and developing.
Ιn Orthodoxy there is only "sacred" history, not because there is no "secular" history but because the two are inseparable. Many historical events belong to both. To be sure there was the "sacred" history of ancient Israel, but God disclosed himself through "secular," or natural history as well. Even the "sacred" history of Israel was not totally "sacred," for it was developed in the context of "secular" history. As sacred history was conditioned by secular history, the latter too was conditioned by sacred history.
The incarnation of the Messiah-Logos was the fulfilment of sacred history, and was accomplished in the context of Greco-Roman history -the Greek cultural and intellectual milieu and the umbrella of the Roman state. History is called "sacred" because God is in history, revealing Himself in and through history, whether by the prophets or by the philosophers, the Israelites or the Gentiles.
Orthodox worship stresses the infinite love of God in the Trinity, God the Father who creates, God the Son who redeems, and God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies, gives life, and leads to a final recapitulation of God's redemptive process. His people, the Church, should emulate God's love. As the bride of a loving bridegroom, the Church must pursue a dialogue of love among her members and with those outside her jurisdiction. Because of God's philanthropia, there is hope that through the grace of God people can come together as adopted children under the fatherhood of God.
The Evangelical Character of the Church
Many factors have influenced the formation of dogma and the evolution of Orthodox theology. The evangelion, or gospel, has contributed the most. Holy Scripture is the fountain and essence of Greek Orthodox theology; all other elements are auxiliary. The very substance of the creed, ethos, and worship of Orthodoxy derives from the evangelion. But some writers, either of the Orthodox Church or of other persuasions, have overlooked the evangelical, or biblical, character of Orthodoxy. Even in serious manuals this facet of the Orthodox Church goes almost unheeded.
Some theologians have stressed that the Orthodox Church is the guardian of the most genuine apostolic tradition and that she is the Church of the early ecumenical decrees. Others have emphasized that she is a patristic Church, or that the Church is freedom fused with authority and the weight of the past. These and other characteristics-apostolicity, catholicity, traditionalism, moderation, unbroken continuity-have been described in several manuals, but rarely the evangelical.
Because of this lacuna in Orthodox textbooks from the early nineteenth century to the present, many Western theologians and ordinary faithful have seen the Orthodox as biblically illiterate, if not superstitious and paganistic. Because the outward appearance of Orthodoxy is liturgical and sacramental, many Western Christians have regarded Orthodox liturgy and sacramental life as antagonistic to Holy Scripture. Even now, Orthodoxy is considered extensively involved in symbolism and ritual.
What follows is a brief attempt to turn the multi-faceted prism of Orthodoxy to another of its several facets, one which has ecumenical dimensions, since the biblical nature of the Orthodox Church furnishes a common ground in the Dialogues that take place between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic as well as Protestant churches. Ιn fact, Orthodox theology in nearly every one of its ramifications is evangelical rather than patristic, philosophical, or liturgical.
What has been characterized as sacramental, liturgical, patristic, or intellectual has biblical roots. Of course, biblical theology is sufficiently broad to be at the same time, liturgical and sacramental. The words and symbols of the liturgy, the mysteries (or sacraments), and other rites are derived from the Bible. Bible and dogma, Bible and ethical precepts, Bible and liturgical services and prayers -all are fused in Orthodox theology.
The biblical character of the Greek Orthodox Church is not difficult to discover. Ecclesiastical writers throughout the history of the Church have never ceased to recommend the reading of the Scriptures. The Bible has never been the exclusive book of the clergy or the monks. Saint John Chrysostom prepared the way.
Ιn an appeal to the laity for Bible study Chrysostom writes: "Your mistake is in believing that the reading of the Scriptures concerns only monks...for you it is still more necessary since you are in the midst of the world. There is something worse than not reading the Scriptures, and that is to believe that this reading is useless...a satanic practice."
The Divine Liturgy itself is not only mystery or Eucharistic doxology. It is also a liturgy of the Word of God, since the first part of the service includes two readings from the New Testament and a homily, which is usually an exegesis of one of the two readings. When one reads or listens to the Word of God one becomes a theodidaktos, or one taught by God, as Clement of Alexandria writes.
Because of the central position accorded to the Gospel, the evangelion, the Orthodox Church is an evangelical church par excellence. Orthodox piety and spirituality, sacramental mysticism, and patristic theology are based on the belief of the living presence of Christ not only in the Eucharist but also in the gospels, which constitute the record of Christ's teaching. God's manifestation in history, God's revelation in the earthly life of Christ, His work through the Apostles, His presence in the history of the Church -all constitute a living reality unfolded in the prayer life of the Church and involving each of the faithful. The Bible is viewed not simply an antiquarian "history" but as "holy history," which manifests the acts of God in the past, lives on into the present, and forms a guidepost for the future.
While the Greek cultural and intellectual tradition played a paramount role in the life of the Church, the inner strength and real source of Orthodox theology must be sought in the Bible. During the Medieval Greek era, the Church felt a special pride in being the custodian and teacher of the Scriptures while at the same time taking great care to preserve the Greek literary and cultural heritage. Despite the Platonic idealism and the substratum of Aristotelian philosophical tradition and scholastic categories in patristic categories in patristic thought, love for the simple teachings of Christ dominates the writings of many Fathers and theologians. Orthodoxy in general was illuminated and modified by the light of Biblical revelation. As Lev Gillet has put it: "Orthodoxy presents a [Greek] classical landscape bathed in the light of the Logos."
The Bible is both a divine and a human record -it is a theanthropic document, infallible and fallible, an eternal and temporal record. In the Bible God reveals Himself either through prophets, kings, and shepherds or through His own Son. Ιn the Bible man seeks to "discover and touch» God (Acts 17.27). This encounter, however, between the heavenly Father and earthly son or daughter is primarily a revelation and self-disclosure of God because man is still an infant or even still unborn spiritually. What the community of believers needed to record about the life of Christ, as well as its own life and practical needs, was designated Holy Scripture. This recorded revelation stands or falls by the testimony and the authority of the Church. The testimony, or martyria, of the Church to the authority of the written revelation is an absolute necessity.
The recorded revelation was the work of people living within the community of believers and speaking primarily to other believers for their edification. The Ekklesia is the guardian (the thematophylax) of all God's manifestations to human beings, including, of course, the recorded activity of God's self-disclosure. Church and Bible are inseparably united in a harmonious and mutually supportive entity. As the repository of revelation, as the recorder of God's manifestation (phanerosis and God's involvement in history, the Church is by nature Biblical, for she has the Bible in her bosom and is the official interpreter of the Bible. It follows that the theology, the teaching, the commandments, and the ethos of the Church are biblical.
As the Church is biblical in her essence, likewise the central theme of the Bible is the Church, the Church as a holy organism born before all ages, reconstituted or revitalized in time and in space by God's Logos. That is, the Bible speaks of the Church as the living body of Christ and as the Christ perpetuated throughout the ages.
The reading of the Bible is a living tradition. It is a constant part of all major services: vespers and matins, liturgies and sacraments, sacramental services -such as the blessing of the waters- and all other brief services. Almost the whole New Testament and much of the Old Testament is read throughout the Church year in Church worship. The Bible occupies a central place of honour in every Orthodox home.
But in addition to the specific pericopes from the Old or the New Testament read in each service, each service is imbued with spiritual verses and elements. Each prayer and hymn of every liturgy, sacrament, or service refers to some Biblical event; the number and extent of the scriptural elements varies from service to service.
The Psalms, Genesis, and the book of Isaiah enjoy more popularity than the other Old Testament books. Exodus and the Wisdom of Solomon follow.
From the New Testament, Matthew, Luke, 1 Corinthians, Romans, the Gospel of John, and Hebrews are the most popular.
Α study of the Liturgies of the Presanctified Gifts, Saint Basil's, and Saint John of Chrysostom's, as well as of the sacraments of baptism, chrism, holy unction, and matrimony, compiled by this writer, reveals a very clear dependence by these services upon the Bible. Approximately 25 percent of these services consist of direct Biblical borrowings. The material in the services that alludes to or is inspired by Scripture is even greater.
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts includes sixty-one verses and elements from both the Old and the New Testament. The extensive use of Psalms bears witness to the antiquity of the liturgy and its soteriological message. The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom has absorbed 237 verses, of which 124 are from the Old Testament and 113 from the New Testament. The prayers of Saint Basil's Liturgy, which are not found in that of Chrysostom, include 205 Scriptural verses and elements, 68 of which are from the Old Testament and 137 from the New Testament.
Here are three prayers illustrative of the biblical character or Orthodox liturgical prayer:
1) The First prayer of the Faithful (Liturgy of St. Basil). It is you, Ο Lord, who have shown us this great mystery (1 Τim. 3.16) of salvation; it is you who have deemed us, your humble and unworthy servants, worthy of the service of your holy Altar. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, make us then able to fulfil this holy office (Rom.15.13; 2 Cor. 3.6; 2 Cor. 4.l), so that, standing without condemnation before your holy glory (Jude 24; Song of the Three Young Men 31), we may offer you a sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13.15), for it is you who work all things in all (1 Cor. 12.6). Grant us, Ο Lord, that our offering for our sins and for the unawareness of the people (Heb. 9.7) may be acceptable and pleasing to you (Phil. 4.18).
2) Prayer of the Anaphora (Liturgy of St. Basil). Ο You who are Being, Master and Lord (Jer. 1.6), God almighty and adorable Father: it is truly fitting (2 Thess. 1.3) and right and worthy of the immensity of your holiness (Ps. 145.5) that we praise you (Ps. 65.1), sing to you, bless you, adore you, give thanks to you, glorify you who alone are truly God (Jn. 5.44); that we offer you a spiritual worship with a repentant heart and a humble spirit (Rom. 12.l; Song of the Three Young Men 16; Ps. 51.17), for it is you who granted us the favour of knowing your truth (Heb. 10.26). How could anyone tell your might and sing the praises you deserve, or describe all your marvels in all places and times? (Ps. 106.2; Ps. 26.7; Job 5.9). Ο Master of All, Lord of heaven and earth and of all creatures visible and invisible, who are enthroned upon a seat of glory, who plumb the depths (Μt. 11.25; 3 Mac. 2.2; Wis. 9.10; Song of the Three Young Men 32), who are eternal, invisible, beyond comprehension and description and change, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the great God and Saviour, the object of our hope (2 Cor. 1.3; Tit. 2.13; Tim. 1.l). For He is the image of your goodness, the seal bearing your perfect likeness, revealing Υou his Father through Himself, He is the living word, the true God the Wisdom from before all ages, the Life, the sanctification, the Power, the true light (7.26; Heb. 1.3; Jn. 14.9; 1 Jn. 5.20; 1 Cor. 1.30; Ps. 54. 19 LXX; Jn. 14.6; 1 Cor. 1.24). By Him the Holy Spirit was made manifest, the Spirit of Truth, the Gift of adoption, the foretaste of the future inheritance, the first fruits of eternal good (Jn. 14.17; Rom. 8.15; Eph. 1.14; Rom. 8.23), the life-giving power, the fountain of sanctification. Empowered by Him, every rational and intelligent creature sings eternally to your glory, for all are your servants (Ps. 119.91). It is you the angels, archangels, thrones and dominions, the principalities and the virtues the powers and the Cherubim of many eyes adore; it is you the seraphim surround, one with six wings and the other with six wings and the other with six wings; and with two wings they cover their faces, and with two their feet, and with two they fly, and they cry one to the other (1 Pet. 3.22; Col. 1.16; Is. 6.23) with tireless voice and perpetual praise.
3) First Prayer of the Faithful (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.) We thank you, Lord God of Hosts (Rev. 11.17; Ps. 84.8), for having made us worthy to stand at this moment before your holy altar, and throw ourselves on your mercies for our sins and the faults of the people (Heb. 9.7). Accept, Ο God, our entreaty, make us worthy to offer you prayers and supplications (Heb. 5.7) and unbloody sacrifices for all your people; and by the power of your Holy Spirit (Lk. 4.14, 2 Cor. 3.6) strengthen us whom you have appointed to this your ministry (1 Tim 1.12) so that at all times and places (Wis. 19.22), without blame or offence, with the testimony of a dear conscience, we may call upon you (2 Cor. 1.12; 1 Cor. 1.2); and that hearing us you may have mercy on us in the plenitude of your goodness (1 Kings 8.34; Ps. 69.13).
Among the sacraments, baptism's scriptural nature reveals how the early Church understood the soteriological problem, the nature of man, and the meaning of his redemption. The service includes 186 biblical verses. The Old Testament is represented by 94 verses, the New Testament by 92.
Despite the brevity of the sacrament of chrism, it too is saturated with biblical material. It includes 30 verses, 17 of which are from the New Testament and the other 13 from the Old Testament.
An examination of the Scriptural structure of holy unction, apart from its seven Gospel and Epistle readings, reveals the healing attributes bestowed upon the Church and the therapeutic mission that is expected of her. In the sacrament of holy unction Christ works as physician to the human soul and body. The texts of the sacrament deal primarily with human suffering or spiritual affliction and reveal God's merry, love, and intervention on mankind behalf. Like Christ, the Church must be concerned with human suffering. There are 196 scriptural verses from both Testaments in this rite. The Old Testament leads with 109, against 87 from the New Testament.
The biblical material in the sacrament of matrimony, apart from the two standard pericopes, consists of 130 verses. The use of the Old Testament prevails, with 90 verses against 40 for the New Testament. Ιn addition there is numerous allusions and references to biblical personalities such as Isaac, Sarah, and Joseph. In the biblical material of this sacrament the emphasis of the Church is on the sanctity of the conjugal relationship, with special reference to the couple's procreative task and the call to spiritual perfection. It also manifests the Church's strong opposition to separation and divorce. The unity of husband and wife is like the union between Christ and His Church.
The hymns of the Church are full of direct or indirect Scriptural references, synonyms, and concepts, to a greater degree than are the Church services and prose prayers. This is confirmed by a study of the Easter Canon hymn of Saint John of Damascus, the Christmas Canon of Kosmas of Maiuma, and the Akathistos Hymn of Romanos the Melodist. Of 807 lines of hymns, 369 lines include concepts and ideas taken directly from the New Testament. In other words, about 45 percent of the hymns consist of biblical material. Breaking down the lines into words and terms, excluding articles and conjunctions, we discover 2,219 words from the hymns mentioned above, 783 are taken from the New Testament, some 35 percent. And a recent study of the great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete, which includes 250 hymns (troparia), revealed that Saint Andrew's masterpiece is filled with biblical passages and allusions. One hundred ninety-three troparia include Scriptural material. The author of this third study concludes that 77 percent of the Canon's material is biblical.
In addition to the liturgical use of the Bible in Church liturgy and hymnology, the study of the Scriptures has always been encouraged in the Orthodox Church. In countries where Orthodoxy predominates, even the illiterate have learned by heart whole psalms and other portions of the Scriptures. In the early and medieval Church there were persons who knew many parts of the Bible by heart, and candidates for the priesthood were required before ordination to learn a certain number of psalms, plus a gospel and several epistles. Given the wide availability of Scriptural text, today this is not a practical requirement for service in the Church, though Scriptural sayings and phrases, like, proverbs and mottos, come readily in the speech of both clergymen and laity.
The Scriptures were diligently studied by monastic communities, whether they were composed of intellectuals or simple monks. In practically every monastic ordinance, or typikon, there are strong recommendations for the study of the Bible, not as a literary document but as a guide for everyday living. "Study of the holy scriptures, spiritual exercise, prudence, and obedience" were virtues to be pursued by all monks, as monastic rules and the biographies of great saints proclaim. Such canons are even inscribed on the icons of various saints, such as Euthymios and Symeon.
The Church Fathers and theologians have always encouraged Bible study. It has been estimated that if all the Scriptural quotations in John Chrysostom's works were put together, the whole Bible could be constructed. Chrysostom advocated the study of the Scriptures by clergymen and all believers alike. He advised: "Let us give diligent heed to the study of the Scriptures; the study of the Bible expels despondency, engenders pleasure, extirpates vice, makes virtue take root. In the tumult of life Bible study will save you from suffering like those who are tossed by troubled waves. While the sea of life rages, you sail on with calm weather because the study of the Scriptures serves you as a pilot.»
Many Church Fathers accorded absolute authority to the Scriptures. For them the revelation of God in its dual form, oral and written, was deposited in the Church. On the one hand was the continuous tradition of the Church and on the other the Holy Scriptures. Holy Tradition and Holy Scriptures were viewed as two sides of the same coin. The apostolic tradition stood at the root of both.
From as early as the second century, ecclesiastical writers viewed the Bible as the source of Christian doctrine. Origen was a pronounced Biblicist. His writings abound in Scriptural elements and appeal over and over again to Holy Scripture as the ultimate criterion of faith. Saint Athanasios proclaimed, "The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for proclamation of the truth." Cyril of Jerusalem was even more emphatic. He wrote: "With regard to the divine and saving mysteries of faith no doctrine, however trivial, may be taught without the backing of the divine Scriptures.... For our saving faith derives its force, not from capricious reasoning, but from what may be proved out of the Bible." John Chrysostom and many other Fathers dwell at length on the absolute authority of the Bible regarding doctrinal norms. For them, of course, the Bible was simply written tradition. Cyril of Jerusalem emphasized the apostolicity of abiding by the unwritten as well as the written tradition. In the Christological controversies, the ultimate appeal of Theodoretos of Kyros was to the teaching of the Fathers, who derived their wisdom and inspiration from the "Divine Fountain," from the divinely inspired Scripture as a whole.
Because much of the theological effort of the Fathers was spent on the exposition of the Bible, and because their writings as a whole are impregnated with biblical material, it may be inferred that patristic theology is actually biblical theology. Many doctrines that they supported had first to be established on a biblical basis. It is not irrelevant to observe here that even the Orthodox sermon as a whole is biblically oriented. To be sure, Orthodox priests and lay preachers are free to select their subject matter from various sources, such as liturgical writings; patristic texts, lives of the saints, or current national and social issues. Nevertheless, the average Orthodox preacher turns to his Bible for inspiration and for his theme. Both in theory and in practice the Holy Scriptures constitute the most important source for a homily, or kerygma.
Thus dogmatic and ethical, patristic and liturgical theology in the Orthodox Church has biblical foundations and Scriptural content. Holy Scripture, which has saturated the liturgical and prayer life of the Church, her hymnology and hagiography, and all the other aspects of her intellectual and moral life, occupies a central place in Orthodox theology today. Modern Orthodox theologians see the Bible as the ultimate criterion of theological truth, whose authority has been and remains "unlimited" and "self-sufficient." Neither doctrine nor liturgy can serve as substitute for the word of God.
Sacred Tradition in the Church
But the biblical character of the Church should not be viewed separately from its traditional side. The latter is a strong characteristic and of equal importance. Sacred Tradition is not an accumulation of human sayings that have been transmitted to us. It is rather the life of the Church under the constant guidance of the Holy Spirit; it is the handiwork of the Holy Spirit in the life and the thought of the Church; it is the revelation of the Holy Spirit incorporated in the doctrinal life of the Church; it is the faith to which the Church synods and Fathers bear witness and of which the Orthodox Church is the vigilant and abiding custodian. This is in perfect agreement with the promise of Christ. He said to His disciples: "When the Spirit of the truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." (Jn. 16.13). Because of her confidence in and attachment to the person of the Holy Spirit, the Orthodox Church has remained pneumatological.
Sacred icons, the cross, candles, and the like in an Orthodox house of worship are not elements of Sacred Tradition, which deals with doctrine and faith; rather they constitute a heritage of pious tradition. They are only symbols intended to help in the religious instruction of the faithful. They correspond to the needs of the human senses and are in no way idolatrous. Icons remind the faithful of the reality of the divine. Α distinction should be made between tradition and Sacred Tradition.
The former is human and the latter is divine. There is much ritualism and symbolism in the worship of the Orthodox Church, perhaps too much in the eyes of many Orthodox Christians. Of course a great deal of it can be traced back to Old Testament times, while a portion derives from the religious tradition of antiquity. For example, incense is used in the Church because the believers ask God to accept their prayers "as incense before" him (Ps. 141.2). The faithful make the sign of the cross to remind themselves that the Son of God was crucified for their salvation. The outward symbol of the cross is the expression of an inner conversation with God. These elements constitute an educational religious tradition.
Icons of Jesus Christ, His Mother, the patriarchs of the Old Testament, the Apostles, the saints, and the martyrs are found in Orthodox houses of worship and most Orthodox homes. They are used to emphasize the living reality of the sacred persons depicted on them. There is in the Orthodox Church a strong feeling of the reality of the supernatural. There is no death, only life, whether upon the earth or beyond it. Thus the celestial beings are united with humanity in the bosom of the Ekklesia, which transcends both time and space. "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein" (Ps. 24.l). All things were made for the service and instruction of man. There is nothing pagan in symbolism as long as it remains a means and not an end in itself.
Abuses can and do happen in every sphere of life. It is possible for a Christian to make an icon the object of worship. It is equally possible for someone to abuse the meaning and the significance of the Holy Scriptures and become a bibliolater. Man lives by symbols and ritual whether he realizes it or not. As long as these remain means to virtue and piety there is nothing alarming about them. Icons and symbols express much that words cannot, and their use in a limited measure is not only permissible but also desirable for the human heart and mind. They evoke feeling rather than cold logic, a natural part of life rather than an academic or formal aspect, a source of inspiration and instruction.
It is important to note here that though the Church allows the depiction of Christ in His human form, she never permits the separation of the divine from the human element. Thus an icon of Christ the God-man. Likewise the icons of the Theotokos, the saints, the angels, and other figures of the invisible Church are not realistic representations but depictions and projections of the virtues and saintliness of the personalities involved, presented to mortals for emulation.
In brief, the Orthodox Church appeals to divine revelation as incorporated in the Holy Scriptures and Sacred Tradition and realizes an unbroken continuity with the original Church, not only in her faith and sacramental and prayer life, but also in her culture and administration.
Although the Orthodox Church believes and claims that she is the true Church, she is neither intolerant nor isolated. Ιn fact, she willingly listens to the views of others. Despite her adamant position in matters of faith, she participates in such organizations as the National Council of Churches in the United States and the World Council of Churches. While very few, if any, Protestant or Roman Catholic clergymen or theologians study in Greek Orthodox theological schools, many Orthodox clergy and theologians study in Protestant or Roman Catholic theological institutions with the approval of their superiors. The Orthodox Church works and prays for the integration of all Christians in faith, in love, and in hope within the true Church, which is Christ on earth perpetuated until His second coming and the last judgment. She prays constantly "for the peace of the whole world, for the stability of the Holy Churches of God, and for the union of all." Indeed as Dr. James Κ. McCord, the late President of Princeton Theological Seminary, writes: "The Greek Orthodox Church is one of the pioneering bodies and the call to unity of the Ecumenical Patriarch is one of the milestones in ecumenical history."
She has entered into the ecumenical movement and participates in dialogues in order to bear witness to the ancient unadulterated faith in a confident, fraternal matter. She is confident because she has remained faithful to the historical, theological, ethical, and cultural ideas of early Christianity.
The Orthodox Church is one of the most democratic of Christian churches. With very rare exceptions her clergy are ordained with the approval of the laity. Laymen play an important role in the administration of the Church. They are elected to the executive council of the Church, and they have great administrative responsibilities in the local parish. All may occupy a significant position and work for the well being of the body of the Church.
The Greek Orthodox Church preserves the ancient system of administration known as synodic; it is not an absolutist one, but neither is it loose enough to produce anarchy and extreme individualism. An examination of her administration will illustrate her system of freedom and discipline. Α deacon serves a presbyter in a parish or a bishop in his diocese. Α presbyter, or priest, is the centre of spiritual authority over his parish, receiving his authority from the bishop. And the bishop is the head of the Church in a given district or diocese. But over the local bishop stands the synod, or the totality of bishops. Jesus Christ is the head of the synod and the Church as a whole.
The Patristic and Monastic Aspects of the Church
The Greek Orthodox Church is also a patristic Church that is a church, which honours many Fathers and saints. One cannot fail to observe that Orthodox Christians show devotion to and speak with reverence about the numerous saints and Fathers of the Church. The memory of one saint or -a rare example- as many as two thousand saints is observed on one single day, and several Sundays of the ecclesiastical year are put aside for a certain group of Church Fathers, such as the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod, those of the Second, or of the Seventh. Patriarchs and personalities of the Old Testament, as well as saints and disciples of New Testament times and of the long history of Christianity are invoked in every service of the Orthodox Church, as expressed in the following prayer from the service of Orthros:
Ο God, save your people, bless your inheritance; visit your world with mercies and bounties. Exalt the estate of Orthodox Christians, and bestow upon us your rich blessings. We ask all these through the intercession of our all-holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary; by the might of the precious and life-giving cross; by the protection of the honourable, glorious prophet, forerunner and Baptist John; of the holy, glorious and all-laudable apostles; of all the Fathers among the saints, the great hierarchs and ecumenical teachers...of the holy, glorious and victorious martyrs; of our venerable and God bearing Fathers; of the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna; of Saint [or saints ... whose memory we celebrate, and of all your saints, we beseech you...have mercy upon us.
During the offertory service or prothesis, the priest commemorates many Old Testament personages, such as Moses, Aaron, Elijah, David, and Daniel.
The "chosen people of the world before Christ and after Him are commemorated and united in the bosom of the Church along with the angels.
But why is so much emphasis laid on the saints and Church Fathers? The answer is closely related to the Orthodox conception of the nature of the Church. The saints and the Fathers constitute her conscience, because as witnesses to the living flame of the Holy Spirit they experienced the presence of Christ in their lives and bore witness to it before the world. The blood they shed for the faith, and the oral and the written word they proclaimed, the hymns and the services they wrote, make up the life of the Church.
The Orthodox believe that the saints and holy men are always present in the faith and life of their Church. They are the perpetual teachers of the gospel and the supreme embodiments of the life of Christ. As heralds of the Holy Spirit, the Fathers purified the faith from heretical influences and defined all the major doctrines of Christianity, such as the Holy Trinity, the natures of Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit, the nature of the Church, and the function of her sacraments. They became "the golden mouths of the Logos...the sweet-smelling flowers of Paradise, illuminating stars of the world and the glory of mankind," as one of the many Orthodox hymns declaims.
Among the many saints, martyrs, and Fathers honoured in the Greek Orthodox Church from Saint Stephen the first martyr to Saint Chrysostom, bishop of Smyrna in the 1920s, among the most popular there have been Saints Polycarp, Ignatios, Anthony, Constantine and Helen, Katherine, Nicholas, Athanasios, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian (Nazianzos), John Chrysostom, Spyridon, George, Demetrios, Theodore, Eustathios, Maximos the Confessor, John of Damascus, Cyril and Methodios, Photios, Philaretos Eleemon, Gregory Palamas, George the New Martyr, Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Kosmas Aitolos and Nektarios of Pentapolis. Some of these saints were simple folk, others were theologians and clergymen, and still others were wise men and scholars. There were even kings and socially prominent people, who considered the comforts of this world not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed (cf. Rom. 8.18).
There are faithful in the Orthodox Church, both lay and clergy, who renounce the everyday concerns of life -marriage, family, and profession- in order to devote their lives to prayer and contemplation. Such a person is called monachos (monk). What is a monk? Theodore Studites writes, "a monk is a man who looks only toward God, who is drawn to God and is close to God, desiring to serve only God, being in peace with God and becoming an instrument of peace with other human beings."
Monasticism was born not only out of the individual's desire to live a perfect religious life but also as a reaction to the secularism that infiltrated the Church as early as the third century of the Christian era. Monasticism flourished in the Christian East and assumed various forms and characteristics. There were monks who adopted a life of solitude, while others joined monastic communities, devoting themselves to a number of activities -painting, manufacturing religious articles, or serving their fellowmen as medical aides, teachers, or physicians.
But monasticism declined after the nineteenth century, and today there are not many monastic communities either in Greece or in other countries where Orthodoxy prevails: Mount Athos, with its many monastic communities, is most important and the most famous. Altogether there may be no more than 5,000 monks in the Greek-speaking Orthodox Church. Commenting on the life and character of the monks on Mount Athos, Professor Frederic Will, in an article in the Yale Review a few years ago, writes:
Their lives are whole; prayer and painting are parts of a single devotional existence. The joy is clear enough on their faces. The monks are imaginative, delicate people with a great devotion to their work. Some of them seemed to me among the most broadly human... Ι was astonished, partly, simply at the existence of such a place... The wholeness of the artistic lives led there is exemplary. Their art and joy seemed to have found one another.
Liturgy and Liturgical Life
Liturgy and liturgical services are central in the religious life of the Greek Orthodox, and indeed of other faithful in the Eastern Orthodox family of churches. Ιn the Greek religious experience, ancient and medieval, non-Christian and Christian, religion is identified with worship of the Divine, and worship is the core of religion. Liturgy and liturgical services in practice today can trace their origins in early Christianity but they assumed their final form after the eleventh century.
Daily life in the Greek middle centuries of our era, known as the Byzantine period (330 AD-1453), named after the city of Byzantion, a Greek city state reputed to have been founded in 667 BC, was rich with a variety of religious and nonreligious festivals, liturgical feasts, imperial and social ceremonies. The first included not only Sunday and Feast day liturgies but also baptisms, weddings, blessing of waters, and several more religious rites. The second contained imperial triumphal processions, anniversaries, and commemorations of founding of cities, installations of councils and the like. According to a 12th century list of feasts, in addition to Sundays there were 66 full feasts (panegyreis) and 27 half-feasts. This series is concerned with the nature and significance of the first set of liturgical feasts -the Eucharistic liturgy, baptism, wedding, and services on other important occasions. Whatever the original form might have been, it needs to be emphasized that the liturgy was identified with prayer, prayer life and diakonia- practice of love and philanthropy. Ι use the term liturgy, as a comprehensive term to describe several religious rites, which involved the Community at large in terms of religious, social, and economic needs.
The Liturgy epitomizes the dogma, doctrine, and code of ethics, cult, community-structure and the metaphysical or transcendent vision of Greek Orthodox Christianity as it developed in the course of a millennium. Briefly, these categories are used in a specific meaning. Dogma describes the accepted and codified faith of the Community; doctrine refers to theological teachings subject to development; the term code is used to describe the ethical imperatives, the rules of and obligations toward personal and Community action. Α cult involves the ritual and symbolic movement and activity in the execution of the liturgy, such as processions, candles, and signs; Community-structure explains the nature of relationships among the followers of the common faith, that is the principles that bind individual believers into a living organism and structured organization -the Church. For Medieval Greek Christianity, Church never meant the clergy but always the totality of believers, including laity, monastic, imperial and ecclesiastical dignitaries.
As we shall see, the Liturgy is more than a narrative and re-enactment of the mystery of Christ's life as it has been repeatedly written. More than that, it is an unfolding, an interpretation of the meaning of history -a Greek Christian understanding of history, whose vision is the ultimate presence of the human person in the glory of the Transcendent God revealed in Jesus Christ. The Transcendent invites and the human responds and fulfils his quest to go beyond the surface of daily experience. The offering of the Chalice, for example, Communion, points to the Transcendent and reveals to the believer that the ultimate destiny of human existence is to achieve theosis, an external life in the Transcendent.
It was this joyful, panegyric celebration of the Greek liturgy, seeking to elevate the human person above the ephemeral daily realities that impressed the new nations of Slavs, Bulgarians and Russians and led them to accept Christianity. Α brief illustration is in order. An 11th century Russian source relates the impression that the Greek liturgy made on members of a Russian delegation sent to Constantinople by Prince Vladimir in the last quarter of the 10th century. We are told that the Prince Vladimir was anxious to introduce a new religion to his pagan subjects. Whether for purely religious or political and economic reasons, Vladimir was in contact with Roman Catholic Germans, Islamic Bulgars, Jewish Khazars and Greek Orthodox of the Byzantine Empire. Having heard an account of the beliefs and practices of these four religions, he dispatched "good and wise men to the number of 10" to observe the worship of Muslims, Western Christians and the rites of the Greeks. Vladimir had rejected Khazarian Judaism and no delegation to a synagogue is mentioned. Upon returning to their country, the delegates reported on what they observed and heard. The Greek liturgy they had experienced in the cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople impressed the Russians so much that a vivid account of it influenced Vladimir to adopt Orthodox Christianity. "The Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth," they reported. "On earth there is no such splendour or such beauty, and we are at a loss to describe it... we cannot forget that beauty..."
Neither dogma and doctrinal theology nor Christian ethics decided the adoption of Greek Christianity by the Russians. It was the Liturgy celebrated by the clergy and the choirs; the chanting as well as the hymns, the incense, the beauty of the edifice, the pontifical services and the ministry of the deacons, which commended Orthodox Christianity to the Russians. The term liturgy, from the Greek "leiturgia" means an actor work (ergon) performed by or for the people (laos, leitos). Though it was used in Greek antiquity in a technical and political sense, it later acquired a new technical but religious meaning as service conducted for a deity. For example, in Athens, wealthier citizens were obligated to sponsor public events such as dramatic performances, athletic competitions, and musical festivals and religious celebrations -all called liturgies. Christianity adopted this later sense and Greek Christianity in particular has retained this meaning to the present day. Ιn the Byzantine era, the term was employed to emphasize the corporate character of liturgical rituals including baptism, marriage, funerals and other sacraments and sacramentals.
The prayer life of the Greek Church was a set of liturgies but also corporate rituals that formed a coherent structure and addressed several spiritual and physical needs of the people, religious as well as social, noetic (knowledgeable) as well as intellectual desires and quests.
The cycle of liturgical services included not only Bible readings -the Word of God, but also iconography- the Word of God illustrated; readings but also homilies, symbols but also articles of art -a coordination of visible and invisible realities, the macrocosm reduced to a microcosm. Α liturgy was intended to bring together the physical and the metaphysical, the created and the uncreated and, in particular, Divinity and humanity.
The variety of the liturgical forms we find in the Byzantine religious life was a synthesis of and a compromise between the rites practiced in the Cathedral of Ηagia Sophia, which exerted influence throughout the Empire and elsewhere, and the liturgical rules of the Stoudios Monastery of Constantinople, which had rubrics that synthesized Palestinian and Constantinopolitan liturgical practices. The liturgy of the Eucharist was central in the religious life of the Medieval Greek world, and it remains of paramount significance to the present day among Orthodox believers.
Liturgy as worship is the core meaning of the Greek understanding of threskeia (religion), which etymologically means instinctive worship of the divine; a leaping up in joyful expectation to associate oneself with the transcendent, the source of creation. The Christian religion has always emphasized worship, a worship that includes two fundamental principles: anamnesis (remembrance) and eucharistia (thanksgiving). Remembrance presupposes a faith and a recognition of a Creator, Redeemer and Providential God involved in the creation, evolution and sustenance of all creation. Thanksgiving is the human person's grateful response to God's philanthropia, which culminated in the God-made-human event. The faithful acknowledge the "mighty and saving deeds of God" in history. The Greek Christian liturgy includes both principles, anamnesis and eucharistia because the two are inseparable.
Furthermore, in early Christian usage, the term liturgy meant service to God at the altar, but also public worship and ceremonial services for the religious life of the community. Thus, even though ultimately the term was identified with the Eucharist proper, every sacramental and religious ritual could be called liturgy including baptism, anointment, and acts of charity such as diakonia and preaching. By the fourth century, when the Byzantine Empire came into being, liturgy had assumed a specific meaning and was referred to as the Sacrament (or mysterion) of the Eucharist, as the Last Supper of Christ with his disciples.
Nevertheless, the large number of several volumes of hymns, services, and sacraments, liturgies and prayers (such as the Menaia, Oktoechos, Triodon, Pentikostarion, Euchologion, Horologion) reveal that the Greek Church had embraced the totality of life. Menaia are 12 liturgical books, one for each month containing hymns and other texts for each feast day of the month. Oktoechos is a liturgical hymnbook containing the hymns in eight tones of daily services of the whole year, except those of Lent, Easter and Pentecost seasons. Triodion is a hymnbook "of three odes" containing the services during the movable period of the Lenten cycle. It begins with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, four weeks before the beginning of Great Lent, continues through the 40 day period of Great Lent, and concludes with Holy Week.
The Pentikostarion follows the Triodion and includes the hymnology of the period beginning with the Resurrection Service of Pascha (Easter), through Pentecost, and closes on the Sunday of All Saints, the week after Pentecost. The Euchologion is the liturgical book of the clergy and it contains the services and rites conducted by deacons, presbyters and bishops. The Horologion is a liturgical book, which contains the monastic hours of prayers such as the Compline and the midnight (mesonyktikon). All prayers and services in these major volumes, rites at the birth of a child, the opening of schools for classes, the installation of public officials, the seeding of fields and the reaping of crops, services for forgiveness of sins and for health of body and soul, texts of sacraments and sacramental services for baptism, Chrismation, marriage and so on, provide ample evidence that liturgical life was a daily enrichment and experience for the Orthodox subjects of the Byzantine Empire.
The Greek Church never made a clear distinction between sacraments (mysteria) and sacramentalia (hieraiakolouthiae). All were intended to consecrate some aspect of life and, indeed, the totality of the cosmos. The daily life of the people, whether city dwellers as those of large cities like Constantinople, Thessalonike, Nicaea, Ephesos, Trapezous or provincial towns and rural populations such as Corinth, Kastoria and the people of the islands, included daily religious services and the Divine Liturgy proper. The ecclesiastical calendar includes daily commemorations of celestial and earthly beings -members of the Church triumphant and the Church militant. Angelic hosts, prophets of the old dispensation, apostles, church fathers, martyrs, saints of the desert-male and female, unmercenary physicians, the ancestors of Christ on the side of his mother, other members of the congregation "who have fallen asleep in the hope of resurrection to eternal life" and, of course, for the health and spiritual growth of the members of the visible Church are commemorated as participants in the prayer life of the faithful.
For the Greek Church, the liturgy was a recapitulation of the whole economy of God-God's providence and acts in history from the moment of humanity's disobedience (parakoe) to God's direct intervention in the person of Jesus the Christ. Ιn the last analysis, the liturgy was perceived as the mystery of God's love. Throughout the liturgy, God is described as philanthropos (lover of human kind), eleemon (merciful), oiktirmon or panoiktirmon (compassionate or most compassionate), evergetes (benefactor), Soter (saviour), the monos philanthropos (the only true lover of human kind). It is out of love for humanity that God assumed humanity in order to save the human. "God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son so that anyone who believes in him may not perish" (John 3:16). God's justice is mitigated by God's love and compassion for his creation.
There were six major liturgies during the Byzantine era, namely the Liturgy of Iakovos (James), the Liturgy of Markos (Mark), the Liturgy of Clement, the Liturgy of St. Basil, the Liturgy of John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.
Of these, the Liturgy falsely attributed to Clement was written in Syria and was incorporated in the Diatagai ton Ηagion Apostolon (Instructions of the Twelve Apostles). It was never adopted by the Greek Church.
Up to the 12th century, the most widely used liturgy was that attributed to St. Basil of Caesarea (329-379). After the 12th century it was replaced by John Chrysostom's (354-407), but Basil's continued to be celebrated ten times during the year. The Presanctified Gifts liturgy was celebrated throughout Great Lent, and Holy Week, except Saturdays and Sundays.
The central point of every one of these liturgies is the Eucharist, instituted by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper, commemorated on Holy Thursday to perpetuate Christ's redemptive work -first to secure Ηis koinonia (communion) with His people and establish a koinonia between the faithful themselves. For this reason, the liturgy was perceived as a corporate worship of God in Christ. At no time was the liturgy conducted without lay people present. Ιn the early Church the liturgy was called synaxis, a gathering of the faithful for Bible reading, Holy Communion and a meal. The spirit that dominates every act of the Liturgy is the notion of God's philanthropia (Titus 3:4), God's attributes manifested in His love for creation, especially humankind. In the early liturgy, which manifests God's love, angelic and human hosts concelebrate. The atmosphere created is intended to elevate the human spirit to spiritual concerns.
The faithful find themselves among the spiritualised personalities of the Old and the New Testaments: apostles and martyrs, church intellectual fathers and illiterate anchorites of the desert -all depicted in abstract icons; lighted with flickering candles, sweet smelling with incense and with a joyful expression created by music and hymns which strengthen the faith, augment hope and bind people in love.
The visible and invisible choruses of believers unite under a common mantle of eternity. Ιn other words, the liturgy is a highly spiritual experience bringing together the created and the uncreated, those living in time and those who have entered eternity.
As already indicated, the content of the Liturgy includes doctrine and ethics, implied history, and a springboard for philanthropic action, both individual and collective, hymns with passages from the Old and New Testaments, and always two pericopes from the New, including one from one of the four gospels, and one either from the Book of Acts, or the letters of the Apostles. However, there are never readings from the Book of Revelation, a book considered prophetic and apocalyptic.
Ιn theory, at least, the liturgy was for all, and it was in the liturgy and the sharing of the same cup that the unity of the community was proclaimed. Emperors and poor peasants, patriarchs and humble monks, queens and servant girls, generals and ordinary soldiers shared of the same cup. One invisible but real kingdom in heaven, one but visible kingdom on earth. Sunday liturgy especially was the supreme spiritual experience for Byzantine society whether in cities and towns or villages and farm communities. The text of the liturgy constitutes a mirror of Orthodox Christianity's dogmas, social ethics and spiritual life.
What follow is a description and an analysis of St. John Chrysostom's Liturgy which ultimately dominated the liturgical life of medieval Greek society. It, too, includes a sequence of readings and events that usually last 90 minutes. It was enriched in the course of time and it evolved to epitomize the whole realm of spirituality and unfold the philosophy of history held by the Medieval Greek world. Petition after petition, prayer after prayer, symbols and re-enactments embrace concerns for the totality of the human person's needs and reveal a deep interest for cosmic salvation. As prayer and spirituality, St. John's Liturgy is a step-by-step ascendancy from the material to the immaterial, from the created to the uncreated. As a mirror of Greek Orthodoxy's philosophy of history, the liturgy is an account and re-enactment of God's invasion of human history -from the moment of creation, to re-creation through the God made-human event, to the eschaton (end of time), and the return of the cosmos to its pristine immateriality, and human kind's state of theosis, when God will be in all and all in God.
St. John's Liturgy is preceded by the Orthros, a daybreak service conducted to consecrate the day to God. It is followed by the rite of the Prothesis, a service preparing the gifts of wine and bread for the Eucharist.
The Liturgy proper is divided into four interrelated sections -the enarxis (beginning), the liturgy of the word, the Eucharist, and the apolysis (dismissal).
The Orthros includes a series of psalm readings, including Psalms 3, 37, 62, 87, 102,142; and the magnificat, hymn singing and doxology. But more than these steps, the prothesis best expresses Greek Christianity's sense of history as it will become evident in the following issues.
As soon as the service has begun with the recitation "Blessed is our God, now and always and forever and ever," and the priest has vested and washed his hands, he lifts up the prosforon (loaf of bread) and with a lance in his right hand, he proceeds to cut the centre piece of the loaf called the Amnos (Lamb) signifying the Body of Christ carrying the monogram IC ΧΡ ΝΙ ΚΑ meaning "Jesus Christ is victorious." While the celebrant separates the Amnos from the loaf and pours wine into the chalice, he recites passages from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah such as "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its Shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth... (Is. 53:7) He then pours wine and water into the chalice.
It is after this that the commemoration of the triumphant and militant Church members, starts. Their significance requires that we cite here every pronouncement that the celebrant makes while he removes a particle from the loaf of bread to be consecrated.
The first particle is in honour and memory of our most highly blessed and glorious Lady the Theotokos (the Bearer of God) and ever-virgin Mary, through whose prayers do Υou, Ο Lord, receive this sacrifice upon your altar in heaven." This particle is placed at the right hand of the Lamb-Amnos (unconsecrated Host) accompanied with the words "at your right stood the Queen, dressed in an embroidered mantle of gold."
The twelve recitations accompanied with the particle cut off from the offertory loaf that follows remind us that the whole: Church triumphant and militant constitutes an oneness. From the angelic hosts to the celebrant priest, the community of God's people are united symbolically on the diskarion, the paten, symbolic of the whole cosmos. The priest recites the following passages:
In honour and memory of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel and of all heavenly and incorporeal powers; in honour and memory of the honourable and glorious prophet and forerunner John the Baptist, of the holy and glorious prophets Moses and Αaron, Elias and Elisha, David and Jesse, the three young men and Daniel the prophet, and of all the holy prophets; in honour and memory of the glorious and illustrious apostles Peter and Paul, and of all the holy apostles; in honour and memory of our holy fathers, the great hierarchs and ecumenical teachers, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom, Athanasios and Cyril, Nicholas of Myra, and all she holy hierarchs; in honour and memory of the first martyr and archdeacon, Stephen, the great martyrs Demetrios, George and Theodore of Tyre the Commander, and all male and female martyrs; of the sainted and theophoric (God-bearing) fathers of ours, Anthony, Euthymios, Savvas, Onoufrios, Athanasios of Athos and all male and female ascetic saints; of the saints, miracle workers and unmercenary (physicians) Kosmas and Damianos, Kyros and John, Panteleimon and Ermolaos and all the unmercenary saints; of the holy and righteous ancestors (of Christ) Joachim and Anna, of the saints... whose memory we observe today, and of all the saints, through whose prayers visit us, Ο God.
Having commemorated all the above the celebrant priest removes a ninth particle in glory and memory of the saint whose liturgy is to be celebrated (attributed either John Chrysostom or Basil the Great). But God's family of incorporeal beings includes not only angels and saints of all kinds and backgrounds but ordinary human beings who live either in body on earth or within the triumphant invisible Church. Thus, the celebrant uses either the same or another loaf, especially baked for the liturgy, and cuts off particles commemorating the "living and the dead."
Removing a particle from the loaf of bread offered, he prays thus: "Remember, Master, lover of humankind, all Orthodox bishops, our Archbishop (name), the honourable presbyters in service to Christ, all those in the priesthood and monastic communities, and all our brethren in Christ."
Upon completion of this prayer, the priest prays for individuals including parents, brothers and sisters, the bishop who ordained him, fellow priests and others whose names have been given to him by members of the congregation. Then, he commemorates by name those of the departed he wants and those for whom he has received a request from his parishioners. First, he recites "in memory and forgiveness of sins of the blessed founders of the Church" in which the Liturgy takes place. Then he asks the philanthropic God to remember all Orthodox fathers and brethren who have fallen asleep "in the hope of resurrection to eternal life." Lastly, he removes a particle praying for himself "remember Ο Lord and my unworthiness and forgive me for every transgression, voluntary and involuntary."
Throughout the service of the Prothesis and Orthros as a whole, there is an interplay of continuity between the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Ekklesia (community of believers) in history.
Fidelity is affirmed with the Old Covenant, between God and old Israel, and continuity and change between the Old and the New Covenant, the Christian people -the New Israel. The doxology to God "the giver of Light" completes the Orthros service.
As already indicated, the purpose of the Liturgy was to uplift the faithful from a material to a spiritual world. Pedagogically speaking, the whole ritual, from the beginning of the Prothesis to the dismissal of the Eucharist, was meant to be a step-by-step ascending from the earthly to the heavenly, from the visible and created to the invisible and uncreated. Thus, the following five steps schematically illustrate the parts of the liturgical service:
The Prothesis -preparation of the Gifts for the Eucharist.
Enarxis -beginning of the Liturgy proper, which includes petitions, antiphons and preparatory prayers.
Liturgy of the Word -The reading of New Testament excerpts. Instructive prayers for the catechumens. Sermon.
Liturgy of the Eucharist -invocation, Communion, thanksgiving.
What follows is a brief analysis of the two central sections of John Chrysostom's liturgy.
The first part serves as instruction and is known as the Liturgy of the Word, and also as the Synaxis (gathering of the people) and as the Liturgy of the Catechumens. It was open to all-the faithful and those receiving instructions to join the Church. Litanies, psalmody, Scriptural readings from one of the Gospels and one from another book of the New Testament and the sermon constitute the high points of the Liturgy of the Catechumens. Following a series of prayers for the catechumens, and then the faithful, the Gospel that has occupied the central place on the altar yields its place to the chalice. Bible and chalice, the Word of God and the Mystery of God's presence in the Eucharist, are the two poles of the Liturgy.
While the Orthros service opens with an assertion of an undefined God, proclaiming "Blessed is our God at all times, now and always for ever and ever," the Divine Liturgy starts with a confirmation of the Triune God, God one in essence but in three persons. Thus, "Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and always and for ever and ever."
The Old Testament progressively reveals that God is, but God is still the unknown God, the obscure, present in word but absent from the humanity's complete religious knowledge and experience. It was the incarnation of the Logos and the descent of the Spirit that confirmed the Triune nature of God as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. The Orthros is preparatory, anticipatory and includes more readings from the Old Testament imagery and prophetic sayings, but also the prophetic magnificat. Allusions to the Old Testament are not absent from the Eucharist proper, especially in the first part which includes passages from psalms and prophetic utterances, but the biblical structure of the Liturgy and the Bible readings depend much more on the New Testament, the fulfilment of prophecy and expectation. Nevertheless, there is a persistent antithesis between the judgment and greatness of the Old Testament God, and the "unfathomable philanthropia" of the New Testament God, between the Pantokrator Theos (Almighty God) and the Philanthropos Theos (Lover of Humankind).
The Mystery (or sacrament) of the Eucharist became known as the "anaimaktos thysia" (bloodless sacrifice). It replaced the sacrificial blood ritual ceremonies of Old Testament practice and bloody sacrifice of other religions. The Mosaic cultic rite, described in Exodus 24:3-8, was a blood covenant. Moses built an altar at the foot of Mount Sinai and used the blood of animal sacrifice for sealing the covenant between Jehovah and Moses' tribe. He sprinkled half of the blood on the altar and the other half over his people, affirming, "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you..." (Εx. 24:8); thus dramatizing the special relationship, indeed the union, between Jehovah God and the Israelite people.
But if the blood of goats and bulls sanctifies those who have benefited so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ purify our conscience to worship the living God! For this reason, He is the mediator of a new covenant (Heb. 9:Ι3-15).
The Eucharist is the seal of the New Covenant and proclaims the special relationship, indeed the union of Christ with the New Israel, the Christian people. It is well known that the sacrificial and blood ritual ceremonies have been in religious practice throughout history down to the present.
The Christian Eucharist, however, transformed the Jewish blood sacrifice into a bloodless thanksgiving offering, confirming that Christ continues His association and ever-presence among His people.
During his last supper with His disciples "Jesus took a loaf of bread and, after blessing it, he broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, «Take, eat, this is my body.» Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, «Drink from it all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant' which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.» (1 Cor 11:23-25). On the other hand, the concept of the "reasonable or spiritual sacrifice" was an inheritance from Greek philosophy, which had rejected the bloody sacrifice of ancient religious practices.
Soon after the pronouncement of Christ's words and the consecration of the bread and the wine, the faithful are invited, not to be "sprinkled," but to partake of the bread and the wine, mixed, the body and the blood of a bloodless sacrificed Christ. But before the faithful are called to come forward and receive, they have been admonished to pray for the unity of faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit, and command one another in love, as one harmonious body in a life dedicated to God in Christ. Thus, from the beginning of the second part of the Liturgy, which opens with the cherubic hymn, to the very end the faithful expect to be nourished with "the bread of life" and the wine, "the blood of the new covenant.
The Word of God instructs and illuminates the faithful mind, but the mystery of the Eucharist achieves the koinonia, the communion between Christ, the Lamb of God, "who shed His blood for the salvation of all" and the believers, as well as the union of the believers among themselves as members of one organism.
The litanies and petitions, the prayers, the recitation of the creed of faith and the Lord's prayer are intended to create a clear and logical uplifting, a magnificent process-parade in which all are participants, kings and peasants, generals and soldiers, patriarchs and hermits, virtuous and sinful people, infants and adolescents, middle-aged and elderly, the fainthearted and the courageous, those present and those scattered, those in error and the orthodox in faith, the hopeful and the hopeless, the healthy and the sick -all are gathered together expecting the manifestation of God's philanthropia. It is for this reason that the Liturgy is considered the centrality of the Church's life and the very best manifestation of its ecclesiology, its doctrine, its major ethical teachings, and its eschatology.
For some Greek Church Fathers and theologians with a more mystical bend, such as Dionysios the Areopagite, Maximos the Confessor, Nicholas Kabasilas, Symeon of Thessalonike, and Gregory Palamas, the Liturgy provided the opportunity for a personal, mystical and total consummation in divinisation (theosis) of the individual believer here on earth. Both symbol and reality, the Divine Lίturgy through Scripture and Eucharist, the word and mystery and especially communion, elevate the believer to a higher state of existence where one gains a more intimate and profound communion with God, who provides the gifts, leads to the variety of services and activates all to the common good.
The concluding prayer of the Liturgy, before the dismissal, summarizes that God's mystery has been completed and perfected to the extent that it is humanly possible to describe and understand.
Ιn brief, the Liturgy is a journey whose purpose, beginning and end, is the meeting of the human person with God, the invisible, incomprehensible, indescribable but ever existing and always present everywhere and filling all things. Tο paraphrase from the Liturgy itself Christ is the fulfilment of the law and the prophets, fulfilling the whole providential plan of God the Father, who fills the hearts of people with happiness and gladness in the present kairos (time) in anticipation of the joy of eternity.
Ιn addition to Sunday and daily liturgies, from as early as the fifth century, the Church of Constantinople had adopted a system called "stational services" -liturgies conducted in designated stations of the city. Those liturgies were preceded by a lite, a procession of up to 10 kilometres of clergy and laity. Ιn the early centuries, especially between the fifth and the early eighth centuries, stational services were frequent but later were limited to major feast days, including the Annunciation, Palm Sunday, and the Εlevation of the Holy Cross, a practice that survives to the present in the Eastern Orthodox world. Liturgies and processions conducted in the open made the entire city or town a "liturgical space."
There are more than 100 other liturgical services, rites or sacraments included in the Great Prayerbook (Mega Euchologion) of the Byzantine Greek Church. Most were composed between the 14th and 15th centuries. Some were written by distinguished theologians and hymnographers, while others were the work of unknown monks. But all are marked by theological orthodoxy. The Mega Euchologion includes services for betrothals and marriage, repentance and confession, holy unction for the healing of body and soul, the consecration of the waters on Epiphany day commemorating the baptism of Christ, the blessing of the waters for home and business usage, brief litanies against pestilence and drought, for safe travel and shipbuilding, for founding of schools and public institutions, for consecrating of churches, prayers for personal community and state needs.
All these liturgies confirm that the private life of the Byzantine church was never static and that it had encompassed in its concerns the totality of human life and humanity's visible and invisible, physical and metaphysical needs.
Whether because of its agricultural nature or its perception of the relationship between the Creator and the creation, the liturgical cycle was designed so as to consecrate the Church year and the whole cosmos. This becomes clear when we study certain services, such as those of Theophany (Epiphany).
Make ready, ο river Jordan, for behold, Christ our God draws near to be baptized by John, that He may crush with Ηis divinity the invisible heads of the dragons in Your waters (Ps. 73:13). Rejoice Ο wilderness of Jordan; dance with grandness, Ο you mountains. For the eternal has come to recall Adam. Ο you voice that cries in the wilderness, John the Forerunner, cry out: Prepare you all the ways of the Lord and make His path straight (Mark 1:13). And the hymn that follows bursts our in joy; Ο earth and all things upon the earth, dance you and rejoice exceedingly. The river of Joy (Ps. 35:9) is baptized in the stream; He dries up the fountain of evil and pours forth-divine forgiveness.
The prayers recited in the service of Epiphany reveal the understanding of the Greek Church's interrelationship between the Creator, the creation and the human being. The following, the third prayer read by the celebrant is more indicative of this:
Great are Υou, Ο Lord, and marvellous are Your works: no words suffice to sing the praise of Your wonders. For Υou by Υour own will have brought all things out of nothingness into being; by Your power Υou do hold together the creation, and by Your providence Υou do govern the world. Of four elements have Υou compounded the creation; with four seasons have Υou crowned the circuit of the year. All the spiritual powers tremble before Υou. The sun sings Your praises; the moon glorifies Υou; the stars supplicate before Υou, the light obeys Υou; the depths are afraid of Υour presence; the fountains are Your servants. Υou have stretched out the heavens like a curtain; Υou have established the earth upon the waters; Υou have walled about the sea with sand. Υou have poured forth the air that living things may breathe. The angelic powers minister to Υou; the choirs of archangels worship Υou; the many-eyed cherubim and the six-winged seraphim, standing before Υou and flying about Υou, hide their faces in fear of Your unapproachable glory. Υou, the uncircumscribed God without beginning and beyond speech, have come upon the earth, taking the form of a servant and being made in the likeness of man ... At Your epiphany the whole creation sang Your praises...
The above is only a part of the prayer, which continues to speak of the benefits of the God-man event for humanity: the Incarnation of the Logos-Christ. Creator, creation, spiritual and physical worlds, fall and redemption, evil and its defeat, are described in a language that people could understand and appreciate. As already indicated, the Byzantine Greek church offered a great cycle of liturgical services embracing the whole of life, from birth to death, from cradle to coffin, from agriculture to commerce and trade, from grade one to opening of the office for the practice of one's profession. Frequently conducted services included vespers (esperinos), Compline (apodeipnon-following supper), Nocturns (mesonyktikon), matins (orthros) and, of course, the Liturgy or Eucharist proper. There were morning and evening prayers and the so-called "inter-hours" (horai) observed more by the monastic communities than the ordinary parish. All these services constitute a 24-hour service of liturgical life, to be sure a monastic practice affecting the Church in the world.
Ιn addition to Sunday Liturgies, the liturgical calendar included special feast days commemorating major events of the life of Christ. His Mother, the Apostles, Church Fathers, martyrs and other saints. The Feasts of Christ were known as Despotikai eortai (Feasts of the Master). Easter Day was the eorti eorton (Feast of Feasts) but there were several more, including the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Nativity of Christ, Theophany or Epiphany, Palm Sunday, the Ascension, Pentecost and the Transfiguration.
The feasts in honour of the Theotokos (literally the Birth-giver or the Bearer of God) were the birth, her entry and dedication into the Temple, the Annunciation, and the Dormition of the Theotokos. The feasts of John the Baptist, Peter and Paul and the other Apostles, and of several major Church Fathers, such as the three hierarchs (Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom) received pre-eminence over lesser saints.
Several other occasions provided opportunities for the faithful to participate in liturgical life. For example, the very poetic and theologically profound service of the Akathistos Hymnos, a series of hymns, was celebrated during the Easter or Great Lent. It has been described as "one of the masterpieces of mediaeval Greek poetry and the nightmare of any translator." It includes a theology which starts with praises addressed to Christ's Mother, the Theotokos, the instrument of God's appearance among men.
Great Lent is rich in liturgical services because, in addition to regular Sunday liturgies and Sunday katanyktikos (penitential) vespers, it includes the Great Compline (mega apodeipnon), the celebration of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts usually held on Wednesdays and Fridays, and the Great Canon of St. Andreas of Crete.
Notwithstanding the difference in length of time and poetic quality of hymns and prayers written in the course of more than ten centuries, liturgical services provided opportunities for the hearers to learn their faith, grow spiritually, and have moral truths indelibly impressed upon their mind. They served educational, social, emotional, poetic, and spiritual needs. In times of crisis, as in the last two centuries or so, when the state was in decline and the Church remained the most stable institution, liturgical life became more intensive. Liturgical theology became more popular and new liturgical services, such as the Paraklesis to the Theotokos (Intercessor Service addressed to the Bearer of God-Christ) were added to the cycle.
The nature of liturgical texts in the daily life of the Byzantine Empire was didactic and their application mystically experiential; some liturgies were major events for royalties and dignitaries but most addressed the religious needs of all. Liturgical services however in honour of certain saints were of social and economic significance as well.
Religious festivities were accompanied by a panegyris-celebration, which helped to integrate society and promote a holistic understanding of life. Α panegyris has been described as a religio-economic institution and it appeared in Christian Byzantium as early as the fifth century. The interrelationship between religious, social, and economic needs is clearly revealed in the following account by a mid-fifth-century orator who wrote of the panegyris, a public assembly in honour of St. Thekla, traditionally one of St. Paul's disciples and the first woman martyr. The panegyris began and ended with a liturgy. Ιn the final liturgy:
all rushed, citizen and foreigner, man, woman, and child, governor and governed, general and soldier, leader of the mob and individual, both young and old, sailor and farmer and everyone simply who was anxious, all rushed to come together, to pray to God, to beseech the Virgin, and having partaken of the holy mysteries [i.e., the Eucharist] thus to go away blessed and as someone renewed in body and soul. Then they banqueted and set to discussing the wonders of the panegyris. One participant praised its brilliance, another the size of the crowd, yet another the harmony of the psalmody, another the duration of the vigil, and so they continued commenting on the liturgy and prayer, the shoving of the crowd, the shouting, and the quarrelling. One man commented on the fact that he was inspired by a beautiful young woman that he saw during the celebration and was consumed by the thought of having his pleasure with her so that he could only offer prayers to this end. It seems also that at the dismissal of the service gifts were given by the attendants of the sanctuary to the pious [needy].
Thus a liturgy was celebrated for the renewal of body and soul; it attracted crowds, dignitaries and ordinary people; it included prayers and gossip, praises for the brilliance of the service and the knowledge of the teachers, praise for the harmony of the psalmody but also complaints about the duration of the rite; prayers for the attraction of a bride and distribution of charities to needy pious.
Α liturgy-panegyris involved the total human being with all his strengths and all his weaknesses. Prayer life, satisfaction of spiritual and social needs merged at the panygeris. The liturgy represented the "holy" through visible means and it filled up the vacuum between the abstract spiritual and the concrete material. Similar descriptions of the panegyris as a religious-social-economic phenomenon are provided by authors of the 9th, 11th, 12th and later centuries. But it is to be noted that these unique celebrations were observed during the annual memories of local saints such as St. John the Theologian, St. Thekla, St. Demetrios -not on a regular Sunday, the Lord's Day. These liturgical-social-commercial celebrations had their parallel in the ancient Greek world and indicate cultural continuity between Christian and non-Christian Hellenism. This relationship between the religious and so-called secular concerns is understood when we bear in mind that the Byzantine Church did not seek to destroy but to transform and consecrate culture.
To repeat, Liturgy and liturgical life has no other purpose except to sanctify the totality of the human person and his environment. Whether in private, family type, or public liturgies, lay participation is a necessary presupposition and it is conducted in an atmosphere of music, iconography and symbolic representations. Furthermore, for the less well-educated people, the liturgies provide a forum for learning of the Church's dogmas, and for all as a place for social cohesion and philanthropic activity.
The rich symbolism in an Orthodox house of worship, icons, candles, banners, crosses reveal the widespread nature of the religious experience of the Orthodox throughout the centuries. The "sacred" is so close to the daily life of the faith. The corner in the house where the Orthodox keep their icons and a lighted lectern day in and day out is a "temple of worship" in the house. This diffusion and extension of the sacred from the house to the Church is augmented with the presence of small proskynetaria, small icon stands along the highways and roads. For the Orthodox, God is not distant and inaccessible. God's saints, God's teachings in icons and symbols mark every significant aspect of private and public life.
The variety of liturgical services, the religions practices and festivities (panegyreis), public school instruction and private storytelling about saints and biblical personalities and interwoven and proclaim the meaning of life. They all intend to make the nature of the sacred present and widespread. What Homer said about the ancient Greeks that all are "filled with gods-the divinity" has been a reality throughout the centuries. Divinity has been an all-pervasive and ever-present experience. God is invisible, incomprehensible, unknown, and, yet, so near and so experiential. The whole cosmos is a manifestation of God's glory and presence. Ιn the last analysis icons and religious symbolism proclaim what a leading art historian has called "perennial Hellenism." They express the fundamental longing of the Greek mind throughout history to bridge the gulf between humanity and Divinity.
The Relevance of the Church Today
Orthodoxy stands on the optimistic side of the different conflicting ideologies and creeds of the twentieth century. Α great part of Western Christendom suffers from a number of dilemmas, such as the opposition of nature and grace, faith and works, the oral word and the sacrament, Scripture and tradition, the clergy and the laity, and other theological problems. The Orthodox Church emphasizes a natural revelation in harmony with revealed grace, faith and good works, the word and the sacrament, Bible and tradition, clergy and laity. Divine revelation is viewed not as sudden lightning or thunderbolt from the sky, but as a cosmic sun whose rays converge in the person of Christ and continuing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox believe in the revelation whose rays have penetrated many minds and thoughts through various channels in the course of man's history. Orthodoxy is optimistic because of its belief in the dignity of man; because of its doctrine of the deification of human nature under God; because of its belief in the philanthropia of God and of man. The gospel of the Orthodox Ekklesia is the gospel of the resurrection, of triumph, and of victory. For in Orthodoxy the human being does not stand alone and that there is only holy history: That God reigns supreme and all evolves under His watchful providence and plans, which are often beyond man's capacity to comprehend.
The significance that Orthodoxy places on humanity can be considered its unique contribution to modern thought. To the Orthodox Church, a person is much more than a biological being, a social animal, or a sexual phenomenon. He or she is a created dependent being, made by God, a psychosomatic entity, a being made of dust and deity, made "a little less than God" (Ps. 8:5) and at the same time "like the beasts that perish" (Ps. 49.12). The Church teaches that the power that should regulate the lives of men is an expression of philanthropia -agape, a unique contribution to the modern world, for it is the answer to the agony and spiritual isolation of modern man.
The Orthodox Church emphasizes brotherly love not only toward her members and toward Christians of other faiths, but toward all people. It is a fundamental doctrine of the Orthodox faith that all men created in the image of God are equal; for God there is no inequality between coloured and white, male and female, one nationality or race and another. Christ restored this human image, which had been almost destroyed because of man's rebellion against God. All men are called to the restoration accomplished by the resurrection of Christ.
Of course, the ancient Greeks' concept of man has much in common with the Christian view For the Pythagorean philosophers the spirit of man was simply a fallen deity imprisoned in the human body. And for the Stoic philosophers the soul of man was a spark of divinity that upon death of the body returns to the universal God. But while in Greek antiquity the divine element within us is assimilated by the universal deity upon death, in the view of Christianity man preserves his individuality by the grace of God. Man is not only the Supreme Being upon the earth, but an immortal being as well.
Α hymn of Resurrection proclaims: "Let us embrace one another. Let us forgive all things to those who hate us and say: "Christ is risen from the death, by death trampling upon death and bestowing life upon those in tombs."
So it is an act of love when people forgive one another. It is an act of love when they pray for each other. It is an act of love when they humble themselves before each other. Ιn an age of anxiety and of the degradation of human nature, Christianity's gospel of God's philanthropia must find an analogous response in our love for one another. Indeed we "owe no one anything, except to love one another» (Rom. 13:8), as "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" Jn. 3:16).
The Orthodox Church prays for hope, charity, and love. As a church that has suffered the brutalities of man, she pleads for sanity and understanding among the powerful of the earth, lest they recklessly destroy man, the image and the masterpiece of God. Orthodoxy's message to the Christian world can be summed up in the words of Saint Peter: "Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth... love one another earnestly from the heart... through the living and abiding word of God" (1 Pet. 1:22-23).