by Fr Joseph Allen
I see three main issues which define our Orthodox Christian theology.
First, the doctrine of man in our theology is based on the biblical view which was fully defined by our Church Fathers. Man has all the potentialities for perfection, simply because he was created in the image of God. St. Maximus the Confessor states:
Those who followed Christ in action and contemplation will be changed into an even better condition, and there is no time to tell of all the ascents and revelations of the saints who are being changed from glory to glory, until each one in order receives deification.
Man was not created to be a slave, neither to society nor to history, neither to science nor to technology, neither to communism nor to capitalism. Even though nature has limitations, these limitations can be overcome by the sacramental life of the Church. Each and every one of us can become Christlike through prayer, contemplation, and action. St. Maximus further says:
While remaining in his soul and body entirely man by nature, he becomes in his soul and body entirely God by grace. Deification involves the whole human being.
All the ancient Greek dichotomy between body and soul disappears in St. Maximus. When God created man, He created him as a whole being, and when man collapsed, he collapsed not partially but as a whole being. Likewise, when man was redeemed, he was redeemed totally, body and soul. Through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, God enters into union with the whole man.
The second issue is the theology of hope. While other Christians have focused their eyes on Calvary, we have focused ours on the empty tomb. Do we not experience this reality every year on Easter morning when we shout, “Christ is risen from the dead”? In I Corinthians 15:14, 22, St. Paul said:
If Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
On Great Friday, there were tears, pain, agony and death, but on the third day, the darkness of Great Friday was dissipated by the bright light of the empty tomb. The new Pascha inaugurated the new age, the new being, and the new man. The Orthodox Church celebrates this joyful event every Sunday. The following are some of the hymns which we chant on the morning of the Holy Resurrection, which reveal to us this joy and this new being:
Let us cleanse our senses that we may behold Christ shining like lightning with the unapproachable light of Resurrection, that we may hear Him say openly “rejoice,” while we sing to Him the hymn of triumph and victory. Verily this day which is called Holy is the first day among Sabbaths, it is their king and lord, it is the feast of feasts, and the season of seasons.
Where are those like Sartre or Camus who say there is “no exit”? Let them gaze at the empty tomb. Our hope then is genuine because it is rooted in the reality of the Resurrection. It is not an empty utopian hope which ends in false security. It is the hope of the realization of God’s kingdom first within us, and ultimately, beyond the veils of temporal existence.
The third issue of our Orthodox theology is the relevancy of our liturgical life. During the dark ages of Orthodox theology, our Church survived because of the richness of her liturgical life. If one understands our various liturgical services, one will understand the whole theology of the Orthodox Church. While others talk about liturgical poverty and liturgical renewal, as Orthodox, we must concentrate our efforts on liturgical understanding.
Any Liturgy which does not permeate the faithful with a strong feeling of the holy is a meaningless service. If one has a living priest, a living choir and a living congregation, then one will find oneself involved in a wonderful mystical experience. We cannot acquire a mystical experience in the Church if the Liturgy is nothing but a business meeting or another lecture. A few years ago I talked to a group of non-Orthodox students about the nature of our worship. One of them asked: “Why don’t you preach in the Orthodox Church?” I said, “We do preach in the Orthodox Church, but we do more than that. We do not tell the faithful only what Christ said, but what He in reality did through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.” In the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the priest prays during the Anaphora the following:
Thou it was who didst bring us from nonexistence into being, and when we had fallen away didst raise us up again, and didst not cease to do all things until Thou hast brought us back to heaven.
In the Orthodox Liturgy, one can see God, man and nature in their proper perspective. Our Eucharist answers the central questions: Who are we? Where are we going? What is the meaning of life? Who is God? The emphasis in the Orthodox Liturgy is first on being, then on doing. If our personality is disintegrated and if the image of God in us is distorted, then our actions will undoubtedly reflect this disintegration and that distortion.
Courtesy of the
April 2006 issue of The Word magazine.