"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012
The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
[Irenikon] A STUDY OF ETERNAL LIFE
A STUDY OF ETERNAL LIFE
26 October 2010 Tatianin Den’
Alexander Nikiforov interviews Protopresbyter Boris Bobrinsky
From PERSONA GRATA in “Tatianin Den’” 26 October 2010
Theology in today’s life - is this creative work, academic endeavor or the core of a living Christian life? How the liturgical renaissance developed in the milieu of the Russian emigration. Fr Boris spoke of this and a number of other topics.
[Alexander Nikiforov] WHAT IS THEOLOGY?
[ Fr. Boris] Theology is the study of eternal life. This term need not be feared nor should it be misused because the word “study” is frequently distorted. Of course, to be a professional scholar one needs a diploma, great erudition, but this is not the most important thing. Our theological schools, academies and seminaries form a person in the knowledge of God through Scripture, through church history, through Divine services through systematic and dogmatic texts about God, the Trinity, creation of the world, about the Person. All this can be presented formally dry and scholastically but it can be presented very vividly, based on one’s internal experience. Here it is possible to present basic theological themes in various degrees of depth.
I am told: “Father Boris, you specialize in the Holy Spirit!” What horror! I specialize in the Holy Spirit. . .How is this to be !!! You feel that you want to laugh and cry! Here one must be very careful and at the same time to know that a genuine theologian, coming towards his personal experience and that of the whole Church which he absorbs within himself and at the same time does not have an aversion for scholarly research. One thing helps the other to make certain that erudition does not overshadow spiritual experience and humility.
The whole problem of our theological development results in that the individual becomes a complete being through the union of reason, will, love and faith. The Lord waits for us to open our hearts to him When we open our hearts to the Lord, he gradually enters into it and it is from the heart that the fecundation and enlivening of every cell of the brain, nerves and feelings comes from. A gradual enlightenment and tranquility of our being is engendered. A genuine spiritual experience is from the heart which does not at alll mean something sentimental or something felt. The heart is the root of spiritual being. Thou shalt love your Lord and God with your whole heart and your whole soul and your whole mind! When we speak of the heart, we speak about that place which embraces and unites our whole being. When we come under God’s will, God is revealed through the Word which penetrates to the depth of the heart, and God’s Word needs to grow within us, and be united with us as one. When the Word of God dwells within us then every word of ours becomes a reflection of God’s Word.
SCHOLARSHIP PRESUMES A MOVEMENT FORWARD. IS THE DEVELOPMENT OF THEOLOGY POSSIBLE?
The development of theological knowledge took place over the ages. Primarily this was because of heresies - Trinitarian, heresies dealing with the Person or the Savior’ two natures. As strange as it may seem, thanks to the heresies the Church formulated her dogmatic teaching. Today our main theme is the existence of the Church. And, in addition, I would mention problems of ecology: the relation of Christians to nature which today finds itself in a horrible state. And we are responsible for the well-being of the Divine Garden which God entrusted to us to increase and multiply.
THAT IS, THEOLOGY REFLECTS THE LIFE OF SOCIETY AND THIS IS HOW IT DEVELOPS?
I believe so. This also reflects the Church’s response to social problems: inequality, poverty, poor health. And in this respect theology does not lack a pastoral relation with people, both believers and unbelievers. We are responsible for the world, for people, for those who have not as yet encountered Christ or who rejected him, who struggle with him or renounce him. In this respect the Church must generate in us a sense of compassion, a feeling of profound responsibility for the world which God so loved that he sent his only-begotten Son, that everyone who believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. Thus you see, if we are in Christ then, being in Christ we love and experience the fate of the whole world. In this sense we should reflect on the words of the Elder Siluan or some parts in Isaac Syrene. These saints burned with love for the whole of humanity and the whole creation.
WHAT IS THE CHURCH?
You said that twentieth century theology studied the life of the Church. This is reflected in the work of professors of the St. Sergius Theological Institute – Archimanmdrite Kiprian Kern, Protopresbyters Alexander Schmemann, Nicholas Afanassieff and George Florovsky. . .
We, the faithful simply do not think about what the Church is. The non-believers see the Church analogous to any secular institution. What then, is the Church?
One must be able to distinguish the Church’s external signs or structures, that of rituals, symbols, images, which developed historically and are essential. But beyond these there is an internal reality. The individual has a body, flesh, thoughts, personality, as well as a soul which must be discerned and experienced in order to understand the individual. The same thing with respect to the Church: the Church has an institution, rituals, structure, canon law, dogmas, teachings, rules, Church discipline, daily cycles of services, a calendar. . . But in its depth, there is the other. The Church is the Body of Christ. The Church is the Bride of Christ. The Church is God’s House.
The Liturgy is celebrated in the Church. During the Preparation we commemorate all the saints who invisibly stand and pray with us. Each Eucharist takes place only here, at the earthly altar. It is united with the heavenly Eucharist, with Christ’s sacrifice which, for all times, is offered once and for all – at the Mystical Supper and on Golgotha. The Lord said: “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn. 16:7) This is the eternal entreaty, Christ’s prayer to the Father. All our earthly Eucharists are a part of this Eucharist.
No, we do not reject the Law but beyond the earthly Law is the Law of love and the Law of life. And life is the eternal life, filled by the Holy Spirit. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, giving life to all our earthly Laws. We need the Canons because the Church cannot live in disorder and chaos. Dogmas are necessary because truth cannot be diluted by some kinds of philosophic concepts. Beyond rites and rituals there is the reality of Divine relations and Divine inspiration, the creative acts of the Holy Spirit acting on the internal person.
IT IS CUSTOMARY TO VIEW THE FEAST OF PENTECOST AS THE BIRTH OF THE CHURCH. WHY?
Because here, for the first time, the promise of Our Lord Jesus Christ was fulfilled: “And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever.” (Jn. 14:17) When the Holy Spirit comes, Christ’s disciples become Apostles. They receive the anointing with the Spirit. Just as, at Baptism in the Jordan, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Lord he showed him to be the anointed one. Just like here, when the Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles and later through them, upon their disciples the anointing takes place, that is, the fulfilment by the Holy Spirit. But, be careful: Pentecost is not just an event in history, The Pentecost also means that from here on, the heavens, which are the sources of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, are opened. From now on we are constantly in the state of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Each Eucharist is the renewal of the gifts of Pentecost: “Send down thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here offered...” The gathered assembly receives the gifts of the Spirit of Pentecost which descended upon the Disciples.
THE ETERNAL PENTECOST
Throughout the writings of the St. Sergius Institute professors one sees the vivid and inspiring theme of the existence of the Church. Where are its sources?
The writings of the “Slavophils” – Khomiakov, Kireyevsky. Aksakov in the XIX century and then Soloviev. The preparations for the Moscow Sobor of 1917/1918 had considerable influence for the concept of the true substance of the Church and her spiritual nature. The Church suffered from the imprisonment of the “Synodal period”. The activities of the Slavophils and the Moscow Sobor, ruptured by the revolution, continued in the efforts of Russian theologians whether in Belgrade (Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky) or in Jerusalem (Archimandrite Kiprian Kern), in Paris and much later, in America. Thus our “expat” existence permitted us to extract ourselves from the “Babylonian captivity”. The Church found itself to be internally free and thus was able to proclaim what is most important.
YOU PROPOSE THAT THE SOURCES OF THE PARISIAN THEOLOGY LIE IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE SLAVOPHILS AND THE PRESOBOR PREPARATIONS?
No, not only that. The Slavophils, the Moscow Sobor, the works of the Optina Pustyn’ and Paisii Velichkovsky, all had a significant influence for the deepening of understanding of the Eucharistic nature of the Church. Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church. This is how our Parisian theologians understood it: Father Sergius Bulgakov, Florovsky and especially Father Nicholas Afanassieff, who dedicated his whole academic activity to Eucharistic ecclesiology. In our generation (Schmemann and many others) are beholden precisely to him for their emphasis on the Eucharist as the heart of church life and the church’s reality.
HOW DID THE RUSSIAN EMIGRATION, WHICH HAD ACCEPTED THE PRE-REVOLUTION, RITUAL-CENTERED TRADITION, REACT TO THE NEW THEOLOGICAL APPROACH?
There were reactions in the Russian emigration, whether in Paris, America or other places, against the Parisian living theology which was personified not only by the Institute’s professors as well as by Vladimir N. Lossky, Leonid A. Uspensky, Father Sergius Bulgakov (his teaching brought up such misunderstanding!). Most people favored the ritual-based practice which was, and still is, deeply entrenched in the Russian Church.
WERE YOUR OWN VIEWS CHANGED TOWARDS THE LITURGY AND COMMUNION?
Until the time I entered the Institute at age nineteen, I had been an altar-server at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. There we received Communion three or four times a year and on major feast days. At the Theological Institute I learned that the proper participation in the Liturgy is inseparable from Communion itself. Our whole understanding of the Church among our young students and the young faculty was centered in a different experience of the sense of Liturgy, was that it was inseparable from Communion itself.
HOW DID YOUR PARENTS’ GENERATION SEE THIS?
In different ways Many were sympathetic, having seen how our beingness and consciousness was profound and beneficial, how it enriched our whole thought, all of our work, which was also Eucharistic and Paschal. There was the feeling of the Eternal Pentecost, don’t you see? It was also all described in the Church Fathers. Nicholas Cabasilas reminds us that the Pentecost is not just a point in time but the continuous beingness. We preached all this in the “Vityaz” youth organizations.
WHEN DID YOU CHANGE FROM RECEIVING COMMUNION THREE TO FOUR TIMES A YEAR TO RECEIVING AT EVERY LITURGY?
Gradually. Our spiritual directors permitted this privately and individually. There never was such a thing that anyone and everyone could receive Communion any time they felt like it. There was always a personal and strong connection with the spiritual director who reserved for himself the discretion: “Receive every week but confess every month.”
THIS WASN’T COMMUNION WITHOUT CONFESSION?
That’s the point. Communion is the norm of our life in the Church. But confession is linked with certain times of the Church year (beginning of fasting periods, feasts, Holy Week) or with a feeling of a personal sense of sin when we need to come to confession. With us, confession received an independent standing. It ceased being something for the sake of Communion and became a means for internal cleansing, repentance and contact with the spiritual director. I was particularly helped in my relation with my spiritual director, Archimandrite Kiprian Kern. I started going to him since I was sixteen.
I AM VERY FOND OF BORIS ZAITSEV’S STORY “RIVER OF TIME” DOES IT GIVE AN ACCURATE PICTURE OF FATHER KIPRIAN?
Very accurate! I also like this story. Father Kiprian was a monastic by vocation. Having graduated from the University of Belgrade he became the Inspector in a seminary and then, being invited by Archbishop Anastassy Gribanovsky, headed the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in the Holy Land. There he wrote a book about Archimandrite Antonin Kapustine, which has recently been reprinted in Russia. In 1937 he began to teach Liturgics at the St. Sergius Institute where he wrote his “Eucharistia”. When during the war Florovsky went to America, Father Kiprian taught Patristics as well, He finished his book on Gregory Palamas for which he received his Doctorate in Theology.
HOW DID HE SERVE THE LITURGY?
For me, his service was the ideal of prayerful beauty. A spiritual beauty.
HOLINESS – A BURNING WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT
HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU CONSIDER THE READING OF THE SO-CALLED”SECRET” PRAYERS IN THE SERVICE BOOK DURING THE LITURGY? THIS PRACTICE IS WIDELY FOUND IN FRANCE. IN RUSSIA NOT TOO MANY PRIESTS DO THIS.
One must be cautious because the reading of the “secret” prayers aloud requires a spiritual preparation and a proper consciousness of the community. To simply read them aloud for people who are not used to this would be too much, too incomprehensible, too lengthy. Here a spiritual pedagogy, a spiritual formation and preparation, are needed. Time is needed. In some churches this practice is gradually adopted. With us in the West more and more priests serve this way.
HOW PROPER IS IT FOR US TO BE PRESENT AT THE LITURGY WITHOUT RECEIVING COMMUNION? AT THE END OF THE LITURGY WE SING: “WE HAVE SEEN THE TRUE LIGHT!WE HAVE RECEIVED THE HEAVENLY SPIRIT. . .” IT SEEMS THAT WE HAVE NOT RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT AND WE SING THE WORDS IN VAIN
What is proper, what is improper. . . What can I say? Sometimes standing at the Liturgy one feels one’s own unworthiness and doesn’t dare to approach the Holy Cup. Sometimes one is unprepared: you ate something, offended someone, saddened someone. There can be all kinds of feelings but the Liturgy makes sense in its fulness in Communion. Only we can’t always realize this fulness, this completeness within ourselves.
AT THE LITURGY THE PRIEST PROCLAIMS “HOLY THINGS FOR THE HOLY!” DOES THIS MEAN THAT THE CHURCH CONSIDERS US HOLY?
Yes. We are called to holiness. This is the dynamic: “Holy things” to those who are “called to be holy”. We are all called to be holy, there is no alternative way for us. “Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy” ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”.“Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful”. Three phrases which are found in different parts of the Gospel. Three times we are compared to our heavenly Father. So, it is true - “Holy things for the holy”. This means: “be careful, you approach something holy and thus with the fear of God you receive the pledge of eternal life given in the Eucharist”. Every spiritual quest, every call from Christ to which we respond – is the beginning of holiness. These words remind us about our only way: we are not called simply to a conventional life but to holiness and this holiness is already acting within us. And holiness means a burning with the Holy Spirit.
Translated from the Russian by A.S. (Fr. Alvian Smirensky)