"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

Monday, 22 February 2016

THE DIVINE MERCY from both a Catholic and an Orthodox Perspective.;

St. John Chrysostom

The blood and water that flowed from Christ’s side on the cross were symbols of the eucharist and baptism, prefigured by the blood of the Passover Lamb, says John Chrysostom, one of the greatest preachers of the early Church.

If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. “Sacrifice a lamb without blemish”, commanded Moses, “and sprinkle its blood on your doors”. If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.

If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it.

“There flowed from his side water and blood”. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit”, and from the holy eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: “Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.

This selection from St. John Chrysostom on how the blood and water flowing from Jesus’ side were symbols of baptism and eucharist is used in the Roman Office of Readings for Lent.

The Orthodox Perspective — Christian Life as Struggle and Journey
The Prodigal Son
God’s mercy is foundational for Orthodox spirituality.  God in his mercy will welcome back the repentant sinner.  In the Sunday Liturgy one hears repeatedly: “Lord have mercy!”  Orthodox Christians are en-couraged to cultivate a heart of repentance by saying repeatedly the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Consistent attendance at the Sunday Liturgy will give one a growing awareness that God is not so much the stern judge as He is the merciful father waiting for the prodigal to return home.

Orthodoxy understands the Christian life as one of struggle, even holy warfare against the world, flesh and devil.  Having been born to new life in Christ we are currently engaged in a daily struggle against the passions of the flesh, our fallen human nature.  The Christian life is a repeated cycle of us walking, our falling flat on our faces, and our getting up again, etc.  Therefore, an Orthodox Christian is not surprised by our falling into sin like the Young Man.  Orthodox Christians do not agonize over our salvation, nor do we inquire into our eternally decreed election.

This emphasis on divine mercy lays the foundation for the Orthodox teaching on synergy – we freely co-operate with God in our salvation.  This view lies somewhere between the extremes of Calvinism and Pelagianism.  Unlike the Pelagian heresy which assumed that man possessed the innate ability to live righteous lives, the Orthodox approach is that we need God’s grace given through the sacramental life of the Church.  And unlike Calvinism which assumes that we are totally depraved and incapable of doing good unless God acts on us, we have the capacity to respond to God’s invitation to enter into his kingdom.

We avail ourselves of God’s grace in the Mysteries (sacraments) of the Church.  The church services in combination with the spiritual disciplines prescribed by the Church comprise a therapeutic regimen designed to restore us to spiritual health.  Through them we learn to pray, to be still before God, to deny the passions of the flesh, to acquire wisdom, in short we attain “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).  This is not works righteousness but rather a synergistic process in which we are transformed by the Holy Spirit into the likeness of Christ.

We begin our Christian life with a wounded heart but over time through our following the Orthodox way of life, our hearts become stronger, more rational, and purified.  Kallistos Ware wrote in The Orthodox Way:

The first stage, the practice of the virtues, begins with repentance.  The baptized Christian, by listening to his conscience and by exerting the power of his free will, struggles with God’s help to escape from enslavement to passionate impulses.  By fulfilling the commandments, by growing in his awareness of right and wrong and by developing his sense of ‘ought’, gradually he attains purity of heart…. (p. 141)

Over time our struggle to follow God’s commandments becomes easier as we become accustomed to doing God’s will and putting aside the passions of the flesh.  What was alien to our fallen nature becomes over time natural to our new nature in Christ.

Christian Discipleship and Eschatology

Orthodoxy views the Christian life as preparation for the inevitable encounter with Jesus Christ at the final judgment.  The Orthodox understanding that there is a connection between our spiritual condition and our eternal destiny was echoed by CS Lewis in his essay “Weight of Glory.”

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

Every day we make choices that lead us in one of two directions: towards God and his kingdom or away from God and into the darkness of hell.  Every year just before Great Lent commences the Orthodox Church celebrates the Sunday of the Last Judgment in which the parable of the sheep and the goats is read out loud (Matthew 25:31-46).  Unlike some Christian circles that devote considerable amount of time and energy into speculation about the end times, the Orthodox Church uses this parable to remind us that even the normal everyday acts of charity can have eternal consequences.

This preparation for the final judgment takes place not just on the Sunday of the Last Judgment but throughout the year.  Every Sunday in the Completion Litany Orthodox Christians pray:

That we may live out our lives in peace and repentance, let us ask of the Lord.

Following that, we pray for:

A Christian end to our lives, peaceful, free of shame and suffering, and for a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask.

We prepare for the final judgment by living lives of peace, repentance, and piety.  Orthodox Christians also anticipate and prepare for the final judgment in the Morning Prayers.  An excerpt from one Morning Prayer often used by the Orthodox reads:

When I am being judged, do not allow the hand of the prince of this world to take hold of me, to throw me, a sinner, into the depths of hell, but stand by me and be a savior and mediator to me.  Have mercy, Lord, on my soul, defiled through the passions of this life, and receive her cleansed by penitence and confession, for you are blessed to the ages of ages.  Amen.  (Prayer of Saint Eustratios)

Our confidence is not in our good works but in the mercies of God.  In anticipation of the final judgment we trust Christ to protect us from Satan’s accusations, to heal our souls, and to purify our hearts through the sacrament of confession.

The words “theosis” or “deification” are often used to explain the Orthodox understanding of salvation.  What may strike inquiring Protestants as a bizarre concept is really another way of referring to becoming mature or perfect in Christ, that is, like Christ (II Peter 1:4, I John 3:2, Romans 8:29).  The promise of the Christian life is not just the forgiveness of sins but the restoration of the imago dei within us.  The Orthodox Church believes that our ongoing sanctification will culminate with our glorification at the Second Coming of Christ.

theology boxes by Naked Pastor
Theology Boxes We Live In

While the forensic understanding of salvation (the forgiveness of sins) can be found in both the Reformed and Orthodox traditions, the forensic paradigm is given pride of place in Reformed soteriology.  The prominence of the penal atonement theory is such that it overshadows other paradigms of salvation.  While Orthodoxy does accept the forensic understanding of salvation, it takes a broader and more inclusive approach.  In addition to salvation as the forgiveness of sins, Orthodoxy also stresses salvation as the healing of the soul, denying the passions of the flesh, and militant resistance to the Devil.

Medical Paradigm.  As a result of the Fall the human soul has become diseased and wounded.  In the ESV translation of Jeremiah 17:9 we read: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Jesus taught that the evil thoughts emerging from men’s hearts make them unclean (Mark 7:20-23).  David in Psalm 51 prayed: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Thus, our salvation requires the restoring of our disordered inner state to the integrity and wholeness that God intended for us.

Jesus often described salvation using medical terms.

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.  (Mark 2:17)

Probably the best known example of the medical paradigm is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35).  In this story a certain traveler fell into the hands of robbers who beat him and left him half dead.  Later in the story the Good Samaritan came to the injured traveler, bandaged his wounds, poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds, then took him to an inn.  The traveler falling into the hands of robbers can be understood as humanity falling into the clutches of the Devil and his demons who ravaged his soul.  The Good Samaritan pouring oil and wine on the man’s wounds is a reference to the sacraments of baptism, chrismation, and the Eucharist.  The inn is a reference to the church as a spiritual hospital.  This picture of humanity as the victims overcome by demons and rescued by God’s mercy is quite different from the legal paradigm which depicts humanity as guilty criminals standing before a stern judge.

Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos in Orthodox Spirituality noted that Protestants’ understanding of faith as theoretical acceptance of God’s revelation has resulted in the absence of the therapeutic approach (p. 28).  He finds a similar lack in the Roman Catholic tradition:

In deed we cannot find in all of Latin tradition the equivalent of Orthodoxy’s therapeutic method.  The nous [mind] is not spoken of; neither is it distinguished from reason.  The darkened nous is not treated as a malady and the illumination of the nous as its cure.  Some greatly publicised Latin texts are sentimental and go no further than sterile moralising (pp. 29-30).

Orthodoxy has a deeper understanding of salvation and the healing of our souls that I have not seen in Protestantism.  Metropolitan Nafpaktos wrote:

What is healed first and foremost is a person’s heart, which constitutes the centre of his entire being.  In other words, it is not just the visible signs of illness that are treated, but also the inner self, the heart.  When a person’s nous is sick, it is dispersed and scattered among created things through the senses, and is identified with the rational faculty.  This is why it must return to dwell within the heart, which is the work of Orthodox spirituality.  The Orthodox Church is referred to as a Hospital, a place of healing for the soul, for this reason (pp. 98-99).

The Orthodox Church, however, does not just stress the necessity of healing; it also outlines the means by which it can be achieved.  Because a person’s nous and heart are impure, he must pass successfully through the three stages of growth in the spiritual life: purification of the heart, illumination of the nous and deification.  Orthodoxy is not like philosophy.  It is more closely related to the applied sciences, particularly medicine (pp. 99).

The Strong Man Paradigm.  The Calvinist paradigm assumes that failure to keep God’s law is the result of willful disobedience, not inability.  To view sin as the condition of being willing but lacking the ability to keep God’s law – involuntary sin — is for Reformed Christians a contradiction of terms.  The Orthodox understanding of sin is broader and subtle going beyond just conscious and willful forms of sin.  Below is an excerpt from a pre-Communion prayer composed by John Chrysostom, a fourth century church father, which reflects a more complex understanding of sin:

Wherefore I pray thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary or involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge or of ignorance; and make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thine immaculate Mysteries, unto remission of my sins unto life everlasting.  Amen.  (Emphasis added.)

Orthodoxy does not assume like Protestantism that one already has the ability, that what is needed is needed is right understanding which comes from Bible reading and attentive listening to the pastor’s sermon.  The Orthodox understanding of sin is that our will and soul have been weakened by the Fall.  Our disordered inner state has resulted in our wills lacking the unhindered ability to control our bodies and our desires.  Orthodox spirituality also takes into account the external reality of demonic forces.

Orthodoxy recognizes that as a result of the Fall humanity has come under the dominion of Satan much like a young kid coming under the grip of the neighborhood bully.  Jesus taught:

In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man.  Then he can rob his house.  (Mark 3:27, NIV)

Here Jesus is describing himself as the hero who breaks into a neighborhood bully’s house and rescues all the stolen goods from the bully’s house.  When Adam and Eve listened to the Devil’s words and rejected God’s words they came under Satan’s domination.  The human race remained in bondage to the Devil until Christ defeated him on the Cross.  The Christus Victor motif is a prominent theme in the Orthodox celebration of Easter.  Where Orthodoxy celebrates Christ resurrection as the decisive defeat of the Death and the Devil, Western Christianity puts the emphasis on Christ’s suffering on the Cross to atone for our sins.  The principal problem in the Western paradigm is God’s wrath against sinners, not man as weakened wounded hostages in bondage to the Devil.

The Strong Man paradigm can be seen in the Orthodox approach to baptism in which one must renounce Satan three times then three times confess Jesus as Lord.  This act of renunciation and confession is critical for our salvation.  Christian conversion is not simply agreeing with some theological concepts which is characteristic of Protestantism, but faith as trust and submission to Christ.  Through baptism our citizenship in the kingdom of God is restored and we come under Christ’s lordship and blessing.

The Christian Life as Transformation by Divine Grace

The overpowering desire alluded to by the Young Man was probably his sexual desires.  Rather than view human sexuality in terms of behavior, Orthodoxy views human sexuality in terms of inner energies and thoughts that give rise to action.  In the modern spiritual classic The Mountain of Silence, Fr. Maximos tells Kyriacos Markides how a life devoted to prayer can transform our sexual drive.

“Woe to those monks and nuns,” Father Maximos went on after we stopped laughing, “who shovel into their subconscious their sexual passions.  In such a state they would tremble and sweat in the presence of the opposite sex.  There is no spirituality in that.  What happens, and what we aim at, is the transmutation of erotic energy from earthly attractions to God, the way human beings were in their primordial natural state.”
“Eros turns into agape,” I muttered.
“Right.  Such persons love all human being without distinction to their sex.  Such persons do not have much to do with what belongs to the after-the-Fall state of humanity.  Do you understand?  The love of God totally transforms human beings through Grace.  (from Mountain of Silence p. 144)

Fr. Maximos described how authentic spirituality takes us beyond external legal righteousness that plagued the Pharisees (see Matthew 5:20).

“…and that’s why the saints are truly liberated in their very being.  They are the freest people on earth.  Once they reach that state they can never be affected by the sins of the world.  They are not terrified by them.  They are not human beings fortified behind their prejudices and repressions.  You may go meet saints and tell them the most horrendous sins.  They will not be touched in their innermost core.  Persons who have repressed their passions will get angry, will get into the punishing mood.  If you tell them that you committed some sinful act, they will become very upset and judgmental.  They will become intolerant without a trace of compassion.  Do you know why?  Because they themselves are suffering.  They have a lot of repressed emotions and anger inside them, a lot of repressed logismoi [thoughts].  Such persons are moralistic and pious, but they are not saints.” (from Mountain of Silence p. 145)

The Reformed tradition understands sanctification primarily as being accomplished by the Word and Spirit indwelling the believer enabling them to have victory over sinful desires (Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter XV, the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 75; see also the Second Helvetic Confession Chapter IX).  In comparing the Reformed tradition against the Orthodox tradition care must be taken not to reduce the Reformed doctrine of salvation to justification. The point I want to make is that Orthodoxy’s synergistic approach to salvation allows for a broader and more holistic approach to sanctification.

Robert Arakaki


Too often, Orthodox commentators fundamentally misunderstand the western, Latin tradition because they presume, falsely, that the two traditions, east and west are mutually exclusive.   They take out certain characteristics of the western tradition from their own context and place them in an Orthodox context where they lose some of their meaning and gain certain implications they did not have when met in their own context.  This allows the Orthodox theologian to kid himself that he knows what he is talking about when he speaks about Catholicism, and that the two traditions really are mutually exclusive, as different as chalk and cheese.

The reality is different.  As Father Georges Florovsky wrote, after many years of acquaintance with Catholic theologians in France, the two traditions are versions of the same Tradition that have come out of synchrony with each other.  I enjoy immersing myself in Orthodox tradition, not as something alien to mine as an unrepentant Latin, but as a tradition that complements mine, that enlarges and deepens my appreciation of my own faith and, in no way, contradicts it.   

All the Orthodox teaching in the above article is fully in keeping with Catholic teaching: "Christus Victor" is expressed beautifully in our liturgy of Good Friday; we too are transformed into Christ by the Holy Spirit in a synergistic process, are "divinized" by grace; the "medical paradigm", with the Church as a "field hospital" is a favourite theme of Pope Francis in this "year of Mercy".   Catholics can read an Orthodox explanation of our faith with much spiritual profit, as long as they don't take criticisms of the Catholic devotional life too seriously.

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