"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

Thursday 25 February 2016


Orthodox and Catholic believers should work as brothers, not rivals
19 February 2016, 10:15

my source: Pravmir.com

The first in history meeting between the patriarch of Moscow and the pope of Rome, which had been on the agenda for 20 years, was held in Havana on February 12. Head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk tells Interfax-Religion correspondent Alexey Sosedov about its results, influence on settling the main problem existing between the two Churches, fears about Orthodox and Catholics closing up, and prospects of the pope's visit to Russia and the patriarch's visit to Rome. 

- Your Eminence, what do you think about results of the meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis?

- Much is said that it is the first meeting in history, that there has never been such a meeting before, but I think that the most important about it is the content of the meeting. It is certainly pleasant to see the pope and the patriarch together, talking to each other in a fraternal atmosphere, smiling to each other. But the most important is the content of the meeting, which was fully reflected in the mutual declaration signed by the patriarch and the pope. I think this declaration for a long time will be a guidance for Christians of the two confessions: Orthodox and Catholic. 

The declaration also contains important words about the Gospels as shared grounds for believers of the West and the East, about the way to realize the Gospels commandments in difficult contemporary conditions. This declaration is a guidance for action. 

- Will this historic event influence the settlement of the main problem existing in relations between the two Churches: actions of the Greek-Catholics (Uniates) in Ukraine?

- The mass media have recently published a reaction from an archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to the joint declaration adopted by the pope and the patriarch. This reaction was very negative, very insulting not only to our side, but also to the pope. Those statements show that the administration of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church has not changed its position. They are not ready to hear not only the voice of our patriarch, but even the voice of their pope. 

They have their own politicized agenda, they have their own clients, they are fulfilling these orders, and even the pope is not an authority to them.

- What mutual steps are necessary to bring Uniates to reason? Perhaps, we should expect that the Russian Church and the Catholic Church will set up a commission.

- There is an idea of the creation of some commission that would help resolve the problem of the Unia, but the specific parameters of this commission are now difficult to imagine, especially bearing in mind the way the leaders of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church are thinking.

In the early 1990s, a four-party commission was created to resolve specific, practical issues relating to the existence of Orthodox Christians and Greek-Catholics in Western Ukraine. However, the Greek-Catholics unilaterally left that commission, they did not want to participate in it. I think this is due to the fact that they don't want to walk the path that is now outlined by the pope and the patriarch in their joint declaration.

The way offered by the pope and the patriarch is the way of interaction in the areas where such interaction is possible. It's the path of halting the rivalry and transitioning to brotherly relations. And the Greek-Catholics don't need that at all. Their rhetoric is aggressive, hostile and loose, and it is in very sharp contrast not only with the content of the declaration, but also its style, its ministerial message, the reconciliating spirit coming from it.

- Many journalists are interested if the pope will come to Russia.

- This topic was not discussed at the meeting. Perhaps, everyone is interested, but I don't have a feeling that the pope cares much about it. At least, it was not voiced at the meeting. Neither the pope's visit to Moscow nor the patriarch's visit to Rome is under consideration now.

What the two Сhurches should focus on at the moment is stepping up interaction, expanding mutual understanding, and trying as soon as possible to overcome the negativity that has accumulated in relations between the Orthodox and the Catholics and working toward to bring minds and hearts closer together. And then the time will show us what to do. I think that when there will be conditions for the next meeting, we will decide where and when to hold it. 

- Are the Churches going to develop pilgrimage?

- The pope and the patriarch said at the meeting that we should be more open to each other in the field of pilgrimage. For example, a big flow of Orthodox pilgrims comes to relics of St. Nicholas in Italian Bari. Pilgrims from the Catholic Church also come to Orthodox shrines. We can intensify these two flows, as it is very important for people to meet each other, to have access to shrines of the other Church. 

- Is it possible to bring relics of Sts Peter and Paul from Rome or St. Jacob from Spain to Russia? 

- I consider it quite possible. I think our believers will be spiritually inspired if relics of the saints venerated in our Church, but kept in the Catholic Church, are brought to Russia. The reverse movement is certainly possible, I mean the shrines of the Russian Orthodox Church can be taken to the West so that believers of the Catholic Church can venerate them. 

- Can we expect it in the nearest future?

- I think the first exchange of shrines is possible during the year.

- How will the Russian and the Catholic Churches protect traditional moral values now?

- As to the protection of traditional moral values, we absolutely agree with the Catholic Church. We consider a marriage the union between the man and the woman for giving birth and bringing up children. We consider it necessary to protect human life from the moment of conception to natural death. We are against abortions. There were very powerful words in the declaration to protect life, to protect the right of each person for life. I think we will intensify our interaction in these directions. 

- We have recently learned that nuncio Ivan Jurkovic was moved from Moscow to Geneva. Is it somehow connected with the meeting of the pope and the patriarch? Do you know who will be the next nuncio?

- We do not know who will be the next nuncio. I learned from the mass media that Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic is appointed to Geneva. Appointment of nuncios is Vatican's internal affair, Vatican as a state. An apostolic nuncio is an ambassador of the Vatican state to other states. So appointments of nuncios is not a question of inter-church relations. 

This appointment should be in no way considered as the consequence of our discontent with the nuncio. On the contrary, we had very good relations with Nuncio Ivan Jurkovic as well as with his predecessor. We do not have any claims to him. We are thankful to him for the constructive cooperation. I think his appointment is connected with the rhyme of changing nuncio each four years, the same as ambassadors. Nuncio Ivan Jurkovic was in my TV program a day or two before our trip to Havana, we had a nice conversation. I heard that his new appointment is being prepared, but I did not have a chance to ask him about it. 

- Some Orthodox believers are afraid of closing up with Catholics as they see the danger of almost full merger of Orthodox and Catholic Church. What can you say to these people?

- First of all, I would like to recommend them to read the declaration of the pope and the patriarch attentively, it shows what they talked about. There was not any attempt of closing up the teaching, the dogmatic or theological questions were not discussed. Such discussion is not on the agenda today. The declaration starts with the message that loss of the God-commanded unity is a violation of the commandment of Christ voiced in his last high-priestly prayer: "may all be one." Unfortunately, Christians did not manage to keep this unity, Christians of the East and of the West are divided, they do not participate in Eucharist together. 

Today, we do not speak about overcoming this division, but we speak about learning to live and work in this world as brothers, not rivals in order to protect the values we share, to preach Gospels together, to open God's truth to people. Today we can do these things together. I like the words Raul Castro said at his meeting with Patriarch Kirill, when the patriarch was telling him about yet coming meeting with the pope. President Raul recalled the proverb that every road, even the longest one, starts with the first step. This step has been done and now I hope that believers of the two traditions will walk along this long road together, not making any compromises with their conscience, not making doctrinal compromises, but protecting the things we share.


When I was staying at St Elizabeth's Convent in Minsk, a thriving Orthodox monastery that has grown from a group of four nuns in the nineteen nineties  to over one hundred now, I had many conversations with Belorussian Orthodox about this and that.  One of the things I was told was how anti-Catholic so many of the Russian Orthodox clergy are.  "I don't understand how people can be so anti-Catholic when they don't know any!  How is it possible to condemn people you don't know!   The Russians are not like us.  Most have never met a Catholic, while, with us, Catholics are our neighbours, and even members of our families."

This anti-Catholicism is a hard fact that cannot be answered by argument, only by Catholics and Orthodox getting to know each other.   Even with people like Metropolitan Hilarion, you can almost taste the venom whenever he talks about Ukrainian Greek Catholics: they are his blind spot.  He is quite incapable of seeing recent history from their point of view, however obvious that may be to everybody else.

It must be remembered that Russia is just coming out of a period where there has been no difference between history and propaganda.   I was told by the widow of a colonel in the Russian army that Britain only came into the second world war when the Russians were winning; that, in fact, Russia won the war with little help from the allies.  Hence, no Hitler-Stalin pact to carve up Poland, no Battle of Britain, no Blitz, no African Campaign, no Italian Campaign, no enormous loss of English lives at sea, bringing food and arms to the Russian troops, no Normany landings, and a lot more.

The Russian myth is that everything bad comes from the West, and it is mostly to do with Catholicism.  Communism came from the West  If you meet a Catholic, you meet someone that personifies all the bad things that ever happened to the East in general and  to Russia in particular.  A monk of my community was chatting to a group of Orthodox clerics in Ukraine through an interpreter.   One said something to the interpreter that he wouldn't translate until after the conversation.  The Catholic monk pressed him about what the Ukrainian priest had said. What he said about their Catholic guest was, "He seems to be very pleasant.  He doesn't look like the kind of person who would set fire to Constantinople." 

On the other hand, it is important also to remember that there has been and continues to be much informal collaboration and even communicatio in sacris in areas of both Europe and the Middle East; and it is also true that Orthodox and Catholics have even identified with one another when they faced persecution together from Stalin's police, from sharing the same gulags or from suffering at the hands of ISIS and other Islamic fanatics. There is much shared experience in Ukraine; and the sharp lines drawn between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Greek Catholics are not so clear between the Greek Catholics and the Kiev Patriarchate, nor between the Orthodox patriarchate of Antioch and the Catholic Melkite Patriarchate.

Nor were those lines so clearly drawn during history.  In fact, the Russian Orthodox Church remained in communion with Rome for quite a time after the schism between Rome and Constantinople. Thus the Russian Orthodox Church keeps the feast of the Translation of the bones of St Nicholas to Bari because, when that happened, they were  united with Rome, while it is not in the calendar of the Greek Church because of the schism. For a brief time, when Isidore of Kiev was Metropolitan of Kiev, Moscow and All the Rus, he was one of the leading pro-Western Orthodox bishops - they were not all moved by purely political considerations - some accepted ex animo the papal claims. A large part of Italy followed the Byzantine Rite until the seventeenth century and, off and on, the Italian Greek Catholics were in communion with both Rome and Constantinople.   In the Middle East, people have informally ignored the schism for centuries, perhaps since it began.

Any sign of moves towards Orthodox and Catholic unity would split Russian Orthodoxy down the middle, and not Orthodoxy in Russia, but in Greece and other countries as well; but this would happen just when the Russian Orthodox Church most wants unity, to concentrate its forces on resurrecting "Holy Russia".  An ever closer understanding between Catholics and Orthodox at a theological level, as shown in the Ravenna Agreement, fills them with alarm.  How can this article,
 by Deacon Vladimir Vasiliki
be squared with the Ravenna Document ?   The Russians look with alarm at the fact that the Patriarch of Constantinople and Pope, when talking of primacy, use the same language.  As Pope Francis says, "The only authority in the Church is the authority of service, and the only power in the Church is the power of the Cross."  Moreover, the Pope says communion could take place without any pre-conditions.

The Russian Orthodox Church has taken action.   Theological agreement comes after loving one another, not before; so a process has begun, geared at the two churches getting to know one another, becoming accustomed to work together, to share shrines etc., to become friends.   Metropolitan Hilarion wants to take the emphasis off theological dialogue until both churches are fully accustomed to one another; and this is going to take time, a time that the Russians can use to re-convert Russia, using all their resources, undistracted by the Roman question.  

Thus, pope and patriarch didn't even say a prayer together, because there are Russians who hold that the pope is a heretic and it is forbidden to pray with heretics. The patriarch wants to get as close as he can to the pope without causing controversy. The Pope is primarily a pastor and realises that Christian unity is as much a pastoral problem as a theological one.   He understands that the two churches need to know each other enough to be able to kill off the prejudice, the false knowledge of the other that is the fruit of generations of government propaganda and of identifying Catholicism with Poland that was Russia's hereditary enemy.

It is ironic that the theology that forms the basis for ever greater theological agreement, the idea that picked up and shook the pieces of our respective understandings of the Church and then cast them into new patterns, eucharistic ecclesiology, was first formulated with clarity by Father Nicolai Afanassiev, a Russian Orthodox professor of canon law at the Institut Saint-Serge in Paris.

It places the sources of Tradition in the local eucharistic communities that are connected with the Apostles by apostolic succession.   This Tradition takes several forms as these local churches adapted to their own historical circumstances but all in common have a divine dimension and a human dimension, products of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church that makes the celebration of the Eucharist possible.   Thus there is a unity of substance in the diversity of forms; but it may not be easy to discover if expressed in a different vocabulary which has been formed in a different culture.   

Division is a lie because the Eucharist is one in every place. Ecumenism between the apostolic churches where separation has occurred is a voyage of discovery to find that unity underlying our differences because, if the eucharistic community is a real one, then we will find that unity: it is something given by God.   

All this involves taking  seriously the objections  made in other traditions about our understanding of the truth. What is true in what they say?  What is lacking in our living of the Tradition that makes them say it?   What insights, what gifts and graces do they have that could benefit us?  On the other hand, what gifts from God, what insights into the Christian Mystery that they enjoy, are really only for them, as some have been offered only to us?  This recognition that Tradition is present in various traditions, like the Gospel is present in four gospels, that both the unity and the diversity belong to the nature of the Church, and that the different traditions belong to each other and are a source of spiritual richness for all, has to be acknowledged by all on the ecumenical quest.  The modern Latin liturgy with the Eastern pattern of the new eucharistic prayers is a direct result of this insight, as is the Ravenna Document.

All this has taken place between Catholicism and Orthodoxy from time to time, without any ecumenical quest taking place.  Several feastdays in the West came from the East, feasts like the Presentation of Our Lady.  One contribution the West has made to Orthodoxy is the "Sisters of Mercy" in Belarus and the Ukraine.   The French sisters recruited by Florence Nightingale to look after the wounded in the Crimean War made such an impression on everybody that "sisters of mercy" were formed in the Anglican and Lutheran Churches, and, later, were founded in St Petersburg by Saint Elizabeth Romanov, who was martyred under the Bolshevics.  "Sisters of Mercy" are proof that the Russian Orthodox can adopt a western-style form of religious life to its own spiritual advantage.

Now, let us go back to the article by Metropolitan Hilarion.  In a way, his version of Orthodoxy is nearer to the Catholicism of Pope Pius IX than we are.   His Orthodoxy is an "establishment" Orthodoxy, very much bound up with the State, with the nation.  Hence, the most important characteristic of Orthodoxy  in "establishment" Christianity is that it should be canonical, recognised by Canon Law by other canonical churches. Some Orthodox would say that the validity of the sacraments depends on the canonicity of the church that celebrates them. Pope Pius IX saw the Church as a world-wide perfect society bound together by a system of Law centred on Rome.  Without canonicity, sacraments bring about changes in individuals, but it is Law that makes the sacraments effective by binding people together. This idea of the Church came about because the Catholic authorities saw church institutions in relation to secular nations, and the one thing the Church and secular nations had in common is Law.   

"Establishment" Christianity, whether Catholic or Orthodox, stresses Law, while "dis-established" Christianity, which is the kind that exists in most of the world, stresses our common sacramental life in Christ which existed before any system of law existed; and Law, for us, becomes of secondary importance.  Law presumes the unity of Christians: it does not cause it.

On the other hand, it was a Russian Orthodox who lived in Catholic Paris who first formulated eucharistic theology, Patriarch Bartholomew lives in a Moslem secular state, and we Westerns cannot identify the Church with our nation because we are a minority within it, nor can we identify ourselves as "church" with the political establishment because no one pretends that it exists to put Christian values into practice: we are exiles.  Thus, while "christendom" exists, either in the imagination of those with authority in the Russian Orthodox Church, or in reality, our Western way of thinking on many subjects is going to be different from those of patriarch and metropolitan: you cannot imagine Pope Francis expressing himself as he does within the context in which Pius XI had to work.

If "christendom" is not the goal of the Church in the West, that ought not lead us to deny that God has something special up his sleeve for Russia; and I am sure that, whatever this may be, "Holy Russia" has much to teach us, and will help us and the advance of the Gospel in many ways.  It may even encourage us to think the unthinkable, to strive to win back western Europe for Christ!   Do not under-estimate God, nor the power of the Gospel.


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.

Saturday 20 February 2016




Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Saint Teresa of Avila
by HH Pope Benedict xvi

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the course of the Catecheses that I have chosen to dedicate to the Fathers of the Church and to great theologians and women of the Middle Ages I have also had the opportunity to reflect on certain Saints proclaimed Doctors of the Church on account of the eminence of their teaching.

Today I would like to begin a brief series of meetings to complete the presentation on the Doctors of the Church and I am beginning with a Saint who is one of the peaks of Christian spirituality of all time — St Teresa of Avila [also known as St Teresa of Jesus].

St Teresa, whose name was Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, was born in Avila, Spain, in 1515. In her autobiography she mentions some details of her childhood: she was born into a large family, her “father and mother, who were devout and feared God”, into a large family. She had three sisters and nine brothers.

While she was still a child and not yet nine years old she had the opportunity to read the lives of several Martyrs which inspired in her such a longing for martyrdom that she briefly ran away from home in order to die a Martyr’s death and to go to Heaven (cf. Vida, [Life], 1, 4); “I want to see God”, the little girl told her parents.

A few years later Teresa was to speak of her childhood reading and to state that she had discovered in it the way of truth which she sums up in two fundamental principles.

On the one hand was the fact that “all things of this world will pass away” while on the other God alone is “for ever, ever, ever”, a topic that recurs in her best known poem: “Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices”. She was about 12 years old when her mother died and she implored the Virgin Most Holy to be her mother (cf. Vida, I, 7).

If in her adolescence the reading of profane books had led to the distractions of a worldly life, her experience as a pupil of the Augustinian nuns of Santa María de las Gracias de Avila and her reading of spiritual books, especially the classics of Franciscan spirituality, introduced her to recollection and prayer.

When she was 20 she entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation, also in Avila. In her religious life she took the name “Teresa of Jesus”. Three years later she fell seriously ill, so ill that she remained in a coma for four days, looking as if she were dead (cf. Vida, 5, 9).

In the fight against her own illnesses too the Saint saw the combat against weaknesses and the resistance to God’s call: “I wished to live”, she wrote, “but I saw clearly that I was not living, but rather wrestling with the shadow of death; there was no one to give me life, and I was not able to take it. He who could have given it to me had good reasons for not coming to my aid, seeing that he had brought me back to himself so many times, and I as often had left him” (Vida, 7, 8).

In 1543 she lost the closeness of her relatives; her father died and all her siblings, one after another, emigrated to America. In Lent 1554, when she was 39 years old, Teresa reached the climax of her struggle against her own weaknesses. The fortuitous discovery of the statue of “a Christ most grievously wounded”, left a deep mark on her life (cf. Vida, 9).

The Saint, who in that period felt deeply in tune with the St Augustine of the Confessions, thus describes the decisive day of her mystical experience: “and... a feeling of the presence of God would come over me unexpectedly, so that I could in no wise doubt either that he was within me, or that I was wholly absorbed in him” (Vida, 10, 1).

Parallel to her inner development, the Saint began in practice to realize her ideal of the reform of the Carmelite Order: in 1562 she founded the first reformed Carmel in Avila, with the support of the city’s Bishop, Don Alvaro de Mendoza, and shortly afterwards also received the approval of John Baptist Rossi, the Order’s Superior General.

In the years that followed, she continued her foundations of new Carmelite convents, 17 in all. Her meeting with St John of the Cross was fundamental. With him, in 1568, she set up the first convent of Discalced Carmelites in Duruelo, not far from Avila.

In 1580 she obtained from Rome the authorization for her reformed Carmels as a separate, autonomous Province. This was the starting point for the Discalced Carmelite Order.

Indeed, Teresa’s earthly life ended while she was in the middle of her founding activities. She died on the night of 15 October 1582 in Alba de Tormes, after setting up the Carmelite Convent in Burgos, while on her way back to Avila. Her last humble words were: “After all I die as a child of the Church”, and “O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another”.

Teresa spent her entire life for the whole Church although she spent it in Spain. She was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1614 and canonized by Gregory XV in 1622. The Servant of God Paul VI proclaimed her a “Doctor of the Church” in 1970.

Teresa of Jesus had no academic education but always set great store by the teachings of theologians, men of letters and spiritual teachers. As a writer, she always adhered to what she had lived personally through or had seen in the experience of others (cf. Prologue to The Way of Perfection), in other words basing herself on her own first-hand knowledge.

Teresa had the opportunity to build up relations of spiritual friendship with many Saints and with St John of the Cross in particular. At the same time she nourished herself by reading the Fathers of the Church, St Jerome, St Gregory the Great and St Augustine.

Among her most important works we should mention first of all her autobiography, El libro de la vida (the book of life), which she called Libro de las misericordias del Señor [book of the Lord’s mercies].

Written in the Carmelite Convent at Avila in 1565, she describes the biographical and spiritual journey, as she herself says, to submit her soul to the discernment of the “Master of things spiritual”, St John of Avila. Her purpose was to highlight the presence and action of the merciful God in her life. For this reason the work often cites her dialogue in prayer with the Lord. It makes fascinating reading because not only does the Saint recount that she is reliving the profound experience of her relationship with God but also demonstrates it.

In 1566, Teresa wrote El Camino de Perfección [The Way of Perfection]. She called it Advertencias y consejos que da Teresa de Jesús a sus hermanas [recommendations and advice that Teresa of Jesus offers to her sisters]. It was composed for the 12 novices of the Carmel of St Joseph in Avila. Teresa proposes to them an intense programme of contemplative life at the service of the Church, at the root of which are the evangelical virtues and prayer.

Among the most precious passages is her commentary on the Our Father, as a model for prayer. St Teresa’s most famous mystical work is El Castillo interior [The Interior Castle]. She wrote it in 1577 when she was in her prime. It is a reinterpretation of her own spiritual journey and, at the same time, a codification of the possible development of Christian life towards its fullness, holiness, under the action of the Holy Spirit.

Teresa refers to the structure of a castle with seven rooms as an image of human interiority. She simultaneously introduces the symbol of the silk worm reborn as a butterfly, in order to express the passage from the natural to the supernatural.

The Saint draws inspiration from Sacred Scripture, particularly the Song of Songs, for the final symbol of the “Bride and Bridegroom” which enables her to describe, in the seventh room, the four crowning aspects of Christian life: the Trinitarian, the Christological, the anthropological and the ecclesial.

St Teresa devoted the Libro de la fundaciones [book of the foundations], which she wrote between 1573 and 1582, to her activity as Foundress of the reformed Carmels. In this book she speaks of the life of the nascent religious group. This account, like her autobiography, was written above all in order to give prominence to God’s action in the work of founding new monasteries.

It is far from easy to sum up in a few words Teresa’s profound and articulate spirituality. I would like to mention a few essential points. In the first place St Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life and in particular, detachment from possessions, that is, evangelical poverty, and this concerns all of us; love for one another as an essential element of community and social life; humility as love for the truth; determination as a fruit of Christian daring; theological hope, which she describes as the thirst for living water. Then we should not forget the human virtues: affability, truthfulness, modesty, courtesy, cheerfulness, culture.

Secondly, St Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical figures and eager listening to the word of God. She feels above all closely in tune with the Bride in the Song of Songs and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with Christ in the Passion and with Jesus in the Eucharist. The Saint then stresses how essential prayer is. Praying, she says, “means being on terms of friendship with God frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, loves us” (Vida 8, 5). St Teresa’s idea coincides with Thomas Aquinas’ definition of theological charity as “amicitia quaedam hominis ad Deum”, a type of human friendship with God, who offered humanity his friendship first; it is from God that the initiative comes (cf. Summa Theologiae II-II, 23, 1).

Prayer is life and develops gradually, in pace with the growth of Christian life: it begins with vocal prayer, passes through interiorization by means of meditation and recollection, until it attains the union of love with Christ and with the Holy Trinity. Obviously, in the development of prayer climbing to the highest steps does not mean abandoning the previous type of prayer. Rather, it is a gradual deepening of the relationship with God that envelops the whole of life.

Rather than a pedagogy Teresa’s is a true “mystagogy” of prayer: she teaches those who read her works how to pray by praying with them. Indeed, she often interrupts her account or exposition with a prayerful outburst.

Another subject dear to the Saint is the centrality of Christ’s humanity. For Teresa, in fact, Christian life is the personal relationship with Jesus that culminates in union with him through grace, love and imitation. Hence the importance she attaches to meditation on the Passion and on the Eucharist as the presence of Christ in the Church for the life of every believer, and as the heart of the Liturgy. St Teresa lives out unconditional love for the Church: she shows a lively “sensus Ecclesiae”, in the face of the episodes of division and conflict in the Church of her time.

She reformed the Carmelite Order with the intention of serving and defending the “Holy Roman Catholic Church”, and was willing to give her life for the Church (cf. Vida, 33,5).

A final essential aspect of Teresian doctrine which I would like to emphasize is perfection, as the aspiration of the whole of Christian life and as its ultimate goal. The Saint has a very clear idea of the “fullness” of Christ, relived by the Christian. At the end of the route through The Interior Castle, in the last “room”, Teresa describes this fullness, achieved in the indwelling of the Trinity, in union with Christ through the mystery of his humanity.

Dear brothers and sisters, St Teresa of Jesus is a true teacher of Christian life for the faithful of every time. In our society, which all too often lacks spiritual values, St Teresa teaches us to be unflagging witnesses of God, of his presence and of his action. She teaches us truly to feel this thirst for God that exists in the depths of our hearts, this desire to see God, to seek God, to be in conversation with him and to be his friends.

This is the friendship we all need that we must seek anew, day after day. May the example of this Saint, profoundly contemplative and effectively active, spur us too every day to dedicate the right time to prayer, to this openness to God, to this journey, in order to seek God, to see him, to discover his friendship and so to find true life; indeed many of us should truly say: “I am not alive, I am not truly alive because I do not live the essence of my life”.

Therefore time devoted to prayer is not time wasted, it is time in which the path of life unfolds, the path unfolds to learning from God an ardent love for him, for his Church, and practical charity for our brothers and sisters. Many thanks.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana


The United Nations is helping to facilitate ceasefire talks between the Syrian government led by Bashar Al-Assad and Syrian opposition groups, who have been engaged in a bloody and destructive civil war since 2011. Ceasefire talks that were scheduled for last Friday were canceled and will be rescheduled...

Of grave concern, however, is that NO Christian Syrian representatives have been invited to the ceasefire negotiations. Neither the government nor the opposition can speak for the Christians of Syria. Religious minorities should not be excluded from negotiations over the future of Syria simply because they are not armed belligerents.

Sign the petition from our partner organization, Solidarity with the Persecuted Church, here: http://www.citizengo.org/en/pr/32890-syrian-ceasefire-talks-must-include-christian-representatives

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