"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

Friday 29 April 2016


Knocking Down the Gates of Hell
my source: Glory to God for All Things (Orthodox)
Fr. Stephen Freeman 

The Swedish Lutheran theologian, Gustav Aulen, publish a seminal work on types of atonement theory in 1930 (Christus Victor). Though time and critique have suggested many subtler treatments of the question, no one has really improved on his insight. Especially valuable was description of the “Classic View” of the atonement. This imagery, very dominant in the writings of the early Fathers and in the liturgical life of the Eastern Church, focused on the atonement as an act of invasion, smashing of gates and bonds, and the setting free of those bound in hell. Aulen clearly preferred this imagery and is greatly responsible for its growing popularity in some segments of Western Christendom.

The language was obscured in the West by the later popularity of propitiatory suffering (and the various theories surrounding it). Aulen noted, however, that Luther tended to prefer this older imagery. I had opportunity to do a research paper in grad school on the topic. I surveyed all of the hundreds of hymns written by Luther and analyzed them for their atonement theology. All but about two used the Classic View. Aulen was right.

In Orthodoxy, this imagery is the coin of the realm in the hymns surrounding Pascha. All of Holy Week is predicated on the notion of Christ descent into hell and radical actions of destroying death and setting free those held in captivity. St. John Chrysostom’s great Paschal Homily, read in every Orthodox Church on the night of Pascha, is an “alley, alley, in come free!” of salvation.

I have written on this topic before. I thought, however, to share some of the verses from the hymns for the Matins of Holy Saturday. Their language is a pure expression of the spirit of Orthodox Pascha and the atonement teaching of the Fathers.

Hell, who had filled all men with fear,
Trembled at the sight of Thee,
And in haste he yielded up his prisoners,
O Immortal Sun of Glory

Thou hast destroyed the palaces of hell by Thy Burial, O Christ.
Thou hast trampled death down by thy death, O Lord,
And redeemed earth’s children from corruption.

Though thou art buried in a grave, O Christ,
Though Thou goest down to hell, O Savior,
Thou hast stripped hell naked, emptying its graves.

Death seized Thee, O Jesus,
And was strangled in Thy trap.
He’’s gates were smashed, the fallen sere set free,
And carried from beneath the earth on high.

O Savior, death’s corruption
Could not touch thy holy flesh.
Thou hast bound the ancient murdered of man,
And restored all the dead to new life.

Thou didst will, O Savior,
To go beneath the earth.
Thou didst free death’s fallen captives from their chains,
Leading them from earth to heaven.

In the earth’s dark bosom
The Grain of Wheat is laid.
By its death, it shall bring forth abundant fruit:
Adam’s sons, freed from the chains of death.

Wishing to save Adam,
Thou didst come down to earth.
Not finding him on earth, O Master,
Thou didst descend to Hades seeking him.

O my Life, my Savior,
Dwelling with the dead in death,
Thou hast destroyed the iron bars of hell,
And hast risen from corruption.

These examples could be multiplied many times over. The section of Matins from which these are taken has over 100 verses! Orthodox Holy Week and Pascha has many ways of acting out this theology. Lights go up at the hint of victory, particularly as we sing the Song of Moses celebrating the drowning of Pharaoh’s army. In some parishes, bay leaves are tossed in the air by the priest in a fairly violent and joyous celebration of the victory. In yet others, at certain points during the Vesperal Liturgy of Pascha,  loud noises such as the banging of pots and pans are heard as the liturgy describes the smashing of hell’s gates. There’s is one village in Greece where two parishes have developed a custom of firing rocker fireworks at each other in the Paschal celebration.

Such antics completely puzzle the non-Orthodox and even seem comical. The Paschal celebration in Orthodoxy is far more akin to the wild street scenes in American cities when the end of World War II was announced – and for the same reason!

All of this also explains why many Orthodox are very reluctant to engage in “who’s going to hell” discussions with other Christians (though some Orthodox sadly seem to relish the topic). The services of Holy Week, as illustrated in these verses, are filled with references to hell. I daresay that no services elsewhere in all of Christendom make such frequent mention of hell. But the language is just as illustrated above. It’s all about smashing, destruction and freedom. It is the grammar of Pascha. It should be the grammar of Christianity itself.

Hell is real. Jesus has come to smash it. It is the Lord’s Pascha. It is time to sing and dance.
What Is Pascha? Ahead Of Orthodox Easter 2016, Russian, Greek And Other Eastern Churches Begin Celebrations 
Orthodox Christian worshipers from Serbia hold crosses as they walk along Via Dolorosa during the Holy Week Good Friday procession in Jerusalem's Old City April 29, 2016.

Orthodox Christian worshipers take part in a procession along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday, during Holy Week in Jerusalem's Old City, April 29, 2016.
Ethiopian Christian Orthodox priests pray during the Washing of the Feet ceremony, one of the Orthodox Easter celebrations, at the Deir al-Sultan chapel on the roof of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City April 28, 2016.

In the streets of Kiev, Ukraine, traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs, known as pysanky, are on display for the holiday. Outside of beautiful, decorative eggs, it is traditional for eggs to be dyed red to symbolize the life and the blood of Jesus Christ. It is common for people to also play games with eggs, banging them against each other. Whoever ends up with the non-cracked egg is supposed to have luck for the coming year. Many worshippers also bring baskets full of food and special breads to church on Easter Sunday to be blessed.
A woman takes a picture of a traditional Ukrainian Easter egg "Pysanka," installed as part of the upcoming celebrations of Easter, in central Kiev, Ukraine, April 29, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Metropolitan Theophilos (C) blesses the crowd during the Washing of the Feet ceremony outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, April 28, 2016, ahead of Orthodox Easter.PHOTO: REUTERS/AMMAR AWADplease click on:good friday: jesus christ died for our sinsa.schmemann, r. cantalamessa ETC

The God Who Fights For Us
by Father Stephen Freeman

I was small for my age as a child, and quite thin at that. I liked to play, but was not particularly rugged and did not enjoy sports that involved getting knocked around. I grew up with another “Steve” next door to me, who was big for his age. Inevitably, I was nicknamed “Little Steve,” and he, “Big Steve.” I confess to being glad when he moved away, at least for my name’s sake. I was born in the post-War era of the 50’s and lived near an air base. War and military exploits were the daily fare of the playground imagination. It is difficult to cultivate a warrior’s mentality if you’ve lost every fight you were ever in. I wasn’t a “wimp,” but I could have been a happy pacifist.

I often think that my childhood experience has colored my adult love of Pascha. In my years as an Anglican priest, I was always careful that my favorite hymn be sung at all the Easter services:

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

The strife is o’er, the battle done,
the victory of life is won;
the song of triumph has begun.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

The powers of death have done their worst,
but Christ their legions hath dispersed:
let shout of holy joy outburst.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

The three sad days are quickly sped,
he rises glorious from the dead:
all glory to our risen Head!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

He closed the yawning gates of hell,
the bars from heaven’s high portals fell;
let hymns of praise his triumphs tell!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Lord! by the stripes which wounded thee,
from death’s dread sting thy servants free,
that we may live and sing to thee.

It is, I think, one of the most Orthodox hymns in the Anglican tradition, both in its tone and in its content. Pascha, in Orthodox thought, is described primarily in terms of battle. Christ “tramples down death by death.” That line, part of the primary hymn of Pascha, is sung over and over in the course of the feast.

God fighting for you and smashing your enemies is particularly good news if you’ve been on the losing side most of your life. It seems to have been the “losing side” that was most drawn to Christ during His ministry. He excoriated religious leaders but was exceedingly kind to harlots, adulteresses, and turn-coat tax-collectors. It is certainly the case that the religious leaders of that time bullied the poor and the “unrighteous.”

None of that suggests that we should become harlots, and the like. It certainly suggests that we should not be bullies. But it strongly suggests that we should identify ourselves with those who lose. This can be difficult for some, particularly in a culture that so values winners. There are versions of the Christian faith that are better suited to the culture of winning. I suspect that this is part of the attraction of those groups who speak of themselves as having been “saved.” To have found out the mechanism of salvation and applied it in your life easily feels like getting the answers right on the test. And I worry as well when I hear a discussion about the wickedness of sinners and their destiny in hell.

My worry is that my years of pastoral experience have taught me just how complicated and twisted are the souls of “sinners.” I have known a number of people who simply cannot manage money. When they do work, they have no common sense about how things should be spent and how things should be saved. And their lives are always complicated with money problems. I see the same thing in many lives with certain moral issues. I see far more people do “stupid” things than “evil” things. Indeed, I see very few people who actually want to do anything truly evil. They simply don’t know how to “manage” being good.

Historically there has been a behavior described as “middle-class” or “bourgeois” morality. Sometimes used as a pejorative by radical types, it nevertheless can be very telling. It refers to a form of public behavior, typical in moderate and upper income homes, in which people have interiorized a set of rules about “how decent people should behave.” They are the rules for how to get along with others, and how to keep your head down and slowly improve your lot in life. Many people have a deep sense of satisfaction and competency that accompanies this internal ability.

In point of fact, it’s no great effort. Sometimes it is nothing more than Thoreau’s “lives of quiet desperation.” There is nothing heroic, or deeply sacrificial. It’s religion is always taken in fairly modest, acceptable directions. It is the essence of “public” morality, the least likely to cause difficulty for anyone. At its worst, it simply becomes insipid.

I’ve often wondered if such people will ever be incompetent, weak or sick enough to be saved. They are more likely to subscribe to religious views that lauds their competence and protects their vested interests. They do not need a God who fights for them. They would prefer the fight to be polite and metaphorical, at best. In New Testament terms, they are the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Puzzled by the celebration accorded to their n’er-do-well younger brother.

Christ, the God-Who-Fights-For-Us, fights for them as well, but their lives may generally lull them into thinking that they really don’t much help. They manage to stay away from battles. Their lives may not be paradise, but their hell has become comfortable enough to suit them pretty well.

Pascha is radical good news. God not only fights for us, but has won. If it seems rather ho-hum to you, look carefully at your life. You may be in a sleepy corner of hell, too comfortable to want salvation. The secular utopia, along with its modest religious forms, is the true opiate of the people.  

Holy and Awesome Saturday

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Archive
Now, it is for us to wait;
to wait with all longing, all hope, all desire for the news to reach us.

On this holy, great and awesome Saturday when the human soul of Christ was torn away from His Body, and when His incorruptible, holy Body rested in the tomb, what a deep sense of awe and what horror, what terror filled all creation. … A sense of awe, because all creation had recognized in Him the Living God, God’s Word, the Creator of all things; and what terror, what horror at the sight of His death! Humans in their blindness, prisoners of sin, prisoners of their mortality could continue to live insensitive to what was happening. Pilate went his way, the soldiers continued in their barracks, the multitude dispersed having been present at an awesome, strange event, but an event that remained undeciphered for them; and the High Priest rejoiced, and Judas died. But the whole created world knew more about what had happened than the humans.

On the first great Sabbath, God Who had created all things, rested from His labours, and committed the care and the charge of the world He had made to man, man who belonged to the created world at the very root of it; because he was not made as a fulfilment, as the greatest of all beings in a line of evolution: he was made of the clay, of the dust of the earth; lower he could not go, but at the same time, because he was partaker of the lowest there was, he partook of everything that had been born of this primeval matter which God had called into existence.

At the same time man was possessed of the breath of God, belonged to two worlds, indeed, the world of the created and of the uncreated. And his vocation was to lead all beings into that fullness to which he himself was called; from purity and innocence to the maturity of holiness, to that maturity which Saint Paul describes when he says that all things in the world were made in such a way that God be all in all, that all things created be, as it were, the vesture of God, the Body of God, filled with divinity, partakers of it: man and all the rest partakers of the divine nature.

But then man fell, he betrayed his vocation, he fell away, and the world stood in dismay, lost, without a leader who would lead it to the fulfilment of its calling. It would continue to exist — yes; but it could not become what it was called to be without man; and Paul, perceiving this so deeply said that the whole creation is groaning for the revelation of the children of God, for the day when man should become man again, as God had wanted, called him to be, made him to be, and when all creatures would find in him a vision of what they were to become and a leader on the way to this becoming, this eternal growth into God.

And then Christ appeared, the Son of God Himself became the son of man, and all things created, from the smallest atom to the greatest galaxy recognised in Him the Creator, but at the same time in the body of the Incarnation, in His flesh, all things recognised themselves fulfilled, brought to perfection, recognised themselves as God longed for them to become. And they saw also that this was possible, because if it was possible in Christ, it was possible for all things to be pervaded with divinity, to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, to become the body of the God Eternal.

And then, on one tragic day, once more humanity betrayed both God and its own vocation, rejected the Living God Who had come to save what He had created, rejected the Son of God become the son of man, and nailed Him to the cross, and killed Him. When Adam betrayed his vocation, deeply was the whole world shaken, but there was hope, there still was hope: God was there. On that day, the whole creation trembled with horror, because not only the real Adam, the true and perfect man was now dead, but God had been defeated in him. Was there any hope? There was no hope … And we can see that the powers of heaven were shaken, that the sun lost its light, that the earth trembled, darkness came down upon the world because even God had been and conquered by human hatred and blindness: nothing was left, seemingly, but death, disintegration, the end.

What wonder when, from the depths of hell, victory resounded the sound of victory, when the whole creation became aware that the Christ’s human soul had descended into hell, into the place where God was not, could not be, into the place which by definition was the place of eternal, irremediable absence; but He had come to it in the glory, the shining, the resplendence of His Godhead, and darkness was banished; the place of radical separation had become a place filled victoriously by the divine presence; hell was no longer; victory was won by God, but not only by God, because it is the human soul of Christ, the man filled with divinity that has won this victory .

And the body? The body lay in the tomb uncorrupted, because corruption could not touch this Body that was filled with divinity, even when His human soul had been torn away from it. Hope came, shy, yet exulting; the whole creation knew now that victory was won and that all things were possible, all promises would be fulfilled, all longings will be satisfied.

Only the world of man was still unaware of it. And we are today in that same holy and awesome Saturday, when the Son of God, the son of man rested from His labours. All creation knows the victory, all hell has been harrowed; now, it is for us to wait; to wait with all longing, all hope, all desire for the news to reach us, that not only hell was conquered but soul and body were reunited, that Christ the man had risen from the tomb, that all things were fulfilled, that the end had come — the end not as a point in time but as a goal attained: the vision of the perfect man united perfectly for ever with the Godhead, whose body stood not only for mankind, but for all the created, material and spiritual world.

Let us wait with awe, let us wait with gratitude, let us wait with the tenderness and adoration for the moment when we, on earth, will hear the news: Christ is risen from the dead, having trampled death by death, and to those in the tombs having been given life. Amen!

Commemoration of Holy Saturday

Experience more of Holy Week in pictures through John Thomas' book "Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey"
On Great and Holy Saturday the Church contemplates the mystery of the Lord's descent into Hades, the place of the dead. Death, our ultimate enemy, is defeated from within. "He (Christ) gave Himself as a ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending into Hades through the Cross ... He loosed the bonds of death" (Liturgy of St. Basil).

On Great Saturday our focus is on the Tomb of Christ. This is no ordinary grave. It is not a place of corruption, decay and defeat. It is life-giving, a source of power, victory and liberation.

Great Saturday is the day between Jesus' death and His resurrection. It is the day of watchful expectation, in which mourning is being transformed into joy. The day embodies in the fullest possible sense the meaning of xarmolipi - joyful-sadness, which has dominated the celebrations of Great Week. The hymnographer of the Church has penetrated the profound mystery, and helps us to understand it through the following poetic dialogue that he has devised between Jesus and His Mother:

"Weep not for me, O Mother, beholding in the sepulcher the Son whom thou hast conceived without seed in thy womb. For I shall rise and shall be glorified, and as God I shall exalt in everlasting glory those who magnify thee with faith and love."

"O Son without beginning, in ways surpassing nature was I blessed at Thy strange birth, for I was spared all travail. But now beholding Thee, my God, a lifeless corpse, I am pierced by the sword of bitter sorrow. But arise, that I may be magnified."

"By mine own will the earth covers me, O Mother, but the gatekeepers of hell tremble as they see me, clothed in the bloodstained garment of vengeance: for on the Cross as God have I struck down mine enemies, and I shall rise again and magnify thee."

"Let the creation rejoice exceedingly, let all those born on earth be glad: for hell, the enemy, has been despoiled. Ye women, come to meet me with sweet spices: for I am delivering Adam and Eve with all their offspring, and on the third day I shall rise again." (9th Ode of the Canon)

Great Saturday is the day of the pre-eminent rest. Christ observes a Sabbath rest in the tomb. His rest, however, is not inactivity but the fulfillment of the divine will and plan for the salvation of humankind and the cosmos. He who brought all things into being, makes all things new. The re-creation of the world has been accomplished once and for all. Through His incarnation, life and death Christ has filled all things with Himself He has opened a path for all flesh to the resurrection from the dead, since it was not possible that the author of life would be dominated by corruption.

Saint Paul tells us that:

"God was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19). Hence, eternal life - real and self-generating - penetrated the depths of Hades. Christ who is the life of all destroyed death by His death. That is why the Church sings joyously "Things now are filled with light, the heaven and the earth and all that is beneath the earth" (Canon of Pascha).

The Church knows herself to be "the place, the eternal reality, where the presence of Christ vanquishes Satan, hell and death itself.

The solemn observance of Great Saturday help us to recall and celebrate the great truth that "despite the daily vicissitudes and contradictions of history and the abiding presence of hell within the human heart and human society," life has been liberated! Christ has broken the power of death.

It is not without significance that the icon of the Resurrection in our Church is the Descent of Christ into Hades, the place of the dead. This icon depicts a victorious Christ, reigned in glory, trampling upon death, and seizing Adam and Eve in His hands, plucking them from the abyss of hell. This icon expresses vividly the truths resulting from Christ's defeat of death by His death and Resurrection.

Icon of the Commemoration of Holy Saturday

Mary Magdalene, Mary, the Mother of God, John the beloved disciple, and Joseph of Arimathea are shown preparing Christ's body for the tomb. Icon provided by Athanasios Clark and used with permission. Icon of the Epitaphios Thrinos provided by Athanasios Clark and used with permission.
Orthodox Celebration of Holy Saturday

Photo courtesy of John Thomas and used with permission. Experience more of Holy Week in pictures through John Thomas' book "Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey"
At the Third Stasis when the verse "Eranan ton Tafon ai miroforoi mira lian proi elthousai-early in the morning the myrrh-bearers came to Thee and sprinkled myrrh upon Thy tomb" is sung the priest sprinkles the Epitaphios with rosewater, using the rantistirion (sprinkler). This verse is usually repeated three or more times. It has become the custom to sprinkle the people as well.

Photos courtesy of John Thomas and used with permission. Experience more of Holy Week in pictures through John Thomas' book "Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey"
At the conclusion of the service, the faithful go in procession with the Epitaphios and often the entire structure that represents the Tomb of Christ around the Church chanting the Thrice-Holy hymn, in a similar manner to the traditional procession for a funeral.

Photos courtesy of John Thomas and used with permission. Experience more of Holy Week in pictures through John Thomas' book "Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey"
It is customary for the clergy and people to hold candles during the singing of the Lamentations and at the procession of the Epitaphios. This practice is rooted in ancient Christian burial practices. Candles were lit in order to symbolize the victory of Christ over death, and to express as well the Church's belief in the Resurrection.

The Scripture readings for the Matins service are: Ezekiel 37:1-14; I Corinthians 5:6-8; Galatians 3:13-14; and Matthew 27:62-66.

Photo courtesy of John Thomas and used with permission. Experience more of Holy Week in pictures through John Thomas' book "Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey"
The Liturgy held on the morning of Holy and Great Saturday is that of Saint Basil the Great. It begins with Vespers. After the entrance, the evening hymn 'O Gentle Light' is chanted as usual. Then the Old Testament readings are recited. They tell of the most striking events and prophecies of the salvation of mankind by the death of the Son of God. The account of creation in Genesis is the first reading. The sixth reading is the story of Israel's crossing of the Red Sea and Moses' song of victory - over Pharaoh, with its refrain: 'For gloriously is He glorified'. The last reading is about the Three Children in the fiery furnace of Babylon, and their song of praise with its repeated refrain: 'O praise ye the Lord and supremely exalt Him unto the ages.' In the ancient church the catechumens were baptized during the time of these readings. The Epistle which follows speaks of how, through the death of Christ, we too shall rise to a new life. After the Epistle, the choir chants, like a call to the sleeping Christ: 'Arise, O Lord, Judge the earth, for Thou shalt have an inheritance among all the nations... The deacon carries out the Book of the Gospels, and reads the first message of the resurrection from Saint Matthew. Because the Vespers portion of the service belongs to the next day (Pascha) the burial hymns of Saturday are mingled with those of the resurrection, so that this service is already full of the coming Paschal joy.

Photos courtesy of John Thomas and used with permission. Experience more of Holy Week in pictures through John Thomas' book "Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey"
After the reading of the Epistle, the priest follows the custom of tossing of laurel, saying: "Arise, O God, and judge Thou the earth: for Thou shall take all heathen to Thine inheritance". The Cherubic hymn of this day is: "Let all mortal flesh keep silence and stand with fear and trembling...", a thoughtful hymn of adoration and exaltation. The Divine Liturgy ends with the Communion Hymn: "So the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and He is risen to save us".

Hymns of Holy Saturday

Resurrectional Apolytikia
When he took down Your immaculate Body from the Cross, the honorable Joseph wrapped it in a clean linen shroud with spices and laid it for burial in a new tomb. 

When You descended unto death, O Lord who yourself are immortal Life, then did You mortify Hades by the lightning flash of Your Divinity. Also when You raised the dead from the netherworld, all the Powers of the heavens were crying out: O Giver of life, Christ our God, glory be to You. 

The Angel standing at the sepulcher cried out and said to the ointment-bearing 
women: The ointments are appropriate for mortal men, but Christ has been shown to be a stranger to decay.

Arise, O God; judge the earth, for You shall inherit all the Gentiles.


The Lenten Triodion. translated by Mother Mary and Kallistos Ware (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1994), pp. 61-62, 622-661.

Calivas, Alkiviadis C. Great Week and Pascha in the Greek Orthodox Church (Brookline: Holy Cross Press, 1992), pp. 77-87.

Farley, Donna. Seasons of Grace: Reflections on the Orthodox Church Year (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2002), pp. 141-144.

Wybrew, Hugh. Orthodox Lent, Holy Week and Easter: Liturgical Texts with Commentary (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997), pp. 109-112.

Christian Orthodox worshippers hold up candles lit from the "Holy Fire" as thousands gather in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City 


Patriarch Kirill  in Moscow's cathedral receives the sacred fire
 from Christ's tomb in the Holy Sepulchre  and the Easter Celebration can begin in earnest.

Serbian Christians celebrating  Easter in an mediaeval monastery in Grananica
Ethiopian Christians celebrating Easter on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre
An ancient Orthodox Easter rite engenders new and old passions
May 1st 2016, 12:37 BY ERASMUS | CORFU

FROM the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to the Russian Arctic, millions of Orthodox Christians have been celebrating Easter this weekend, in a passionate cycle of lamentation, anticipation and candle-lit jubilation. And part of the point of those festivities is that they remain exactly the same year after year, century after century. Local practices can vary, of course, but once a custom is established, people never want to change it. In places where the British flag once flew, such as the Ionian islands of Greece or the Palestinian territories, there can be a slight Anglo-Saxon tinge to the eastern Christian ceremonies, with parades by uniformed scouts and marching bands. (The Christians of Bethlehem love bagpipes; on the shores of the Ionian, where musical talent abounds, the preference is for brass and drums.)

But regardless of the local variations, many practices are set in stone. For example, shortly after the midnight proclamation that "Christ is risen", clerics everywhere re-read a sermon by Archbishop John Chrysostom, who died in 407. With a generosity of spirit that has not always been shown by Christian clergy, or even by Chrysostom himself, the sermon invites everybody to the feast, regardless of how well or badly they have observed the discipline of Lent.

You rich and poor, enjoy the feast together. You temperate and heedless, honour the day. You who who fasted, and you who did not, rejoice today. The table is richly laden. All of you, fare sumptuously on it. The calf is fatted, let no-one go away hungry.
Despite the spirit of timeless universalism, every Orthodox Easter brings its share of contentious news stories, and this one is no exception. A Greek bishop who is known for his sharpness of tongue, Amvrosios of Kalavryta, gave an astonishing homily in which he compared the various disagreements between the church and the country's secular leftist government (which are mostly quite manageable) with the contest between the Hebrew prophet Elijah and the priests of the false god, Baal. (It ended badly for Baal's side.) May God "rot the hand" of education minister Nikos Filis if he appends his signature to measures downgrading the status of religious instruction in schools, the latter-day Elijah expostulated, in what people hoped was a rhetorical flourish induced by the rigours of Lenten fasting.

In another Paschal news flash, it was reported six of the refugees holed up in the Eidomeni refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian border had been formally received into the Orthodox Christian church by the local bishop. The hierarch insisted to Orthodoxia.info, a religious news agency, that the refugees' conversion was far more than an impulsive gesture: they had requested and received elaborate instruction on the doctrines and practices of their new religion before undergoing the conversion ceremony, which involves being baptised and anointed with holy oil. All this is happening in a part of northern Greece where, in the 1920s, people gained the right to live if they were Orthodox Christians on the run and lost it if they were Muslim. So the consequences could be complex if many more refugees follow this example. But for the meantime, the newly-illumined are probably enjoying their Easter lamb.


Wednesday 27 April 2016


At the Easter Vigil a few weeks ago, tens of thousands of men and women, mature adults, were baptized or entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. Each of them walked a unique itinerary of conversion; each of these “newborn babes” (1 Peter 2.2) is a singular work of the Holy Spirit. Some of them came to Catholicism from an empty space, a spiritual desert; others found in the Catholic Church a more complete expression of the one Church of Christ into which they had been baptized, albeit in a different Christian community. So there are no grand generalizations to be made about those who became Catholics at Easter.

But it’s probably fair to say that few of them embraced Catholicism because they found it ambiguous. Or were uncertain about the Creed it professes. Or were confused about its understanding of how Christians ought to live the truth of their baptism. In fact, it’s almost certainly the case that, for many of those who came into full communion with the Catholic Church from other Christian communities, it was the doctrinal and moral confusions in the community of their baptism that led them to seek a Church that knew what it believed, why (and Who) it worshipped, and how it proposed that we should live.

If these new Catholics were properly catechized before their baptism or reception, they were also prepared for the Christian reality of failure, which the Church calls “sin:” they would have come to understand that every one of us lives by the divine mercy alone; that we are all “worthless servants” (Luke 17.10); and that we are, finally, saved by the merits of Jesus Christ alone. Yet these new Catholics would also have learned that failure is an old story in the Church, and that the Father of mercies is eager to welcome back those who stray, if only they acknowledge that they have fallen off the path marked out by God’s Son and commit themselves to a different future.

I thought of these new Catholics, and their motivations for entering the Church, when reading Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love,” and particularly this sentence in paragraph 307: ““To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to human beings. Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown.”

The Holy Father set in motion these past two years of contention and, one hopes, constructive dialogue in the Church because he knows that marriage and the family are in deep trouble throughout the world, just as he knows that marriage, rightly understood, and the family, rightly understood, are the basic building blocks of a humane society: the family is the first school of freedom, because it is there that we first learn that freedom is not mere willfulness; marriage, for its part, is the lifelong school in which we learn the full, challenging meaning of the law of self-giving built into the human heart.

Why are marriage and the family in trouble? Amoris Laetitia reviews a lot of the reasons, some of which go back to Adam and Eve, and some of which are contemporary expressions of that original sin of pride. The Holy Father also speaks with understanding and compassion of the difficulty that many young people have today in forming lifelong commitments. And he calls the Church to take the ministry of marriage preparation with ever greater seriousness, seeing it as an essential instrument of evangelization, especially for those who have trouble understanding that commitment is liberating.

In reading his apostolic exhortation, I came back to a conversation I had with Pope Francis some months after his election. I said that I wanted to present his vision of the Church accurately. So was I right in saying that he stressed God’s mercy so that, through an experience of that mercy, people would come to know God’s truth? He assured me I was. It is within that dyad of mercy and truth, which can never be separated, that I suggest the Church read and absorb Amoris Laetitia.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

If you think hard enough and prayerfully enough, you might see the connection between the article above and the following one.   Is not Pope Francis seeing the harmony of God behind the diversity of bishops' and church's insights, drawn out through the ministry of the Bishop of Rome?
Both churches have people with narrow minded, sectarian mentalities, often people who, apart from this, are wonderful examples of the deep spirituality of their churches. Nevertheless, Orthodoxy and Catholicism, at their best, enthusiastically accept  diversity as intrinsic to the human condition, but recognise that, in an ecclesial context, the Holy Spirit expresses in this diversity the one Mystery of Christ.  In the words of St Irenaeus, speaking within an ecclesial context, he writes to Pope Victor, "Our diversity is practice confirms our unity in faith."  Father John Behr's video at the end of this post, brings this out very clearly.
To discover the One Truth in many forms, it is necessary to love one another with an ecclesial love, a love that listens in humble obedience and that enables us to go beyond our own formulations and customs and to see the formulations and customs of the other church in their relation to the one Christian Mystery.
Diversity is human and good when it is open to Christ, and being open to Christ involves being open to one another, even if we cannot completely agree with them.  It is the function of the spiritual director in marriage and, at least for Catholics, the function of the pope among the local churches to help people to adopt a Catholic perspective that, being grounded on the  truth, reaches out and includes rather than builds walls and excludes.
That is what Pope Francis is trying to do with the synods and his apostolic exhortation.  The alternative is to suppress diversity by censorship and to present to the world a unity of understanding that doesn't really reflect what is going on in the Church.  But it is necessary to trust the Holy Spirit!! - Fr David

The Harmony of God is Hidden Within a Diversity of Personalities

One day a man came to my kalyve and told me that he was very worried because he was not of the same mind with his wife. I saw, however, that there was nothing serious between them. He just had a few rough edges, his wife had a few others, and they couldn’t deal with one another. They needed a little sanding. Take two planks of wood before sanding them. One has a knot here, the other has a knot there; if you try to join the planks there is an empty space left between them. If, however, you sand one a little here and the other a little there, using the same tool, they join perfectly. [1]

Some men tell me: “I don’t see eye to eye with my wife; we have opposite personalities. She has one temperament, I have another! How can God do such strange things? Couldn’t He have arranged a few things so that couples matched, and they were able to live more spiritually?” I tell them, “Don’t you understand that the harmony of God is hidden within a diversity of personalities? Different temperaments actually create harmony. Alas, if you had the same personalities! Think what would have happened if, for example, you both got angry easily: you would destroy your house. Or, consider if both of you had mild temperaments: you would sleep standing up! If you were both stingy you would get along, yes, but you would both end up in hell. Likewise, if both of you were open-handed, would you even be able to keep your house? No. You would disperse everything, and your children would be turned out to the streets. If a spoiled brat marries a spoiled brat, between themselves they get along fine, right? But, one day someone is going kill them! For this reason God arranges it so that a good person marries a spoiled brat, that the latter may be helped. It may be that he or she has a good disposition, but was never instructed correctly when young.”

Little differences in the characters or personalities of spouses actually help couples to create a harmonious family, for the one completes the other. In a car it is necessary to use the gas pedal to go forward, but also the brake pedal to stop. If the car only had brakes it wouldn’t go anywhere; and if it only had gears, it wouldn’t be able to stop. Do you know what I said to one couple? “Because you are similar, you don’t match!” They are both sensitive. If something happens at home, both of them lose it and start-up: The one, “Oh, what we suffer!” The other, “Oh, what we suffer!” In other words, the one causes the other to lose hope even more! Neither is able to comfort the other a little by saying, “Hold on, our situation is not that serious”. I’ve seen this in many couples.

When spouses have different personalities it helps in the raising of children even more. One spouse wants to put on the brakes a little, but the other says, “Give the children a little freedom”. If they both are overbearing they will lose their children. If, however, they leave them on their own, again their children will be lost. Therefore, when the parents have different personalities, the children enjoy a certain stability.

What I’m trying to say is that everything is needful. Naturally, one’s personality quirks shouldn’t go beyond their limits. Each spouse should help the other in his own way. If you eat a lot of sweets, you’ll want also to eat something a little salty. Or if you eat, let’s say, lots of grapes, you’ll want a little cheese to cut the sweetness. Vegetables, if they are very bitter, are not eaten. But a little bitterness helps, as does a little sourness. Some people, however, are like this: If someone is sour, he says: “Let everyone become sour like me.” And whoever is bitter says, “Let everyone become bitter.” Likewise, those who are salty say, “Everyone should become salty.” Bridges aren’t built like that! [2]


Elder Paisios means that this work is done by the spiritual father and it is effective, only as long as the two spouses have the same spiritual father, in order that the sanding happens “using the same tool”.

Obviously, the Elder is using a metaphor: “Bridges (i.e. relationships) aren’t build like that!”


Sunday 24 April 2016


my source: Theology Forum
Defining Theosis

In his essay, “The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology” Andrew Louth suggests that theosis or divinization has a specific doctrinal location in Orthodox theology and that it cannot simply be abstracted away from those doctrines. In this sense, it might be helpful to follow Hallonsten’s distinction between a theme and a doctrine of deification, emphasizing that many (if not most) of the recent proposals claiming to find a doctrine of deification in a historic Protestant figure is probably more of a theme than a doctrine. So, what are these doctrines? I will let Louth summarize:

…I have suggested that deification, by the place it occupies in Orthodox theology, determines the shape of that theology: first, it is a counterpart to the doctrine of the Incarnation, and also anchors the greater arch of the divine economy, which reaches from creation to deification, thereby securing the cosmic dimension of theology; second, it witnesses to the human side of theosis in the transformation involved in responding to the encounter with God offered in Christ through the Holy Spirit – a real change that requires a series ascetic commitment on our part; and finally, deification witnesses to the deeper meaning of the apophatic way found in Orthodox theology, a meaning rooted in the ‘the [sic] repentance of the human person before the face of the living God.'”

He doesn’t explicitly state it, but it seems like Louth is not terribly impressed with all of the “retrievals” that evangelicals (and others) are attempting to construct by adopting a form of theosis. For Louth, it seems, you can’t simply have theosis, you need to have the entire soteriological package – outlined by his four points above. What do we think about this? Is it possible to have a Reformed view of Theosis? I haven’t read Habets on Torrance yet, but I imagine that he must draw some helpful distinctions there. If we disagree with Louth, and I imagine many of us do, what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a true doctrine of theosis?

Incarnation and Theosis
Posted by Joe Rawls in incarnation, theosis
my source: The Byzantine Anglo-Catholic
Andrew Louth is an Orthodox priest as well as a theology professor at Durham University in England. In his article "The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology" (appearing in Partakers of the Divine Nature, Christensen and Wittung, eds, Baker Academic 2007), he outlines the Orthodox understanding of the Incarnation of the Son of God, which is seen as not exclusively a remedy for human sinfulness, but primarily as God's way of uniting in love with his creation. The quote appears on pp 34-35.

Deification, then, has to do with human destiny, a destiny that finds its fulfillment in a face-to-face encounter with God, an encounter in which God takes the initiative by meeting us in the Incarnation, where we behold "the glory as of the Only-Begotten from the Father" (Jn 1:14), "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). It is important for a full grasp of what this means to realize that deification is not to be equated with redemption. Christ certainly came to save us, and in our response to his saving action and word we are redeemed; but deification belongs to a broader conception of the divine oikonomia: deification is the fulfillment of creation, not just the rectification of the Fall. One way of putting this is to think in terms of an arch stretching from creation to deification, representing what is and remains God's intention: the creation of the cosmos that, through humankind, is destined to share in the divine life, to be deified. Progress along this arch has been frustrated by humankind, in Adam, failing to work with God's purposes, leading to the Fall, which needs to be put right by redemption. There is, then, what one might think of as a lesser arch, leading from Fall to redemption, the purpose of which is to restore the function of the greater arch, from creation to deification. The loss of the notion of deification leads to lack of awareness of the greater arch from creation to deification, and thereby to concentration on the lower arch, from Fall to redemption; it is, I think, not unfair to suggest that such a concentration on the lesser arch at the expense of the greater arch has been characteristic of much Western theology. The consequences are evident: a loss of the sense of the cosmic dimension of theology, a tendency to see the created order as little more than a background for the great drama of redemption, with the result that the Incarnation is seen simply as a means of redemption, the putting right of the Fall of Adam: O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum est! O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!--as the [Exultet of the Easter Vigil] has it: "O certainly necessary sin of Adam, which Christ has destroyed by death! O happy fault, which deserved to have such and so great a Redeemer!"

Orthodox theology has never lost sight of the greater arch, leading from creation to deification.

Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology

Michael J. Gorman
my source: Denver Seminary 
Oct 8, 2009Series: Volume 12 - 2009Michael J. Gorman. Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2009. $24.00 pap. Xi + 194 pp. ISBN 978-0-8028-6265-5

While staunch defenders of the Reformation and equally outspoken proponents of the so-called new perspective on Paul garner much of the attention in Pauline studies these days, Michael Gorman, an evangelical professor of Sacred Scripture and dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, is quietly making repeated, solid contributions to this debate that combine the best of old and new looks. Already his previous works, especially Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters (Eerdmans, 2004) and Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Eerdmans, 2001), have demonstrated both his command of Paul and his ability to chart a sensible via media in the often polarized discussions of Paul’s thought.

Although Gorman’s latest book is not a large one, it is tightly packed with rich and rewarding treatments of the interconnectedness of key themes in Pauline soteriology. Gorman’s four main chapters make his case in four discrete stages. First, Philippians 2:6-11 shows that Christ’s self-emptying or kenosis reveals the character of God. Believers do not merely imitate Jesus in this self-giving but actually participate in it via their co-crucifixion with Christ and their co-resurrection with him to perfect humanity, partially realized in the present and fully in the life to come. Because this Christlikeness is also Godlikeness, and because we actually participate with Christ in this process, the concept of theosis (deification or divinization) may properly be applied to the Christian’s experience at this juncture.

Second, Galatians 2:15-21 and Romans 6:1-7:6 demonstrate “that justification is by co-crucifixion; it is participation in the covenantal and cruciform narrative identity of Christ, which is in turn the character of God; thus justification is itself theosis” (p. 2). Gorman clearly eschews any criticism of substitutionary atonement, fashionable in various branches of Pauline studies today. He simply stresses the need to encapsulate this heart of the Reformers’ emphasis in the broader frameworks in which Paul places it: justification is both forensic and participatory. Thus Galatians 2:20 makes it clear that justification is not merely the legal declaration of a sinner’s acquittal because of Christ’s imputed righteousness, but the actual death of the believer to living by the Law. Justification and sanctification, therefore, begin to merge. Through the Spirit, justified believers are of necessity morally transformed, to some degree, over time, already in this life (see esp. Rom. 6:1-6). Indeed, “in Pauline theological forensics, God’s declaration of ‘justified!’ now is a ‘performative utterance,’ an effective word that does not return void but effects transformation” (p. 101). This transformation changes our relationships with both God and believers. The double love command sums up the ethics of Paul just as much as it does explicitly for those of Jesus (Mark 12:28-33 pars.), even if it never appears in that form in so many words in the writings of the apostle to the Gentiles. And enacting divine love can never be separated from pursuing his justice, so no one need fear that this focus on love works against the struggle for justice in our world.

Third, Paul the Jew knows well God’s call to be holy as he is holy (Lev. 19:1). To be holy, therefore, is to be Godlike. But Paul stresses our recreation in the image of God, just as Christ is the perfect image of God, in righteousness and holiness (cf. Col. 3:10 and Eph. 4:24), through the power of the Spirit (see esp. 2 Cor. 3:7-4:6). As we are increasingly conformed to Christ’s moral likeness, then, our justification becomes our theosis. Little wonder, then, that Paul regularly calls us “saints” (“holy ones”) or that sanctification is a central theme particularly in 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Philippians. Nor is this merely individual growth in being like God, it is also corporate as the church becomes what it was called to be.

Finally, moving to what is conventionally distinguished as the ethical realm but which Gorman’s study argues cannot really be so separated, co-crucifixion with Christ (which equals justification, which equals holiness and therefore sanctification as well, and which equals theosis), means a commitment to non-violent living. We may as believers have to absorb violence as both Jesus and Paul did. We may stand for things with great ardor as both men did. But Paul’s murderous, Phineas-like zeal , which was transformed when he became a Christian into passionate but cruciform living, should play no role in the believer’s life. We may at times have to exclude others who will not respond to church discipline (1 Cor. 5:1-5) but it dare not involve violence. And precisely because God has guaranteed his perfectly holy wrath to be poured out on Judgment Day on those outside his community of saints who finally refuse his loving overtures, we do not have to take vengeance into our own hands.

There are a number of places where important questions remain for Gorman’s views. Given the ease with which Western readers unfamiliar with all of the historic nuances of “theosis” can assume it means becoming godlike in ways that would compromise his sovereignty and lordship, it is not at all clear how “not to use such a word “would mean seriously misrepresenting what is at the core of Paul’s theology” (p. 8). Key theological terms can always be explained in other words when the terms themselves may mislead. Gorman’s notion that “being (in the form of God)” is a causal rather than (or in addition to) a concessive participle in Philippians 2:6 seems unlikely. Romans 5:1-11 rather clearly presents reconciliation as a key result of justification, not as synonymous with it. The view that pistis Christou is a subjective genitive (“the faithfulness of Christ”), though currently fashionable, is grammatically tortuous, and Gorman’s case doesn’t depend on it anyway. Unless Gorman wishes to obliterate every distinction between believers’ theosis and Christ’s role in the Godhead, it is not enough to point to our co-crucifixion with Christ to solve the thorny debates that swirl around pacifism. What may have been necessary to atone for the sins of the world, which we cannot emulate or replicate, may not be the path to which the believer is called in every conceivable context. Romans 1:17 and 18 pair the revelation of God’s righteousness and his wrath in the framework of the New Testament’s famous “already but not yet” timetable. If believers participate, in part in the present, in the revelation of God’s righteousness they may well at times have to participate in his wrath. But Gorman’s excess, if it is that, is still far preferable to our all-too-common trigger-happy American civil religion! Many evangelicals quote Romans 13:1-7 far too glibly and without exegetical sophistication; still it is striking that Gorman does not treat it at all in his chapter on non-violence (and only once in passing elsewhere).

It would be a pity if any or all of these caveats would ward anyone off from wrestling in detail with Gorman’s proposals and from appreciating the many strengths of his main points in each chapter. It may well be that this particular combination of emphases and the language used to unpack them serves Gorman best in the context of an ecumenical institute in a largely Roman Catholic context . Other contexts may require slightly different emphases and terminology. But whenever believers of any stripe lose sight of and stray from the fundamentally cruciform lifestyle that is at the heart of true Christian practice, precisely because it is at the heart of the divine behavior disclosed in Jesus, they stray from genuine Christianity.

Craig Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament
Denver Seminary
October 2009

Pope Francis, Romans 8, and the theme of theosis
"All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God..."
May 08, 2013 06:23 EST
Carl E. Olson

Pope Francis made some waves today when he spoke to the plenary assembly of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) about "men and women of the Church who are careerists and social climbers, who 'use' people, the Church, their brothers and sisters—whom they should be serving—as a springboard for their own personal interests and ambitions." It was another example of how the Holy Father—pick a cliché—pulls no punches and wastes no words.
We'll have more about that particular address and related matters soon, but I want to reflect a moment on Francis's general audience today, which focused on the work of the Holy Spirit, the gift of divine life, and the mystery of divine sonship. These are topics and themes that he has touched on several times already in the first weeks of his pontificate. A month ago, in his April 10th general audience, Francis asked, "What does the Resurrection mean for our life?" His answer, in part, is that the Resurrection (as the Apostle Paul explained) is not just freedom from, but freedom for: "we are set free from the slavery of sin and become children of God; that is, we are born to new life." This freedom is received in and through the sacrament of Baptism. Having received the sacrament, the baptized person emerged from the basin and put on a new robe, the white one; in other words, by immersing himself in the death and Resurrection of Christ he was born to new life. He had become a son of God. In his Letter to the Romans St Paul wrote: “you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry ‘Abba! Father! it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:15-16).

It is the Spirit himself whom we received in Baptism who teaches us, who spurs us to say to God: “Father” or, rather, “Abba!”, which means “papa” or [“dad”]. Our God is like this: he is a dad to us. The Holy Spirit creates within us this new condition as children of God. And this is the greatest gift we have received from the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. Moreover God treats us as children, he understands us, he forgives us, he embraces us, he loves us even when we err. In the Old Testament, the Prophet Isaiah was already affirming that even if a mother could forget her child, God never forgets us at any moment (cf. 49:15). And this is beautiful!

This gift of supernatural filiation goes by many names, including divinization, deification, and theosis, as it is widely known in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches. It is a teaching that has long interested me. It was a key reason for becoming Catholic many years ago, and it is the focus of a book I am co-editing with Fr. David Meconi, SJ, editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review and assistant professor of theological studies at Saint Louis University, whose doctoral dissertation was on St. Augustine’s use of deification. The book has fifteen chapters by fourteen contributors (as well as a Foreword by Dr. Scott Hahn) and it covers two thousand years of Catholic teaching on the topic of theosis, beginning with Scripture and concluding with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and recent papal documents. This week, I am finishing up the final section of the opening chapter, co-authored with Fr. Meconi, on theosis in Sacred Scripture.

And so today's audience by Francis caught my attention, as he returns to the same themes as he highlighted a month ago. For example:

But I would like to focus on the fact that the Holy Spirit is the inexhaustible source of God's life in us. In all times and in all places man has yearned for a full and beautiful life, a just and good one, a life that is not threatened by death, but that can mature and grow to its fullest. Man is like a traveler who, crossing the deserts of life, has a thirst for living water, gushing and fresh, capable of quenching his deep desire for light, love, beauty and peace. We all feel this desire! And Jesus gives us this living water: it is the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and who Jesus pours into our hearts. Jesus tells us that "I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly" (John 10, 10).

The Holy Father touches on a couple of passages in the Fourth Gospel, which is rich with the theme of mankind being called to share in God's divine life; the same can be said of 1 John. Speaking of the "living water" spoken of by Jesus to the Samaritan woman by the well, Francis remarks:

The '"living water," the Holy Spirit, the Gift of the Risen One who comes to dwell in us, cleanses us, enlightens us, renews us, transforms us because rendering us partakers of the very life of God who is Love. This is why the Apostle Paul says that the Christian's life is animated by the Spirit and by its fruits, which are "love, joy, peace, generosity, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5:22 -23). The Holy Spirit leads us to divine life as "children of the Only Son." In another passage from the Letter to the Romans, which we have mentioned several times, St. Paul sums it up in these words: "All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. And you… have you received the Spirit who renders us adoptive children, and thanks to whom we cry out, "Abba! Father. “The Spirit itself, together with our own spirit, attests that we are children of God. And if we are His children, we are also His heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we take part in his suffering so we can participate in his glory "(8, 14-17). This is the precious gift that the Holy Spirit brings into our hearts: the very life of God, the life of true children, a relationship of familiarity, freedom and trust in the love and mercy of God, which as an effect has also a new vision of others, near and far, seen always as brothers and sisters in Jesus to be respected and loved.

It is readily evident that Romans 8:15-17 is a passage with great significance for Francis, as he himself notes that he has mentioned it "several times." He does not, of course, use the term "theosis", but explicates the doctrine using language that is largely keeping with the Western way of referring to it. In fact, a quick search of the Vatican site turns up just a few uses of it among the documents accessible there, two of which are notable. First, Pope Benedict XVI made mention of it in a 2009 audience about John Scotus, and in the 2011, document, “Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles, and Criteria”, the International Theological Commission articulated a succinct and helpful definition:

The Mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit is a mystery of ekstasis, love, communion and mutual indwelling among the three divine persons; a mystery of kenosis, the relinquishing of the form of God by Jesus in his incarnation, so as to take the form of a slave (cf. Phil 2:5-11); and a mystery of theosis, human beings are called to participate in the life of God and to share in ‘the divine nature’ (2 Pet 1:4) through Christ, in the Spirit. (par 98)

The term "divinization" appears over thirty times in English texts on the site; it was used often by Bl. John Paul II, for whom the theme was of great importance, as I've shown elsewhere. Especially interesting is how Benedict XVI emphasized the connection between divinization, conversion, and spiritual growth, both individual and communal. In the October 2010 homily at the papal Mass for the opening of the special assembly for the Middle East, Benedict stated:

Without communion there can be no witness: the life of communion is truly the great witness. Jesus said it clearly: "It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples" (Jn 13: 35). This communion is the life of God itself which is communicated in the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ. It is thus a gift, not something which we ourselves must build through our own efforts. And it is precisely because of this that it calls upon our freedom and waits for our response: communion always requires conversion, just as a gift is better if it is welcomed and utilized.

Benedict pointed back to this remark in the opening paragraphs of of his September 2012 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, writing:

In the context of the Christian faith, “communion is the very life of God which is communicated in the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ”. It is a gift of God which brings our freedom into play and calls for our response. It is precisely because it is divine in origin that communion has a universal extension. While it clearly engages Christians by virtue of their shared apostolic faith, it remains no less open to our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, and to all those ordered in various ways to the People of God. The Catholic Church in the Middle East is aware that she will not be able fully to manifest this communion at the ecumenical and interreligious level unless she has first revived it in herself, within each of her Churches and among all her members: Patriarchs, Bishops, priests, religious, consecrated persons and lay persons. Growth by individuals in the life of faith and spiritual renewal within the Catholic Church will lead to the fullness of the life of grace and theosis (divinization). In this way, the Church’s witness will become all the more convincing. (par 3)

In other words, if I might try to summarize, we must grow in divine life so that the Church can be renewed, so we might better proclaim the Gospel, and we might give better witness to the Catholic Faith, the heart of which is the supernatural sonship granted in baptism, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is already a focus of the pontificate of Francis, and it seems to me that one reason is that he wants to emphasize that real, substantial renewal comes from becoming—as John Paul II liked to say—what we are: children of God. And in this way, both are reiterating what the Apostle John wrote nearly two thousand years ago: "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are" (1 Jn 3:1).

About the Author

Carl E. Olson editor@catholicworldreport.com

Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind", co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "Chronicles", and other publications.


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