Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics

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We referred to the somewhat difficult subject that everyone stumbles on with the dogma of Chalcedon, i.e., how it can be possible for Christ to be perfect, without having a perfect person. This is what I tried to analyze in the previous lesson, by describing what a “person” is, and how the person can exist without being related to – or be spent in – one nature.  In other words, if we were to state that because Christ possesses a perfect human nature, He must necessarily possess a human person, it would signify that we are subjugating the person to the nature and that we are also implying that it is not possible for a nature to exist, without it possessing a person of its own.  But nature never does have a person of its own; Nature is hypostatized in a person; it is hypostatized by the person, hence the person’s ability to hypostatize more than one nature.  One could say that this also applies to the human person, inasmuch as the human person does not possess its human nature only. This may sound strange, but we do also partake of an animal nature to a large degree. We partake of nature, including non-living nature – inanimate nature.

Nature, therefore, is not that which determines the person. It is the person that assumes a nature. Consequently, the person of the Son of God – which has divine nature eternally hypostatized – now assumes and hypostatizes human nature also.  In this way, human nature not only isn’t demoted or diminished, but is in fact elevated to the personal degree that divine nature has. In other words, it is elevated to God’s state and subsequently becomes god-like.  Thus human nature becomes god-like in the person of Christ; not for any other reason, but only because it has no hypostasis of its own.  If it were not going to acquire a hypostasis of its own, it would have been unable to attain the god-like condition (theosis).  We therefore have here an anthropological maximalism, not minimalism. We are not demoting Man.  What makes it difficult for us in Christology to comprehend this mystery of two natures and one person, is the existence of certain presuppositions, such as: a) that a nature must have its own person, which, as I already mentioned, is not correct and b) the other presupposition that is supported is that Man –human nature– has an autonomy that cannot be overcome. This is the Western perception of the natural and the supernatural, which has separated these two statuses to such an extent, that we are unable to re-unite them.  Of course the created and the Uncreated can never overstep their boundaries, (i.e. the uncreated cannot “become” created and the created cannot “become” uncreated), so, consequently, the attaining of theosis by Christ’s human nature does not mean that it somehow ceased to be human nature and became divine. (This is a very serious point.) Nor did divine nature suddenly “become” human nature, on account of the hypostatic union.  Each of the two natures retained its natural characteristics, but, when both natures became united in the same person, without ceasing to be what they are, without undergoing any change as regards their natures, their essence, each nature assumed the characteristics of the other, and this is what is known as a “reciprocation of characteristics”.

The reciprocation of characteristics is precisely that which takes place on account of the hypostatic union; on account of the fact that the person is one. Furthermore, it is always the person that expresses these characteristics; they do not express themselves on their own.  Given that we are dealing with only one person here, it is impossible to have individual characteristics that are not expressed as uniform ones. Thus, whatever Christ did and performed as God became a characteristic and a reality of His human nature also.  Furthermore, everything that He did and performed as a human was also transposed into divine nature, but not as a nature.  You must observe something here.  It is transposed, on account of the hypostatic facet and consequently, it does not affect the other Persons of the Holy Trinity.  That it is transposed thanks to the hypostatic union (on account of the person and not on account of the natures) is a consequence. Because, if natures in unison were to impart their particular characteristics to each other, then those characteristics – that reciprocation of characteristics – would also have to be observed in the other two Persons of the Holy Trinity - the Father and the Spirit - as they too have the same nature as the Son.   If it were, in fact, the natures that united and reciprocated their characteristics, then, I repeat, we would not be able to make any distinction whatsoever; we could not claim –for example- that “this is happening only to the Person of Christ, the Logos, the Son”.  If this were the case (the merging of natures), then the Son would always remain incarnate, even to this day and forever more.  I must repeat this detail:  It is not the Father Who was incarnated, nor the Spirit; and theosis of human nature is not theosis attributed to Man’s union with “God” in general; it is because Man becomes united with the Son. In other words, it is theosis in Christ.  There cannot be theosis without Christ.  All these details are extremely important, because they contain consequences, which we must look into.

The basic consequence is (a) that Christ Himself would cease to be an individual; He wouldn’t have human nature and humanity with Him. In other words, the notion of “Christ” would be perceived as a summary; the one would have become many, and that would then have constituted the identity of the Son. It is not possible – nor will it ever be possible – to isolate Christ from His body, which is the communion of the Saints, of those who have attained theosis.  Christ, therefore, is an inclusive concept; He is a head, together with a body.  He cannot be imagined without the body; and that body is not a personal body – it is the body of the Church, the body of Saints.  Thus, we cannot tackle Christology without Ecclesiology.  There can be no Christ without a Church. There is no Christ without a body. This is the one consequence.

The other consequence (b) on the obverse side of the same coin is that the person who desires to attain theosis, who attains theosis, cannot relate to divinity, i.e., to divine nature, except only through the Person of the Son, of Christ.  Thus, theosis without Christ does not exist.

The third consequence (c) that arises from the first two, when combined, is that there cannot be theosis outside the Church, because there is no Church without Christ and there is no Christ without the Church.  The Church is a part of Christ’s identity – His personal identity.

Thus, Christology, Ecclesiology and theosis of Man comprise a reality and consequently, the notion of “Christ” without the Church is, for us, inconceivable. On the other hand, the notion of “Church” is now affected by all the above, and it now denotes a Christ-centered, Christological reality; it denotes the very Body of Christ, which exists even after the Resurrection and will continue to exist, forever.  Therefore, the Church is not an interim situation, between the Resurrection and the End of Time (as very many Westerners have perceived it). The Church actually continues, even after the Second Coming.

The notion “Church”, therefore, is nothing other than that very Kingdom of God, which will prevail with the Second Coming.  The consequences for Ecclesiology obviously become much more serious now.   Just as Christ cannot exist without the Church, likewise the identity of the Church can be none other than the identity of Christ.  Thus, the Church is not a community, which we can perceive in juxtaposition to Christ.  Christ doesn’t stand opposite the Church, or “face-to-face”; He is the very “I” of the Church. This is precisely the reason that the Church is Holy: because:  “One is Holy, One is the Lord, Jesus Christ..”   Despite the sinfulness of the members of the Church, the Church Herself is Holy, because Her personal identity is none other than the personal identity of Christ.  To perceive this in our own experience, in our existence, we need only to give some serious thought about what transpires during the Divine Eucharist, because it is during the Divine Eucharist that the body of Christ (as a Church) is realized, and the Church is likewise realized as the body of Christ.  If one were to pose the question: “There, during the Eucharist, who is actually praying? Is it the Church?”  The answer is No.  It is Christ Who is in fact praying.  Christ cannot of course be parted form the Church. He prays as a Church, therefore the Church prays as Christ. This is a special characteristic of the Divine Eucharist, i.e., that this eucharist referral is a –par excellence- offering of Thanks.  The prayer of the referral begins with the words “Let us thank the Lord”, then it continues...  Well, this “prayer of referral” is addressed to the Father.

In the Divine Liturgy of Basil the Great, it is clear that it is only the Father Who accepts the prayer of referral. The Chrysostom’s Liturgy – as Liturgiologists have observed – underwent certain changes in its referral prayer after the 4th century, and the following words were added:  “Thou (=the Father), and Thy Only-begotten Son, and Thy Holy Spirit”.  All of the Holy Trinity is mentioned.  Nevertheless, the original eucharist referral is a prayer addressed to the Father.  This is why it is a huge mistake during the Divine Liturgy, for priests to turn towards the icon of Christ when uttering the words “Let us thank the Lord”.   This is a huge dogmatic mistake.  The words “Let us thank the Lord” merely signal the beginning of the Eucharist.  When saying: “Let us thank”, we are not supposed to be extending a “thank-you” in the traditional sense; these words are intended as a prompt to begin at that moment the responding prayer that says: “Worthy and just”.  It is from that point onwards, that the Eucharist begins, and, as we can see from the words of the referral prayer, it is clearly addressed to the Father.

You might wonder: "why is this significant?”

This is not an issue of divinity!  (Because in the long run, the distinguishing between the Persons supposedly should not matter.) But the distinction between the Persons is of such immense significance to Orthodox Theology, that the Cappadocians had struggled with all their might to preserve it.  What the Son does in the Liturgy is not the same as what the Father does, nor is it the same as what the Spirit does.  Each Person has a different role throughout Providence, and that same role is transferred into the Eucharist. Thus, it is the Father Who accepts; and, as Paul says, it is the Son Who finally presents everything to the Father. Why? Because it is from the Father that the entire plan of Providence began. The condescension was the Father’s, not the Son’s.  Each Person has its own significant and distinct role.  Providence had its beginning in the Father’s condescension, and its conclusion must be with the Father. The Son executes that which the Father condescended to, with the synergy of the Holy Spirit, and thus returns to the Father all of Providence; all of us, everything that He included in Providence – It is He Who brings, Who delivers His Body unto the Father.  The Eucharist is precisely this delivery, this offering of the Body of Christ to the Father; the eschatological and final offering is that return to the Father.

This therefore, is why during the Divine Eucharist (and especially during the moment of referral) the Church does not pray on its own. It is Christ Who prays, as the Head of the Church, and it is He Who delivers Providence to the Father.  This movement – which has begun to gradually fade during the Divine Liturgy (or in the conscience at any rate of the Orthodox and the clergy) – is very significant for our topic, as it is indicative of the Church not having Her own “I” at that moment. When She speaks to the Father, She does not speak as a Church; She speaks as Christ.  It is the Son Who speaks.  Besides, He is the only One Who can be heard by the Father.  That is why the Divine Eucharist differs from all other rituals and services; it is because during the Divine Eucharist, God “sees” His very Son, and He also “sees” all of us as sons, in the person of His Son.  And that is why we must be baptized : in order to be members of the Eucharist.  It is not for everyone to be embodied in this eucharist relationship, as one must have acquired the status of adoption that Baptism provides. It is the adoption status acquired through Baptism that renders us “sons” in the One and the Only-begotten Son of God.  Consequently, it is the Son Who leads us before the throne of God, then God accepts us as members of His Son, and it is in this way that we become joined to God.  We therefore unite ourselves in Christ, which means that the Church, during the peak moment of the referral, does not have a separate identity of Her own.  And this is why, when the priest utters: “…the holy (gifts) to the holy (ones)…”,  the laity’s response of: “One is Holy” is given without any hesitation, and it is not pronounced as though negating that those who are to partake (of Holy Communion) are holy, or are to become holy.  It is not as though we are implying “He – the One – is holy, whereas we are not”.  No. There is no negative inference to this expression. What is implied by this expression, this response by the laity of “One is Holy”, is:  “We acknowledge that One is Holy, just as the Son is one, however, it is through Him that we too become holy and we too become sons of God in Him.”

It is He therefore Who delivers us to the Father, and it is He Who addresses the Father and prays during the Eucharist Liturgy: the Son.  Naturally, Christ Himself is invisible. His presence is not tangible during the Liturgy.  This is why the one who does the offering during the Divine Eucharist (the Bishop in the ancient Church, and in his name, eventually, the presbyter also) is an image of Christ within that liturgical assembly, that liturgical context; It is he, who recapitulates, who embodies, who renders the entire Church into one body, and refers it to the Father.  And in this way, another mystery, another paradox arises, i.e., even though the Divine Eucharist is being offered by the bishop or the presbyter, he, during the prayer of the Cherubim, states: “Thou art the offerer, Christ”.  In other words, whereas in the eyes of the laity the offerer is the bishop, the bishop himself is aware that the One actually doing the offering is Christ. Thus, in this way, there is a relating of the officiator and Christ, however, this relating always permits distinction between the two, as the officiator is a human and consequently, while related liturgically to the Person of Christ, he does not cease to be fully aware that he is not Christ, hence his addressing Christ as the One Who actually offers - as though he himself is not the offerer, when in fact he is physically enacting the offering.  So, within the Liturgy, a dialectic –so to speak- relationship is created, between the officiator and Christ, and it is this precise dialectic relationship that underlies the meaning of “image”.

The “image” is a dialectic notion. It depicts something that is not present, as though it were present.  Thus, Christ –in the person of His image (who is the officiator at that moment)—is present, but with a dialectic relationship which allows the officiator to discern between himself and Christ and this dialectic relationship is expressed by the prayer that the officiator offers to Christ. This is why the prayer of the Cherubim is a prayer addressed to Christ and in fact is the only prayer that is addressed to Christ.  All of the other prayers are either addressed to the Holy Trinity or to the Father only, because they are prayers that presuppose that relationship between Christ and the Church; a relationship that generates a dialogue – not between Church and Christ, as no such dialogue exists in the Eucharist – but between the Church and Christ on the one hand and the Father on the other. During the 12th century, there was a huge argument on this matter, in which the main theological role was played by Nicholaos of Methoni. This argument was based on exactly this detail that we just mentioned, i.e., that Christ offers the Divine Eucharist and the Father accepts it.  Is it therefore not accepted by the Son also? Doesn’t the Son also accept the Eucharist? The answer given by Nicholaos of Methoni and the one that prevailed was that Christ also accepts the Divine Eucharist, and that He does not offer it only. This is a very serious statement, given that every perception that the Father can somehow act (ie, accept the eucharist) without the presence of the Son and the Spirit, would have meant a division within the Holy Trinity.  (It is a basic Patristic tenet, that the three Persons of the Holy Trinity are inseparable, even though in Providence and in the Incarnation they are together, however, they do not all become incarnate.) This is where the major detail lies, inasmuch as the Son does indeed accept the Divine Eucharist – together with the Father and the Spirit – however, He accepts it distinctly differently from the Father and the Spirit, inasmuch as He is also the One Who simultaneously offers it. The distinction between the Persons is a very serious matter, which is why the words “Let us thank the Lord” should not be offered in front of the icon of Christ.

It is of great importance to note that Providence overall is summarized in the Person of Christ and that it is eventually concluded in the Person of the Father; that the Father is not the offerer (what is there for Him to offer? To whom should He offer?).  If we relate these points to natures, they become tangled. We do not need to make such distinctions.  However, you should note that the Divine Liturgy is most revealing at this point. It is extremely careful in its handling of the distinction of the Persons.  Unfortunately, we are the ones who have created a liturgical piety in absentia of the discernment of the Persons.  We pray to “God”.  This is so dangerous, that it could easily lead to an obsolescence of Trinitarian Theology. Trinitarian Theology could become a dogma, which has nothing to do with the manner in which we live.  No, we cannot omit the Triadic dogma during the Liturgy.  If there is a distinction between the Persons, then it must be enforced wittingly: I must know that I am praying in the name of Christ; that Christ is praying with me; that the officiator is an image of Christ at that moment, and that he is not the offerer, but that Christ is the One performing the offering.

Hence the formulation of the prayer: "Thou art the offerer and the offering, the One Who accepts and the One Who is propagated” simultaneously.  But this refers to Christ, and not the Father – not the divine nature, definitely not that. It is the Son. It is the dialectic relationship between the Father and the Son, thanks to which we are saved, on account of the fact that we too become accepted by the Father, as sons.  The Church, therefore, is that mystery of recapitulation, the embodiment of everyone, who, through Baptism have become sons, and through them –through their nature, which they carry with them- we are enabled to enter into the relationship that exists between Father and Son.  This is what “theosis” means, nothing more. And this is why theosis is offered –par excellence- in the Divine Liturgy.  Thus, Christ cannot be visualized without the Church, the Church cannot be visualized without Christ, and theosis cannot be visualized without the Church.  The Father accepts the Body, which Christ offers during the Eucharist; the Son now both offers and accepts.  He offers, according to the measure that He is joined to human nature, and He accepts, according to the measure that He is joined to the Father.

We have outlined all the above, in order to declare clearly and firmly, that the Church does not have Her own “I”, Her own identity, as Her identity is Christ. This if course is linked to Christology and the whole story about the one Person and the two natures.  We also deduce from all the above that whatever takes place or exists in the Church, becomes ecclesiasticized. It is rendered “Church” to the degree and the measure that it relates to the Father in Christ, especially during the moment of the Divine Eucharist.  Thus, whatever a person brings along as an offering, whether it is his own nature –which he bears in his physical presence – he goes there, and he brings along that body, which is a participant of the overall created world. Consequently, he brings along the created world that he has within himself; he takes it there, either along with the gifts being offered (the bread and the wine), or any other form of offering, within the framework of the Divine Eucharist, and it all becomes the body of Christ.  They are no longer human articles, nor can we examine them sociologically or financially or legally. They are no longer subject to the laws and the principles that govern created nature.  They now have the characteristics of uncreated nature. They are accepted, they are sanctified, they become holy, and in that way, they can now partake of the Father-Son relationship.  This is precisely what also makes the officiators and especially the bishop (who heads the entire assembly and the offering) “holy”, in the context of the expression “One is Holy”.  Everything is sanctified within the Divine Eucharist, and moreso the one who is offering the Divine Eucharist, who is the image of the actual offerer – Christ.  Consequently, the life of the Church within the Eucharist, the structure of the Church within the Eucharist, the functions, the officiators, all of these cannot be viewed with criteria of the created; they cannot be judged by social, or sociological criteria.  Of course the Church has a life that also extends outside the Divine Eucharist and it is possible for other elements to infiltrate it, which may not be in essence elements of that relationship which would have rendered them sacred and holy.  Given that – or, rather, if - these elements are related and can in some way be linked to the Divine Eucharist, they cannot be used as, or constitute, an object of social or any other created reality.  This is therefore the meaning that underlies the Christ-centeredness of the Church, as well as Her Bishop-centeredness.  

Given that the “I” of the church is Christ, and during the Eucharist the image of Christ is the bishop, it is for this reason that the Bishop was given this very critical position in the Church and was made the judge of the entire life of the Church –including Her material aspect- which material aspect is related to its communion with the Divine Eucharist.  Whatever man may offer so that it might become a Divine Eucharist, it must necessarily pass through the hands of the Bishop, given that all of the Divine Eucharist passes through the hands of the bishop.  This is the only means that we have, to portray the presence of Christ. It is not possible to go as far as the Protestant perception, where this portrayal is not deemed necessary.  The Protestant view regards the community like something that prays as a group of individuals, with each one praying to God separately.  They assemble to pray, however each person prays on his own; he may be together with the others, but that prayer is not uttered by one, common mouth.  The common mouth for us, for Ecclesiology that we are now analyzing, is not human. It is Christ, because God cannot “hear” any human voice.  Or, at any rate, prayer during the Divine Eucharist differs from the prayers that a single human mouth might offer to God.  During the Divine Eucharist, it is not the human mouth that offers prayer;  it is the mouth of the Son that prays, and that is what makes the Divine Eucharist so acceptable, so significant to the Father.  The Divine Eucharist differs from all the other kinds of prayers, and the laity is aware of this.  The laity goes to perform the Liturgy; to offer the names of its loved ones to the Liturgy.  The Liturgy is one thing; and whatever is outside the Liturgy is another. Whatever is outside the Liturgy does not have the same weight, the same value. Whatever is inside the Divine Eucharist, passes through that Father-Son relationship, where the Son is the One Who takes them all upon Himself; this is the meaning of Divine Eucharist. The Body of Christ is actualized. He undertakes all the requests, all the gifts of the laity, and He offers them to the Father.  Therefore, everything that takes place at that moment during the Divine Eucharist, is taking place by Christ Himself.  Consequently, the bishop is not an officiator that exists in parallel to Christ. It is Christ Himself who officiates.  And all the raiments, all the chanting and the entire manner in which the laity sees the bishop – and subsequently the presbyter – all indicate that they regard him as an image of Christ.  And those “images of Christ” attend the ritual in the same manner. This is where the authority of the bishop in every matter had its beginning.


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Typing: N. P.

Webpage format: N. M.

Translation by A. N.

Article published in English on: 4-1-2007.

Last update: 15-1-2007.