Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics

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2. Commentary on Western Ecclesiology


C. History and Eschatology

We have seen certain peculiarities in Western thought, which, as we stressed, give priority to History on the one hand and to the essence – to objective reality – on the other. The basis of Ecclesiology is History, the Incarnation, and generally speaking, the objective reality that the event of Christ brought to History. This visualizing and approach is what comprised the basis in Western theology, leading to a confrontation between Roman Catholics and Protestants that reached the point of contesting about the essence of the Church.

A characteristic position of the Roman Catholics has always been that the Church is a kind of extension of the Incarnation. And there are many Orthodox who also say this; i.e., that the Church is Christ perpetuated throughout the ages. This is a position that was formulated by Bossuet in his famous sermons and was repeated by many Orthodox preachers.

Of course from one point of view, it is correct to say that the Church is the body of the living Christ perpetuated throughout the ages, but it is not only this, for us Orthodox. In other words, for us, the basis is not the historical continuation of the Incarnation. This would be the Roman Catholic position. The Protestants, reacting against this position, maintained that there is no continuity to the event of Christ in History. Protestantism maintains the discontinuity of History, and that what makes the Church genuine is the fidelity of a community towards the word of God, especially as expressed in the Holy Bible. This fidelity, therefore, is the essence of the Church. For the Roman Catholics, I will repeat, the essence of the Church is not the fidelity of a certain community at a certain point in History, but that incessant historical continuity. For us, neither the one nor the other view is correct or adequate, as a basis for Ecclesiology.

According to the Orthodox view, there is, of course, a historical continuity in the Church and therefore we do not agree with the Protestants who insist that Apostolic succession and all the other things that we Orthodox maintain are of no significance. At any rate, we mostly support the eschatological aspect of the Church; i.e., that the essence of the Church is the portrayal of eschatological events. And this portrayal of eschatological events can be seen mainly during the Divine Eucharist. For the Orthodox, Christology – that historical continuity, or even the Westerner’ discontinuity – does not comprise the basis of Ecclesiology. For us, the basis of Ecclesiology is the proper combination of historical continuity with a portrayal of the events to come. Our gaze is turned towards the forthcoming events, rather than the past. Roman Catholics and Protestants are faced towards the past: the Roman Catholics on the one hand stress the historical continuity and the institution that it is perpetuating, while Protestants, with their fixation on the word of the Holy Bible are enacting a return to the past, which is where they have situated the essence of the Church.  Quite often, we Orthodox become lost in this labyrinth and some of us seek Orthodox Ecclesiology in the Roman Catholic model, thus overstressing the historical element. Then there are others, who tend to stress what we call the “charismatic nature” of the Church, without –of course- the Protestant form of fidelity towards the word of God and the Holy Bible, but definitely with certain criteria that do not contain that portrayal of the eschatological community. In the Orthodox theological tradition, the Church is the eschatological community, within Time. This of course does not refute historical continuity, but it combines it with events, with each instance that the Church congregates for the same reason – mainly to perform the divine Eucharist. That, therefore, is where we Orthodox locate the essence of the Church. This is attributed to the fact that we place a special significance – which neither the Roman Catholics nor the Protestants place – on the role of the Holy Spirit in Ecclesiology. How and why is this observed?

The role of the Holy Spirit is acknowledged by the Westerners also, but only as a secondary one in Ecclesiology. The basis, the foundation of Western Ecclesiology is Christology. What is of importance for the Roman Catholics on the one hand is that Christ was the founder of the Church and that the Church is the body –or rather, the community- that Christ established and that is perpetuated through certain institutions, so that the Church can survive in History, whereas for Protestantism, what is of importance is –as we already mentioned- the word of God, which again is a Christological historical reality. Thus, both views are based on Christology, following which, the Holy Spirit comes along to help us and inspire us, to animate the Church, according to what Roman Catholics have asserted. This is something like a soul entering a pre-existing body. The body is Christologically constructed, with Christological material. The Spirit enters into that institution and animates it, gives it life. But the Spirit Himself does not provide the structure of the Church; observe this detail: the Spirit does not provide the structure; the Spirit merely provides the soul; it merely inspires the Church. And this of course is extremely close to the Protestant position, where there is no interest in the institution of the Church – the establishment – but only in the comprehending of the word of God. And there too, the Holy Spirit plays the role of an inspirer, who assists every person individually and the community overall to comprehend the word of God. In other words, the Spirit is a factor that is always secondary to the first, founding and institutional factor who is Christ, whether by founding the Church according to the Roman Catholics, or by providing the word, which the Spirit renders palpable every time and inspires the people, according to the Protestants.

For the Orthodox, it is the Spirit Who forms the Church. It is characteristic, what is mentioned about the Holy Spirit, in one of the Vespers hymns of the Pentecost: “…Who composes the entire institution….”. The Holy Spirit composes the institution of the Church. The institution of the Church is not simply something that Christ founded within History. These details may appear insignificant, however, they are determining factors. For us, the Church is perpetuated in History and has continuity, thanks to its perpetual renewal by the Spirit. Every time that the Church congregates, it becomes the Church anew.  The Spirit therefore makes the Church, constructs the Church, by providing precisely those basic structures, the basic functions of the Church, such as the laity (through Baptism and Chrismation) and the clergy (through Ordination, and in fact through a Bishop’s Ordination, which in itself is a Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit founds a Church. Thus, for the Orthodox viewpoint, in every place and at every specific time, the Spirit re-composes and renovates the Church – founds the Church; and by re-composing the Church in this manner, creates the Church’s historical continuity. In other words, the Holy Spirit does not come and act within a pre-existing ecclesiastic structure. This is the way things are for the Roman Catholics: Christ founded a Church. He placed its fate and its perpetuation in the hands of certain Apostles, mainly Peter. And by giving Peter the privilege of heading the church, He must have therefore given it to the pope as well, as the historical successor of Peter. These were all supposedly given by Christ, and are not events linked to the Spirit; the institution of the Church is constructed Christologically, and the Spirit merely enters it to animate it, so that it won’t be a soul-less structure. I repeat, for the Protestants, this edifice is of no importance; that is why they even doubt whether Christ founded the Church at all. Many Protestants maintained that Christ did not found the Church, but that the only thing Christ did was to leave His word and of course His Cross, and everything that He underwent and taught. That is supposedly their basis of the Church. Thus, by remaining faithful to these things as individuals, or as communities, the Church is supposedly formed. Then the Spirit supposedly comes along, to help us remain faithful to these things.

I will reiterate, that for Orthodoxy, the issue is neither an institution that has previously been formed and in which the Spirit enters a posteriori, in order to animate it, nor is it an institution that doesn’t exist as an Institution; it is -every time- a local and a temporal composition by the Spirit of that image of eschatological events.  How will the Church be in the future? How will the world be in the future?  The Church is what recapitulates the world, and it is only inside the Church that the world survives.  The essence, therefore, of the Church is, for us, precisely the work of the Holy Spirit, Who enacts the work of Christ, by rendering the body of Christ ever-present and active, at a specific time and a specific place: right now, right here. For the Westerner, therefore, the local Church is secondary, by comparison to the worldwide Church; whereas for an Orthodox, the local Church is of primary importance. We do not have one universal Church; we have many local Churches, which all coincide at the same point and they all represent faithful images of the eschatological community. Subsequently, we see an orientation towards the past by the Westerners and an orientation towards the future by us Orthodox, but without abolishing the historical continuity that is realized through the future. By enacting images of the End Times every time we congregate in Church, especially during the Eucharist, we are revealing that which the body of Christ (of the risen Christ of course, which is eschatological anyway) perpetuates; but perpetuates through those events that pertain to the congregations of local Churches, which the Spirit constructs and composes each time.

The consequences of this fact go into great depth. First of all, for the Westerner, Ecclesiology always contains the seed of opposition between institution and charisma. What do we mean by this?  Well, when a Roman Catholic says that the Church is, in its essence, the institution that Christ created, he is imposing an institution above Man’s freedom and the Spirit’s freedom. The Protestant also, when insisting that what counts is one’s fidelity towards the word of God and the Holy Bible, is imposing the authority of the holy Bible over Man’s freedom. And so, the West perpetually has the problem of the institution and of the imposition that this entails for Man’s freedom.  In the East, in Orthodoxy, when saying that the Church is that congregation which is created by the Spirit as a portrayal of eschatological events, every time, in every place and whenever the divine Eucharist is performed, no such problem arises, because the Church is formed by the freely willed congregating of the faithful. We say, “I’m going to Church”. The structure, the institution of the Church is not something that is imposed by someone; we ourselves compose it, together with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the One Who gathers us all into the Church. When gathering us, one could say that the Spirit is making us founding members of the Church, because the Church to us is not an institution that has come into existence just like that, on its own. In this way, we never have (or ever had) the problem of “clericalism” or “secularism” as did the West. Why? Because clericalism presupposes the perception that the institution of the Church, its basic structure and its officiators, the clergy, have their hypostasis independently of the event of the congregating of the faithful.

This leads us to the opportune topic of the role of the laity in the Church. For the Orthodox, the people comprising the laity are the ones who are a necessary prerequisite for the clergy to exist, to officiate. When we say officiate, it is not to simply perform the divine Eucharist, but to act, to be effective. The activity, therefore, of the clergy; their charismatic action and their authority at the same time, presuppose the laity as the framework in which the gathering of the faithful takes place. That is why we Orthodox cannot be led into that which the Roman Catholics were led: to personal liturgies by the clergy. Based on the logic of Roman Catholic theology, which several Orthodox also apply, the clergyman (given that he personally possesses – institutionally – certain energies such as the performance of the divine Eucharist, with his ordination) should be able to transform the bread and wine into Body and Blood of Christ, by blessing and performing the divine Eucharist on his own. Why not? Roman Catholics do it. Naturally, it is not a matter of democracy in Orthodoxy, that clergymen cannot perform the divine Eucharist without the presence of a layperson. It is precisely because the overall perception of the Church is such that it presupposes a congregation in order to exist: the congregating of all the basic functions and structures. Consequently, the laity’s “Amen”, the laity’s response “and to your spirit also”, all of these responses reveal that in Orthodoxy it has never been possible for the perception to infiltrate that the clergy can act sacerdotally, based on the rights that were given during his ordination. The fact that it is not possible for an Orthodox clergyman to officiate on his own is apparent from the fact that a dialectic form exists within the basic structure of the divine Eucharist. I have often told those Orthodox clergymen who (are unfortunately many) also perform personal liturgies:  “Well, what happens when you reach the part where you say “Peace to all”?  Who responds with “and to your spirit also”? They reply: “I say it myself”. Now that is a ridiculous, comical thing. You can’t respond to yourself with the words “and to your spirit”!  On the other hand, you can’t remove the response “and to your spirit also” – you simply can’t.  You can’t remove the “Amen” either. The “Amen” is also a prerogative of the layperson. And to many clergymen who get carried away and say: “The blessing of the Lord, ….. now and for ever and ever, amen”, I say to them that the “Amen” is the prerogative of the laity. What business do you the priest, have, to say the “Amen”? It has been the privilege since very ancient times – as early as New Testament times – of the laity. The “Amen” of God’s people - which goes as far back as the Old Testament - is the confirmation and the consent of God’s people towards whatever the clergyman does.

All of these signify that, without the communion of the Holy Spirit Who will gather everyone together for the same reason, the Church cannot function as an institution and it is for this reason, that it is not proper to say that the Church is the clergy, the hierarchy etc.  This is why we never encountered the problem of clericalism, whereas in the West, this problem had flared up. So, you can now understand why Western theology reached the point of clericalism. I shall repeat the basic point: By giving priority to Christology and History, priority was given to the institution per se; and the institution contained certain forms of functions which they had initially attributed to the person of Christ. The Roman Catholics on one hand, through the institution of the Apostles etc., excessively stressed the divine Eucharist and generally all the privileges that Christ had given to the Apostles and Peter especially. Protestants on the other hand leaned more towards the word – towards what Christ had said, and whatever was authentically delivered to us in the New Testament through the Apostles, which is why they always see the clergymen who preach (because preaching is fundamental for Protestantism) as persons with authority, regardless of the congregation of the people, of the community. The congregating of the community does not play an essential role; the community gathers, only to listen to the preacher who will relay the word of God with his sermon and the reading of the Scriptures. But for us, all these things are dependent on the congregation. It is a basic requirement for the Orthodox. If one doesn’t live in the West, it is difficult to understand how easily one can become westernized, in the belief that he is Orthodox.  For us, the key is that the Spirit acts in a founding manner; in other words, the Spirit constructs the Church, through the congregation, through communion. There are other consequences here; much deeper ones. For us Orthodox even that very word of God originates from - and passes through – eschatology and the communion of the Holy Spirit; through the community that the Holy Spirit creates, and then it becomes authentic.

And now we come to a crucial issue, which is the authority of the Holy Bible. For Western theology, it is one of the more opportune problems, but it is an equally basic one for us. For the Roman Catholics, the Holy Bible is interpreted authentically by the officiators, who are the “magisterium” as they call it, apparently because they received the power and the right from Christ Himself to represent Him as successors of the Apostles. Thus, for the Roman Catholics, the word of God can be interpreted authentically by a clergyman, mainly a bishop, and finally the pope – always as a person, and under any circumstances whatsoever.  For the Protestant, the principle that applies is that the word of God is interpreted authentically through the word of God again, which means: Protestants interpret the Scripture through the Scripture, and it is a matter of proper scientific research. This is why in Protestantism, in order to become a minister (which essentially means a preacher, so that you can expound the word of God) you must have a university education; in other words, you will need a University diploma to explain the Scriptures, with the Scriptures. You can in fact do this from your office, your place of education, and even in your circle of teaching, if you teach. Teachers, therefore (the “doctors” of the Church) are, for Protestantism, the instruments by which the authority of the Bible is explained.

Notice what kind of problems this presented with regard to the authority of the Holy Bible in the West, which is one of the problems that hound it persistently nowadays. As regards the Roman Catholic position, it was natural for the question to be raised as to why a bishop should be regarded as infallible, or, why an entire synod of bishops should be considered infallible, or why the pope should be infallible. And that is where they truly stumble; that is where they cannot provide satisfactory answers, especially nowadays. As for Protestantism, another problem had arisen, which today preoccupies everyone in the West. How can the Bible be interpreted by the Bible and by scientific analysis, when we know that the Bible was also subject to certain historical and cultural influences, which do not continue to apply forever?  This is why Protestants today are forced to look for the canon within the canon, given that the canon for the Holy Bible is not enough for them. In other words, they seek a “smaller” canon, within the canon of the Holy Bible. They seek the criteria on the basis of which they can locate whether something in the Holy Bible is truly authentic, and with which we can discern whether something today is not authentic and necessary.

For example, the Apostle Paul says that even our nature teaches us that if a man leaves his hair long, it is ugly and unnatural.  Or, he says that the world consists only of sky, earth and the underworld etc.. All these are obviously cultural elements that prevailed during the Apostle’s era. Of course there are also those among the Protestants who are known as fundamentalists, who maintain that every single letter of the Bible must be observed meticulously. If the Bible says so, then that’s how it must be, no questions asked, we simply cannot doubt it.  We must therefore all be shaven, with our hair cut. Based on this logic, our own, conservative monks should be considered the first to have transgressed Paul’s words! What I am trying to say with this admittedly striking example is that we have been compelled to not adhere to Paul’s words verbatim, because otherwise, we would have been forced to do other things likewise, and not what we are now doing. Examples such as this are very many. When the Bible is interpreted by the Bible, the way that it is done by Protestants nowadays, numerous things are discovered, which are purely cultural and historical in nature and no longer apply today. Consequently, this leads them to a crisis as regards the authority of the Bible. What is characteristic today, is that those who do not accept the authority of the Scripture, are the spiritual descendents of those who had proclaimed “Sola Scriptura” (=only the Scripture, nothing else). Thus they reached the point of no longer trusting the Holy Bible. Hermeneutics has developed to such a degree in the West, that the Bible itself is also subjected to interpretation on the basis of the newer factors of each historical era.

All of the above have as their starting point the fact that Western man – Roman Catholic or Protestant – places the essence of the Church and the essence of the truth in decrees or moulds that were shaped in the past. A norm is defined and imposed in the past, and we now struggle to adhere to it faithfully. This is a purely Western outlook. It is on the surface of this perception that all the problems regarding the authority of bishop, of synods, of the pope, of the hermeneutics of the Bible and the suchlike are located. But behind all these is a latent disposition for subjugation to a specific, pre-defined canonistic decree. This problem was never raised in Orthodoxy.  The Scriptures are interpreted within the Church, within the congregating of the Church. But beware of the confusion that we too have undergone in these matters, on account of Western influences. When, of late, we observe an increase in the number of those who read the Gospel in a narrative or emotional style instead of the traditional chanting of the Gospel, one can only wonder if these people have any awareness whatsoever of this peculiarity of Orthodoxy. The reason they read in their own way is, of course, to make the text palpable; otherwise, they are under the impression that the meaning is lost and what counts is the meaning.  In other words, it is like an educational book, which I read and memories are brought to mind of the past; for example, I read as though Christ Himself is delivering his Sermon on the Mount. In that way, I am made aware of the events the way they took place – the way they were shaped in the past. This is most clearly a Western mentality. For the Orthodox Tradition, what counts is not just the narration of how things happened; it is the way things will happen, and will be. The word of God must always have that eschatological angle, which is why -according to the Orthodox view – the word of God comes to us from the future and not from the past. It is a different thing for us to sit down here and study the Holy Bible; or even in those so-called Bible circles, which are a purely Protestant imitation, where they sit down and study the Holy Bible. What can the Holy Bible tell you, outside the congregation of the Church? It will tell you other things; that is, whatever it says to a Protestant. It is within the framework of worship – and especially of the divine Eucharist – that we find the reason for which we chant the readings, melodiously. Not so much the readings of Vespers – it is not imperative for them to be chanted. But the Gospel and the Apostle during the Liturgy must be chanted.

The Chrysostom says somewhere: «we open up a syllable», because “syllabizing” is a conceptualizing (Greek, syllabi = conception, arresting) by the Nous; it signifies that which the mind conceives/grasps noetically.  And we help the mind to grasp the meaning. But the word of God can never be conceived/grasped. It is far greater than us. It is the word of God that conceives/grasps us. The Chrysostom says it beautifully, that through chanting, the word of God is “opened up”; the syllable is opened up and it incorporates us, as opposed to us “conquering” it.

This conquering tendency of knowledge that we apply to things is the same one that we apply every time we abolish chanting and strive to make the Scriptural readings comprehensible. Even the word itself is interesting. We want the people to co-(ap-)prehend!  To apprehend the readings! Can one truly apprehend the word of God, or comprehend it?  Of course one may wonder:  What sort of mysterious and chaotic perception is this? Many Westerners are moved by the Orthodox when they attend their Liturgy and everything there is chanted, and they usually say “at least you Orthodox have a mystery”.  It is not about that secret and exotic mystery which lacks any importance. It is a method of knowledge that is based on the communion of persons, and not just the workings of the mind. That is why for the Orthodox, the Holy Bible cannot speak to us in the same manner when we read it at home, as compared to when it is read and heard in Church. That is why the greatest destroyer of the word of God in Church is the preacher, who can appear at the most inappropriate moment, during the hour of the Koenonikon (Holy Communion), thus overthrowing the entire structure of the Liturgy. What is the purpose of the sermon at that point?  The sermon should follow immediately after the reading of the Gospel. Then we move away from mere words and are led elsewhere. For these issues, it is not necessary for one to have a profound knowledge of History, in order to realize that they are newly introduced and that they are of Western origin. And even from a purely historical aspect, one can see that these are erroneous customs. But right now, we are chiefly concerned with the theology of the matter. Theologically, therefore, all these attempts to apprehend and to comprehend the word of God are most definitely a Western phenomenon. If we haven’t already corrupted the common laity with our conscientious theology - and for as long as they have remained uninfluenced - they normally see the Scriptural readings as a part of the whole event. And the Gospel for the Orthodox is never just a book that you open and read. It is almost a person. You kneel before it. And when the “entrance” of the Gospel takes place in Church, where the people make the sign of the Cross and kiss it, this is what it signifies.

In order therefore to not ruin the character of the word of God, the sermon must definitely (a) be delivered at the correct moment, immediately after reading the Gospel; (b) focus as much as possible on the Gospel text that was recited and (c) be of a liturgical character and reference. The sermon is a liturgical event, and not something that can take place in any kind of hall (whereas many other sermons could take place in a hall).  By presupposing all the above, one can see where they lead, and how the Westernizing of Orthodoxy is nowadays being fulfilled. And yet, those in Orthodoxy who cry out against the West have not pointed out these problems; obviously, other things preoccupy them and they have thus allowed the Liturgy to be distorted - which (for us) however, is the only thing that keeps us genuine. For us, the word of God is an event that comes to us from the End Times; it is a sacramental presence – a Eucharist event. It is the word-Logos, the way that we personally meet with Him during the Eucharist – and we meet with Him in full, by communing with the Body and the Blood of Christ. This is a fullness”: the logos of God is the communion with the Body and the Blood of Christ.  It is there that one finds and places the readings. And this is why they have always had the form of a melodic recital.  The authority of the Holy Bible therefore does not lie in who will explain it to us – whether that person is well versed, or if that person possesses certain privileges (from a hierocratic institutional aspect) to explain it. This is why for us, even the synods of our bishops are somehow a part of that circuit called “the communion of the Holy Spirit” and authority finally emerges from that overall event of the Spirit circulating among all the members of the Church; For us, it is understood (unlike the Roman Catholics) that a decision or an interpretation by bishops can prove to be mistaken, just as it is understood (and contrary to Protestant perception) that a scientific interpretation is of no significance and no importance.

Nowadays, acute speculation has arisen in Greece on the subject, because, by lacking the appropriate experience and the clear-cut use of the Bible, our biblical scientists (all educated in the West) are showing deep concern, when noting how we Orthodox are almost indifferent to the scientific problems posed nowadays by exegetics on numerous issues.  Naturally, we cannot ignore scientific interpretation altogether; but, on the other hand, scientific knowledge is not the means by which we acknowledge the Scripture as the word of God speaking to us. We have a different context, a different framework, in which we place the Bible so that it can finally “speak” to us. Of course it is not proper to say that the things science says are incorrect, simply because we were taught that way. Again, the criteria themselves are usually based on older scientific data and are no longer valid today.  You can therefore see, just how important Western thought, Western theology, and the “precise” and “accurate” knowledge thereof are to us Orthodox. They are greatly mistaken who maintain that they are interested in the West and usually, those who make such claims are thoroughly steeped in Western thought, without realizing it at all.  All of these things therefore have to do with Ecclesiology.  I will repeat, that the key for us is the Church – it is the congregating of God’s people in a specific place and time, portraying the community of End Times; it is the gathering that is summoned by the Holy Spirit, which, every time the Church is thus summoned, the Spirit incarnates anew, every time (and therefore in a constantly re-manifested historical continuity) the Body of the historical Christ.

In this way, we have neither a denial of History, nor an attachment to History and the Past (the way the Westerner does), without the intervention of End Times. For us, the End Times “invade” History via the Holy Spirit - chiefly during the Divine Eucharist – and it is within this framework that a true meaning is given to the terms ‘priesthood’, ‘the word of God’, ‘the Holy Bible’, and the life of the Church in general.


Q.An application that is inversely proportional to the kind of congregation that the East has (which believes that the Spirit summons the Church as a gathering of the faithful):  Could it be, that precisely the denial of this congregation in the western ecclesiastic tradition had, as a result, the bishops of the West to be referred to as being “in absentia of an episcopate”?

A. – Not everyone in the West is without an episcopate.

But this possibility does exist; however, it is inconceivable for us to have a bishop who is devoid of an episcopate. He must definitely have an episcopate, whereas in the West we know that there are “assistant bishops”, “secondary bishops” etc..  This is indeed an application, so, what will the consequence be (if any) on the entire gathering of the faithful, on the entire Church? In other words, having said that the bishop is indeed the Church – wherever the bishop is, there the Church is – what consequence will this thing have, that is going on in the West?

Of course, the consequence is that the bishop might be perceived by us the way he is in the West, i.e., as an institution that pertains to one person alone. He will therefore perform certain offices, he will have sanctifying and other abilities and energies, which somehow “emanate” from himself only, because he alone has received them and he has stored them within himself, and he brings them out to use them.  This is of course the perception in the West, and the sacraments there become canals - channels so to speak – of Grace, which flows through those persons.  This is why a clergyman who is defrocked in the Roman Catholic church will continue to be a minister.

For the Orthodox East, the bishop unites a community.  This community may be nonexistent at present, for various historical reasons as is for example Keryneia, in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus today.  And yet, we have a bishop of Keryneia, who was ordained after the occupation of that territory by the Turks and continues to be bishop of Keryneia without actually living in Keryneia and without his flock being in Keryneia either.  We have many such cases in Constantinople also, and in the episcopates of Asia Minor etc.  Ecclesiastically speaking they are legitimate, because these are bishops who have become impoverished on account of historical situations. They are bishops “rightfully”, of a “formerly glorious” episcopate.  This term, “formerly glorious”, has nothing to do with historical reality, and this in a way is Western.  But the other term is not Western. For us, unlike the Roman Catholics most of the time, the bishop is not unrelated to a certain community, even if historical circumstances are peculiar. I imagine that in Cyprus, the Church will not easily agree that Keryneia is stricken off the Map. She will provide bishops of Keryneia who will not be able to go to Keryneia, but that is not important.  Those who have overdone it – and unfortunately they are not Westerners (but as we have said, the West is a phenomenon which permeates everywhere, without our realizing it) – are the pre-Chalcedonians, who have bishops, without any reference to an episcopate. They have bishop so-and-so with a religious education; bishop so-and-so for external affairs (just like you have a minister for the exterior, they similarly have a bishop for external affairs, a bishop for education etc., without any link whatsoever to an episcopate.  Of course these are all emanations of the Western perception that high priesthood, just as priesthood, is acquired by a person without any reference to the community.  And – I repeat - they all spring from the purely historical and Christological approach: i.e., these things were delivered by Christ Himself; the Apostle took them, and gave them to his successor, and he in turn to his successor, etc.  They as persons receive them. But if we place the Holy Spirit as the composing factor of the Church (as a community, which it is); as the factor that assembles the community, then we see that things cannot be otherwise. This is why, for us, ordination takes place within the sacrament of the divine Eucharist, and does not constitute a separate ritual.

Q.- I am under the impression that this rejection of Pneumatology is directly linked to the phenomenon of secularization (and in the East of course).  But could we perhaps ask you, on this basis, to tell us what sort of interpretation you give to the fact that in the West there prevails a historical urge (and a pressing one, quite often) as to why there should be a historical origin, which also aims at (and rescues us from) the danger of hypostasizing the “things unseen” – the things of an inconceivable future? 

R. – As we have said, historically, we can discern how the Western spirit is indeed born with these peculiarities. We see this in Tertullian, where we can trace the first displays of the Western spirit, the way it appears (clearly, I believe) as compared to the Christianity of Northern Africa and Rome in the 2nd century. That is where these phenomena are observed; not as much in Rome, as –chiefly- in Northern Africa. This mentality was then transferred into Rome. Naturally this was the strictly historical framework. But if you wanted to look for a more profound interpretation, I would give the same interpretation that I’d give when interpreting our own (acquired through influences) narcissism, when it comes to our own historical past.

History satisfies a psychological need for security. Its objective data withdraws the responsibility from the person – a responsibility that is always an adventure, and you never know where it will lead you. This is often what Westerners claim; for example, with regard to our Synods, they say: “where is the authority of your synods? Where does it begin and where does it end?” And when we tell them about our accepting a conciliar decision in the fullness of the Church etc., they say: “but all this leads you to a thorough uncertainty; whereas I am certain!  It was instituted by the synod, that’s why I know it is correct!”  In this way, the Westerner retracts his personal responsibility and acquires certainty from an objective event.  Just as a Protestant – especially a fundamentalist – will take God’s word verbatim, since it was said by the authority of the Apostle Paul. All these therefore have a psychological reverberation, because they provide a sense of security, and Man always seeks security. As for the West, it has always had this characteristic of objectivizing everything, for two reasons: to feel secure, and to be able to use it for formulating institutions, which I believe are in the blood of Western man.  If they do not institutionalize, if they do not make use of something, or, from the moment that they do make use of it, they regard it as offering them nothing – that it no longer has any meaning. In other words, only if a faith can offer something – be it something sentimental or institutional or something for improving society, or moral, or something else – only then is it considered trustworthy. This is how the criterion of rejection and acceptance takes shape: depending on how useful something is.

It is my belief that Western man has always been characterized for this tendency of his, and I cannot put all the blame on the Franks. This tendency of the western mentality to institutionalize things so that they produce results is far older than the Frankish era; it was the way that the roman state had made progress and had put together that edifice of legislation - the organizing, that no-one was able to surpass. This also was the way that the Roman Catholic church actually survived throughout the centuries and continues to be so powerful with its institutions. We Orthodox actually depend on the Holy Spirit even in the Liturgy, which constitutes -par excellence- the eschatological event that “invades” History. What I am trying to say is that the explanation probably lies there: the Western spirit has always sought a sense of security, utilitarianism and effectiveness, which, however, in order to yield, presupposes a conception by the mind, objectifying, analysis and institutionalizing.

Q. – You just mentioned the word “objectify”. Berdiaeff had spent many years of his life to tell us that truth is not the objective reality in the realm of objects, which is what is observed in the roman catholic and the Marxist dogma.  In other words, it appears –according to what we are saying- that Christianity in the West was objectified and in a certain way, the secularizing of the conception of Christianity is precedent, as something stable and finalized.  In other words, first comes the apostle as a secularized institution and then comes the apostle as a charismatic presence.

A. – That is correct. You see how interesting these things are and yet they have not been studied, because even the Byzantine state was a continuation of the roman one, except that things changed from that point on. It is more than obvious that the West with the Franks had changed and had taken on the non-Byzantine form of the roman state, which is characterized by all these things. But, as you correctly pointed out, of course Christianity did not introduce secularization; it found it already in place; it, too, was merely subjected to it in the West and the consequences continue to be apparent.

Q. – Certain Protestants perform sacraments, but I would like to ask you: how, and in what sense, do they perform them?

R. – They too vary amongst themselves, with regard to the meaning and to the way that they perform them. But for all of them, it is still just a commemoration of the past. The eschatological element, the portrayal of the End Time events, the foretasting of the eschatological feast is nonexistent. To them, it is a commemoration which, for some signifies that whatever happened during the Last Supper is reoccurring to a certain extent, while for others – for most others – whatever happened during the Last Supper is merely a symbolism without any content. Anyway, what matters to them is what took place during that Last Supper, and that is the Western aspect.  Apart from this, we have expressions in the Hellene Fathers that could also scandalize. Cyril of Alexandria and others, like Saint Basil, in his Liturgy, say that the Gifts are “copies” of the Body and the Blood of Christ. Words like these can give the impression that we similarly have a viewpoint like that of Protestantism. We do not have a symbolism, but we also do not have a problem with what happens if certain elements etc. change or not. What counts for us, is that what we have at that moment is an eschatological event, during which the eschatological reality becomes an actual presence, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and in fact through the energy of the Holy Spirit – which is why the invocation of the Holy Spirit is so important for the Orthodox. Consequently, the Gifts actually bear inside them the presence of Christ; they actually are “this very Body and this very Blood” of Christ. How this can be, etc., we Orthodox do not bother to examine.

Q. – With regard to the divine Eucharist being the depiction of End Times: Can we now say that the phrase has been completed, about it not simply being an image – which means it merely symbolizes something – but that it is an actual foretasting of eschatological events; that they are being experienced and not just symbolized?  The term “image” is of course a word that needs to be explained.

A. - Precisely. So, how do we interpret the image of End Times, and if possible, can we say what its characteristics are, in the Divine Eucharist?  What does the Church experience with the Eucharist? What are the End Times? How are they realized within History?  Why is the laity asked to transform the world when they return to it, after the enacting (NOT the “end”) of the Divine Liturgy?  What is it that the Church has a taste of, during the Divine Eucharist?

First of all, this portrayal of the eschatological events is not symbolical; it is real – it can be tasted, it is an experience that primarily consists of that event per se, and the way in which the Church congregates.  It is a congregation that is not a product of coercion, but of free will. Consequently, it is not dependent on exclusive associations, the way that biological and social associations are. This is why it is so important for the Divine Eucharist to not be performed, for example, for children only. This would be a complete distortion of the Divine Eucharist.  The Eucharist is that which gathers together all ages and all professions. Man needs to overcome these divisions and contrasts that nature and society impose - for example, poor, rich, coloreds, whites, etc.  You cannot perform the Eucharist only for white people as they do in South Africa, and in America in the past. It has appeared with us also – the phenomenon of performing Liturgies for children, for students, for scientists of various specialties, etc.  On the contrary, the foretaste of the Eucharist is the transcending of all natural, biological, social etc. divisions. This is no small matter. It is the portrayal of End Times, because it is only during End Times that will we have overcome such divisions. And of course, death is essentially yet another aspect of this division that we have, because of our biological and social existence. But still, having overcome all of these things, this is where the portrayal is still incomplete. We are still waiting for the resurrection of our bodies, so that the reality will be complete. But we do foretaste it, by transcending these differences, which are interwoven –as we said- with death and corruption. This, therefore, is no symbolism; it is an experience. This is why the Church must preserve the Eucharist as a proper experience, and not alter it with various things, like the ones we mentioned. And naturally, all these things are done in the name of the historical Christ and the historical Christ is present, but He is present as Risen in the Spirit; we do NOT have a repetition of the Last Supper.  I have thought of one day writing something that I will call “The theology or the Ecclesiology of Forms” – those forms that we are constantly altering, for example during the moment of the Koenonikon when we are receiving Holy Communion, we now chant (and this is a newly introduced thing) “….Thy Secret Supper…”.  Why is it “Thy Secret Supper?” Of course, if we were to comprehend it in the eschatological sense of a secret supper, then yes. This hymn indeed has an eschatological significance, yet many take it as a remembrance. That is why the Church, in Her rubric, this form of Koenonikon is foreseen only for Great Thursday. The Koenonikon of all other Sundays is “praise the Lord, from the heavens”. All these are eschatological elements. In other words, the eschatological state is being created.

I remember, when I had gone to the Holy Mountain some years ago, in one of my first visits there, I had observed this tradition there – of chanting the Supplication during the Koenonikon – and I did not know how that came to be inserted. Anyway, I expressed my surprise and discussed it with the Prior and some others in one of the very good monasteries, which resulted in this tradition being changed – a tradition which proved to have originated from the previous century.  You simply cannot chant “….from my many sins my body is ailing, and ailing also is my soul….”, and carry all this depression into the most joyous and majestic eschatological moment of Holy Communion, where the hymn of “Praise ye the Lord, from the heavens, Hallelujah” is more appropriate. There can be no hymn more triumphant than “Hallelujah”.

The essence, therefore, is that we Orthodox see “portrayal” as an experience and a foretasting of End Times, and not of the Past.  This portrayal (and perhaps this is the most important point in the question) is a matter that pertains to the overall event of the congregation and not just what the clergyman does or what I do separately as an individual. The very fact that I go to Church, that I take my place, that I stand somewhere, all these are a part of that portrayal of End Times. The congregating of God’s people is a basic eschatological element. It exists in the New Testament; it is the expectation of the Hebrews, which Christ fully realized in His Person. And in the New Testament also – especially in the Gospel according to John – there is a mention of the gathering of everyone in Christ, in the sense, precisely, that when the Last Day arrives, the Day of the Messiah, the Son of Man, “everyone shall gather together, from the ends of the earth”. And the term “shall gather together” was then the perception that they would gather together in Jerusalem, because Christ had also told them: “wait until I return to Jerusalem.”  Jerusalem was finally destroyed in 70 AD, and gradually, the concept of “Jerusalem” began, even before it was transferred to the Divine Eucharist, in the sense of the Upper – the New Jerusalem. In the Book of Revelation, we have precisely that picture of the Upper or New Jerusalem. Upper Jerusalem is exactly the depiction – the way we have it in Revelation – of the Divine Eucharist. A basic, therefore, element, is the congregation. Therefore that is where we start from; we do not start from what happens. Quite often they ask how we should go to the Divine Eucharist – how we should be prepared psychologically, how we should not go there in a tired state or in a bad mood etc. But what counts is our actually going there. It seems odd, in our westernized thought, to want everything to go through psychology and the mind. It is by going, that you compose the Church; that is the way God’s people gather together. And so what, if you are in a bad mood? Well, basically, you cannot be in a good mood every day. But neither can divine Grace, nor the divine Eucharist ever be affected by your mood!

Q. – What about the moment that laity does not respond with “Amen”? 

A. – From the moment it does not say “Amen”, all the things we see around us happen. In other words, the meaning of laity is rendered useless. And we have indeed reached the point of saying – as the westerners do and the newspapers claim – that “the Church has decided” and by that, imply the bishops.

Q. – We have said and we know at least, that we anticipate the resurrection of the dead; we live in anticipation of End Times.  Will the end of Time come, because we anticipate it, because we yearn for it, or will it be an objective event on the part of God? In other words, will the end of Time come, independently of our intervention, regardless of our will, independently of our freedom?

A. – The end of Time will come, because Christ came, and because Christ rose from the dead.

Q. – Doesn’t that constitute a compulsory situation? A necessity?

A. – It does not constitute a compulsory situation, because Christ freely brought the End into History. For us, it does not constitute a compulsory situation, as long as we come together at the divine Eucharist, which is the free foretasting of the End Times. If the Church were a biological event, a congregation, a relationship like the biological ones, where a mother has to necessarily love her child and the child its mother, then it would have been a relationship imposed by nature. But here, nature does not impose anything; not nature, not society, not anything. Of course, quite often, social elements may also infiltrate (we do go to Church for those reasons also); however, we essentially go freely – nobody actually forces us to go to Church. Therefore, if you take the matter gravely that you are going to Church and you interpret it as a foretaste of an eschatological event, then you will indeed feel that you are being forced. The end of Time is certainly coming; it will most certainly come; you of course will not be the one to bring it on, but it will come freely as far as you are concerned (because you can quite easily say that you want nothing to do with this eschatological matter that Christ is bringing); but even so, the end will come, however it will no longer be in its positive form for you - only in its negative one: your undergoing final judgment.

Q. – Doesn’t this somehow relativize, or rather, negate the perception that we might return to the pre-Creational Nil? 

A. – The fact that Christ Rose from the dead does, indeed, hinder us from saying that Nil will eventually subjugate, or take over the world. But for those who freely do not accept the Resurrection, I have my reservations. I cannot regard absolute death as absolutely irrelevant to nil – to the return to the pre-Creational Nil.  Consequently, one could say that somehow, my freedom plays a role in whether I shall return or not to the pre-Creational Nil. But, “my” freedom – as an individual Adam – does not decide whether all of Creation will return to Nil.  With his freedom, the first Adam (given that he was a collective one) dragged all of Creation down with him. With death (which came with the Fall), we no longer have that collective Adam; we now have individual Adams, and subsequently, they are unable to determine the fate of overall Creation. The one and “catholic” (=overall) Adam is now Christ, the ultimate Adam, “so that just as everyone dies in Adam, thus everyone in Christ is vitalized”.  Christ as the ultimate Adam influences all of Creation, but without depriving the freedom of each individual Adam. We presently have an Adam that is splintered into many pieces: you, me, the other person, all of us are in a condition that splinters the human essence. And that is where the difference lies, between what influences the freedom of one individual and what influences the freedom of the “catholic” (=overall), the ultimate Adam, who is Christ.

I think that there is a certain difficulty, precisely in describing the ultimate, the hindmost, in its purely existential dimension, because we cannot see its gnosiological texture. It is a “now” which is more “now” than “now”; it is an event that establishes the par excellence act of an external, existential, all-embracing knowledge of the being, of the occurring and of History.

This is the gnosiological aspect of the matter, which, however, is not the only one, nor is it the determining one I would say, because one can lack this awareness of “now” or of the end events gnosiologically. The gnosiological aspect is only one aspectThe one who goes to Church experiences the ultimate events, without however developing his awareness. Even a child who has no idea what is going on when it goes there, is also experiencing the events of the end, without comprehending them gnosiologically.

Q.Does the child feel this?

A. – Feel? I dont know what that means. Perhaps it does. If you broaden the meaning of gnosiology even more, then perhaps you can say that indeed, everyone “feels” and everyone “knows”.  I have a few difficulties there. Gnosiology is rather limited – it demands a certain noetic energy, which definitely cannot be done in the case of children or the mentally underdeveloped. We have these instances also. We cannot exclude them from the ultimate events, simply because their gnostic receptor is not developed.

Q.You said that for the Westerners, the Church is built by Christ only, leaving out the Holy Spirit.  Could this perhaps not have such an impact on Ecclesiology?   

A. – I think we already went over that point, but I will repeat the basics, i.e., that it is one thing for the Holy Spirit to act retroactively on Christ, and another thing for Christ to have been born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin; i.e., to have an identity. Therefore, since He is born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin, this is definitely a specific situation, a case of communion with others. We have the one and the many simultaneously; consequently, this will also shape a different kind of Christology, respectively.

Q. – At one point you said that the sermon should have a liturgical character.  I have certain reservations on that point: what do we mean by “liturgical character” and with what criteria is this judged?  What is it, that drastically differentiates the study of the Holy Bible – or better still, the sermon in Church – from every other study of the Holy Bible in any other congregation?  After all, even the sermon that we hear in Church is something that was composed earlier on, by a priest or a preacher sitting at his desk.

A. – Correct. It is not easy for one to say what this liturgical style is, what its liturgical character is, because it is also not easy to deliver a correct sermon. This is difficult, for a sermon that you are preparing in your office – although you can of course prepare it in your office, “transporting” yourself in a way into the atmosphere of the Liturgy. What is important is to be “transported” into the atmosphere of the Liturgy. A lot of work is required, to see how we can compose a sermon so that it will be Liturgical in mien. Because it is not just a matter of what you are going to say. There are many who suggest that we explain the Liturgy. That is not the point. The point is to insert in the corps of the sermon those dimensions (I will say this once again) that the End Times community will have; to insert those dimensions of transcendence and of exclusivity and of death; to somehow give the listener the hope and the certainty of eternal life.

Because that is what the Liturgy strives to do. The entire Liturgy prepares the faithful for a taste of transcending death.  One can now understand why, when departing from a sermon, one says “we must be good, we must do this, we must do that, on abortions, etc…”. Anyway, you can say these things per se, if you actually link them to the problem of transcending death and to a hope for the events of the future.  Give the other person a tragic picture of things – even if only to begin with – show him the impasse that man’s existence can reach, but don’t leave him there, because everything in the Liturgy speaks of transcending the impasses. Prepare that person, so that he can afterwards accept that transcendence which is –par excellence- Holy Communion.  However, this needs extensive analysis, and a huge effort. It is no easy thing, to deliver an Orthodox sermon.

Q.Finally, the question is posed as to how successful a sermon is, when it is closely tied to contemporary problems and is limited to just them, or, to what extent should it be limited?  We must not forget its objective, which is the same, throughout time.

A. – Correct.  To not remain unaware of problems may not be a bad thing, but to remain glued to those problems, or to strive to give ethical solutions to problems is wrong.  Unfortunately, that is what all sermons do: they pinpoint the problems and then they start with the “must this” and the “must that”… But the message of the Liturgy is not an ethical one. The message of the Liturgy is an ontological one. You must make Man stand before the impasses and the change in the way he lives – the point of reference being God’s way of living, which one finally tastes by partaking of the Divine Eucharist. This is no easy task.  At least, however, with the sermon, we do not entirely disorient people from the ultimate state of events and confine them to only the secular issues.  We need to pay attention to this point.

Q. In the Orthodox Tradition, what place does the institution of preachers have?

A. – This is somewhat difficult to reply to.  The institution itself exists in the Orthodox Tradition, but it is my belief that it has no place within the Eucharist - within the liturgical framework.  You need to know the following historical information.  In the ancient Church, the sermon was always delivered apart from the divine Eucharist. In Alexandria, congregations for Bible study took place on Wednesdays and Fridays, and all the Patristic homilies were recited in the framework of those congregations, which usually took place along with Vespers or some other Service, but not within the Divine Eucharist itself. Nor do we see any relative reference, in any liturgical manuscript.  We would have known it, if things were indeed the way they are today, i.e., that this is the point at which the sermon is delivered. Nowhere do we find any such historical testimony. The sermon is NOT a part of the divine Liturgy.  The fact that many people claim that if we don’t have a sermon, the Liturgy itself is not proper, is a result of the pressure that the Protestants had placed on us.  HARNACK had accused us simply of being a “community of worship”, which led Balanos to write a book, “Why the Orthodox Church is not a community of worship”, in lieu of an apology for Harnack, that we too have sermons; that we too have this and that…. And we have since developed a conscience that we must have them, only so that we might not be accused of not having them.  I believe that a layperson can preach, but in a non-Eucharist framework.  However, if a sermon is delivered therein, it must absolutely be related to the overall event of the Liturgy, whose head is, of course, the Officiator.  Even I, as a layperson, whenever I was asked to preach, would refuse to do so, for that reason alone: because I felt as though a foreign object would be interjected in the Liturgy.  And in the ancient Church, when Origen would begin to preach – you all know the episode with Demetrius of Alexandria – he immediately provoked an objection: “Who ever heard of a layperson speaking, in the presence of a bishop?!” he had exclaimed.  Naturally, he was not referring to the presence of a bishop inside some ordinary room; it was in reference to the presence of an officiating bishop, in the Divine Eucharist.


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Transcript into Greek: Erasmia Papaioannou

Proof reading (Greek): Stavros Yagazoglou

Typing (Greek): Í. Ñ.

Webpage format: N. M.

Translation by A. N.


Article published in English on: 8-5-2007.

Last update: 8-5-2007.