|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Ecumenism|
By Rev. Ierotheos of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios
From the audio recording of a homily delivered at the Inter-Orthodox Convention in Thessaloniki, «Ecumenism : Genesis-Expectations-Disprovals» (20-24 September 2004).
Transcript by: Th. A.
The subject that I have undertaken to expound in your beloved presence is “Ecumenism in practice”. By ‘practice’, I mean in theology and in implementation.
It is well known, that the Orthodox Church is (and is called) “Ecumenical”, because it is widespread, throughout the whole world, and because it possesses the ‘catholic’ (Greek=whole) truth. However, the term ‘Ecumenical’ is joined to the term ‘Catholic’ given that we confess in the Symbol of Faith (Creed), that the Church is “One, Holy, Catholic (whole) and Apostolic”. But, the term “Ecumenical” is not related to the term “Ecumenist”, hence there is a vast difference between the “Ecumenical Church” and the so-called “Ecumenist Church”, since the latter is discerned by the so-called, familiar principles of Ecumenism.
In other words, briefly, there are several theories on this issue that characterize Ecumenism, as for example a first theory, the so-called “branch theory”; another theory of Ecumenism is called “baptismal theology”; there is also a theory that expresses Ecumenism, called “conciseness”, and also “inter-Christian dogmatic concretism”, and the so-called “inter-religious concretism”.
It is obvious that with theories like these, attempts are being made to create an Ecumenist Church; in reality, this is a means that aspires to expressing a dogmatic minimalism and a relativizing of the Orthodox Faith, and naturally, the revelatory truth of Christ will eventually be rescinded, even though it continues to reside within the Orthodox Church and constitutes the true Body of Christ and the Communion of Theosis.
To continue, after bypassing all the above, I would like to bring an important point to your attention, which is that Ecumenism is being experienced in practice within the Orthodox Church, unobtrusively, by many, initially through a uniform theology, then through uniform ascetic living, both of which are basically not orthodox, hesychastic or patristic; instead, they are rather scholastic, intellectualist and moralistic.
1) Ecumenism in theology
The theology of the Orthodox Church, as compared to Papism and Protestantism, differs in certain basic points, both in the method of their theologizing as well as their respective outcomes.
Orthodox theology is the theology of the Prophets, the Apostles, the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils (Synods); it is the hesychastic theology that is empirical and revelatory, it is the participation in the Uncreated Grace of God. On the other hand, papist theology is scholastic, its core consisting of logic and cogitation. The same thing applies, in the difference between the Orthodox Church and Protestantism.
When I refer to Ecumenism in theology, I mean that these two theologies (Orthodox and heterodox theology) are muddled, inasmuch as they may presuppose the same methodology, have the same perspective and the same principles, yet they differ, specifically in regard to the cross-references that are used in theological essays. This is basically being pointed out, from the aspect that the Patristic texts are interpreted through the analyses of westerners, papists and Protestants. However, the interpretational criteria that the orthodox tradition of our Church has, are ignored. Certain theologians like these make broader use of heterodox interpretations, and they afterwards attempt to locate Patristic excerpts that might express a similar perspective. Therefore, we continue to have the same interpretational perspective, patristically reinforced, but without examining the different interpretational frameworks that the Fathers of our Church had taken into consideration.
At this point, mention should be made of certain indicative examples that have been located, of which I am not the sole presenter. Certain theologians interpret Christ’s words “so that they all may be one” (John 17:21) – which are included in His prelatic prayer – as supposedly referring to the future unity of the churches. They use these words profusely, as evidence that Christ was foretelling that all Christian confessions would acquire unity amongst themselves in the future, thus composing the “one” church. This of course implied that the Church is presently split up. The orthodox interpretation of these words is different. If one reads the entire text of the prelatic prayer carefully, one will see that the phrase “so that they all may be one” is undeniably linked to the other phrases therein, such as: “as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You” (John 17:21) and the phrase “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:23); and also in another phrase, “that they may behold My glory which You have given Me” (John 17:24). It is evident here, that Christ is referring to the unity of the Apostles in the theory (=“viewing”) of the glory of God - in the presence of the uncreated Light - which took place on the day of the Pentecost, because it was exactly then, that the Apostles also acquired an essential unity between themselves. Thus, all of those Saints in history who attained theosis and theory of the uncreated Light, acquire unity with the Apostles, and they have the same faith as those, thus actualizing the words of Christ “so that they all may be one”.
Other theologians introduce into the Orthodox Faith the western, perennial perception of a deeper understanding and better fathoming of the dogmas of the Church, as well as the revelatory truth. This was introduced by papist theologians, in order to justify their deviation from the teaching of the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils (Synods), and the inclusion of new (papist) dogmas. It stands to reason that a lot of logic and rumination would be required here, in order to comprehend dogmatic teaching. However, patristic teaching on this matter tells us that revelation was given only once, on the day of the Pentecost, when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit and acquired “every knowledge”. A characteristic passage is that of Jude, the Brother of Christ: “I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude, v.3). When those who have attained theosis (this term is mentioned in all the patristic texts, beginning from Saint Dionysius the Areopagite and in all pursuant Fathers) through catharsis and enlightenment, reaching the theory (“viewing”) of the uncreated Light, and thus becoming participants in the Pentecost, that is when they are truly experiencing the same faith as the Apostles. We can see this, in the epistles of Paul the Apostle, since he too acquired the same experience as the Apostles, when he “viewed” Christ in His glory (Matthew 25:31), received the Holy Spirit, and became an Apostle of Jesus Christ. Consequently, revelatory tradition is not comprehended in more depth as time goes by; it is achieved through the saints of every era, who have reached the experience of the Pentecost, and have expressed the Truth with the appropriate terms of their era, confronting the heretics of their time.
Other theologians believe that theology is linked to metaphysics, which is a viewpoint of western theology and tradition, according to which there exist the “natural” and the “supernatural”, between which there is a supposed correlation. This is the so-called ontology, the theory of Plato and classical metaphysics : the contemplative analogy, as it is called by Saint Gregory Palamas, a theory which of course is not accepted by the holy Fathers. The “analogia entis” and the “analogia fidei” does not resound any orthodox Christian teaching. The Fathers of the Church do not speak of the “physical” or the “metaphysical”; only of the “created” and the “uncreated”, and that the uncreated energy of God acts accordingly in all creation. Consequently, there can be no mention of linking metaphysics with orthodox theology, since orthodox theology is (on the one hand) the revelatory word pertaining to God, and (on the other hand) it is that which indicates the means of man’s healing, in order for him to also attain the “viewing” of the uncreated Light, by the person of the Logos.
Other theologians, when ruminating, speak of a “communion of persons” in the Holy Trinity. It is on this viewpoint, that they strive to justify many other disintegrated, theological, anthropological and unfortunately even social, theories. But, the Fathers of the Church do not speak of a “communion between persons” in the Holy Trinity, but a communion between the Nature and the Essence. In the persons of the Holy Trinity, there are the “common” and the “non-common” elements. The “common” elements of the Holy Trinity are the nature, the essence, the energy, since the Father makes His essence common to the Son and the Holy Spirit, while the “non-common” elements are the hypostatic characteristics of each Person of the Holy Trinity, i.e.: the Father’s (Who is ‘unborn’), the Son’s (Who is ‘born’), and the Holy Spirit’s (Who “proceeds from”). Besides, the persons of the Holy Trinity do not comprise the means of existence for the “essence by nature”, as inappropriately claimed; the hypostatic peculiarities are the individual characteristics of each person’s hypostasis.
Furthermore, other theologians partially accept the western –Aquinatian- perception regarding created energies in God. They believe that in God, there are not only uncreated energies but also certain created energies, by which God comes into contact with the world. A perception such as this, is in direct conflict with the entire biblical-patristic tradition, which accepts that since the essence is uncreated, so must the energies be. If man came in contact with God through created energies, then he would never be able to be saved.
And other theologians transfer into the Orthodox Church the western viewpoint that the sources of our faith are two: the Holy Bible and Sacred Tradition. Of course nobody doubts the value of the Holy Bible and Tradition. But, the orthodox, patristic teaching on this point is that the source of faith is revelation, which is given to the “god-viewing” Prophets, Apostles and Fathers (“the unexpressed words” (Corinthians II, 12:4) that are experienced by “god-viewers” according to the revelatory experience), which “ineffable words” are subsequently transferred through expressible words and meanings, in order to guide their spiritual children to likewise reach the personal experience of revelatory theology. In this sense, the Holy Bible is not “the word of God”; it is only “the word pertaining to the Logos of God”.
Furthermore, other theologians speak of a “mystical union” between the various confessions, also of a recognition of certain sacraments of other confessions, even though there is a difference in the theology between them. However, in patristic tradition, the Church, Orthodoxy and the Divine Eucharist are interlinked and related, and the one cannot be considered independent of the others.
A theory similar to the above one, is also the theory that is being developed regarding the Kingdom of God; i.e., that the Kingdom of God is the Divine Liturgy and the participation of the faithful in it. Most assuredly, the Divine Liturgy constitutes the epicenter of ecclesiastic life and no-one can doubt this point; the problem however is, when the participation of the faithful in the Divine Liturgy takes place unconditionally, in other words, when the Divine Eucharist is disconnected from orthodox Hesychasm. And the bigger problem arises, when the teaching on the Kingdom of God touches upon institutional situations and the physical presence of Christians in the Divine Liturgy and the patristic tradition regarding the Kingdom of God (as expressed by Saint Simeon the New Theologian and Saint Gregory Palamas – that the Kingdom of God is the theory/beholding of the uncreated Light in the hypostasis of the Logos) is disregarded. Therefore, it is not about a ‘created’ reality, nor a typical participation in a liturgical event, but an experiencing of the mystery of the Pentecost, or, a god-viewing theosis. And that is the Pentecost: it is not just the ordination, because we have heard in many ordinations of bishops that “today I experienced the Pentecost”. Therefore, it is the experiencing of the mystery of the Pentecost, only after the experience of the cathartic and enlightening energy of God.
These issues are familiar, and have been developed in general by the memorable father John Romanides and other orthodox theologians, amongst whom are numbered the (presently participating) protopresbyters, father George Metallinos, father Theodore Zisis, and many others whom I see and continue to pursue their writings.
Then there are other theologians, who strive to -and persist in- seeing common points of reference in every religious system, without detecting their differences. However, there may be common points of religious experience in every denomination; that doesn’t mean that they all express and formulate the same teaching and theology. If the different frameworks (in which that religious experience belongs) is not examined, it will mean that an Ecumenism is being experienced.
There are yet others, who maintained –fortunately in older times- that the Fathers of the Church chiefly pursued the Platonic philosophy (whereas the heretics were using the Aristotelian philosophy); that western scholasticism is the continuation –apparently- of the scholasticism of the Fathers of the Church, in other words, that it is a development and a surpassing of the scholastic tradition that the Orthodox Church –supposedly- possessed; that Thomas Aquinatus was supposedly influenced by the Fathers of the Church (this is upheld in a scientific study). The only difference being that he – Thomas Aquinatus – used Aristotelian philosophy by combining Aristotle with the neo-Platonist Augustine, thus composing (so they said) a “magnificent theological-philosophical system”, while the Fathers of the Church (so they said) were chiefly Platonic; that the theological “summa” by Thomas Aquinatus, which was his perfect theological system, had –supposedly- been influenced by the Fathers of the Church (and they actually specified them as Saint John the Damascene and Vasileios the Great) and that this theology of Thomas Aquinatus, as this theological “summa” is called, influenced other, pursuant Father of the Orhtodox Church. These views are unacceptable from the orthodox standpoint, since patristic theology is a theology of experiences, and has nothing to do with the scholastic theology of the west, whose core is comprised of logic and ruminations.
It is my opinion that all of these aspects of western tradition that are being transferred into the theology of the Orthodox Church, constitute Ecumenism in theology.
2) Ecumenism in ascesis (1)
Ascesis, according to the orthodox teaching of the Church, is a necessary prerequisite for the experiencing of God “by the senses and intelligence”, as Saint Diadochos of Fotiki says. And when man finally acquires the existential cognizance of God, then, afterwards, this experience is formulated in words. All religions and all religious systems have their own practices, as do –to a certain level- the heterodox confessions; however, practice in orthodox theology is clearly different to any other practice. The Fathers of the Church who express the ecclesiastic ethos as undeviating teachers, recorded the truth that practice is man’s path from catharsis of the heart to the enlightenment of the mind and then to the partaking in theosis. We see this very clearly in the Philokalia books (better known as “Philokalia of the Blessed Neptic Fathers”, wherein “the mind, through practice and moral philosophy, is cleansed and perfected.” This is about the three stages of spiritual life, which we see mentioned in the chapters that Saint Simeon the New Theologian wrote, also in Saint Gregory Palamas and other Fathers. In reality, “ascesis” is the partaking of the energy of God, which energy is partaken, depending on the spiritual state that the person is in. If a person is overwhelmed by his passions and vices and repents, then the uncreated energy of God cleanses him and is thus called cathartic energy. If a person is in the state of enlightenment, then divine grace will shed light on him, and it is then called illuminating energy. And if he is in the state of theosis, it will brace him and increment him in theosis, and it is then known as deifying or perfecting energy. It is clearly obvious that God’s energy takes on different names, according to the results that it creates, since ‘energy’ is one thing and ‘act’ is another.
There are certain contemporary theologians who maintain that the teaching of the Fathers of the Church on the subject of catharsis, enlightenment and theosis, exactly as expounded in their texts, in the hymnography of the Church and the benedictions of the sacraments, has –supposedly- been influenced by Neo-Platonic views. This is not true, because Neo-Platonism is a philosophical system that was developed between the 2nd and 6th centuries, in the attempt by certain idolatrous philosophers to revive Platonism, according to the needs of that era. It was the final philosophical movement of the ancient Hellenic world, which definitely contained religious elements. It was to be expected, that Neo-Platonism received negative or positive reactions from Christianity (and especially the heretics), from Gnosticism and the oriental religions, so that reference was eventually made, of an “easternizing” of Platonic thought.
Neo-Platonism originally appeared in Alexandria, through Ammonius Sakkas, who, although originating from Christian parents, returned to the national religion and taught Neo-Platonism around 209 A.D. However, the principle representative of Neo-Platonism was Plautinus, who was a student of Ammonius and who brought this system to Rome. Plautinus’ views and biography was preserved by Porphyrios, as well as Iamvlichos –Porphyrios’ pupil. There were many schools that taught and developed Neo-Platonism; these schools had common points between them, but also differences. There wsa theNeo-Platonic school of Rome, whose chief representative was Plautinus and Porphyrios; the Neo-Platonic school of Syria, whose chief representative was Iamvlichos; the Neo-Platonic school of Athens, whose chief representative was Proklos, and the Neo-Platonic school of Alexandria. The basic theories expressed by Plautinus and the pursuant Neo-Platonists, were the teachings pertaining to the creation of beings and the world through effluence (=flowing out of). Plautinus posed two basic questions: 1) “Where do beings come from?” (This was his ontology and cosmology) and 2) “Where are they headed?” (this pertained to Plautinus’ ethics).
With regard to the first question, “Where do beings come from?”, Plautinus and the subsequent Neo-Platonians supported the theory that there is an effluence or a radiating from the One towards the many. The supreme source, from which everything originated, is the “One”. After that, is the “mind” which is the core of all ideas, which ‘mind’ came from the effluence of the “One” and constitutes the image and the outflow of the “One” and is interwoven with it. Both the “One” and the “mind” are hypostases, according to Plautinus. The “soul” was then the outflow of the “mind”, and contained inside it the potential for the shaping of the tangible world. With the term “soul”, they meant both the soul of the tangible world, the cosmic soul, as well as the soul of a human being. The “One”, the “mind” and the “soul” represent three hypostases. The last element of this descending order is “matter”.
As for the second question, “Where are they headed?”, the basic teaching of Neo-Platonism is Plato’s view that the soul is encased in the body and that the body is the soul’s prison, in which case, man’s salvation is the releasing of the soul from the body, and its return to the sphere of ideas. The Neo-Platonists –specifically Porphyrios as influenced by Plautinus- spoke of two kinds of death: the “natural” death, which was the releasing of the soul from the body, and the “philosophical” death, which was the releasing of the soul from the body, prior to “natural” death, through “theurgy” which consisted of rituals of indoctrination and “sorcery”. Hence, there are those who assert that the “neptic” teaching of the Church – as expressed by Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, Saint Maximus theConfessor, Saint Simeon the New Theologian, Saint Gregory Palamas, but also by preceding Fathers (Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Vasileios the Great etc. – was –supposedly- influenced by the teaching of Neo-Platonism. And this was because in both cases, there is the same terminology – both in their theology as well as in issues of salvation. Views like these were developed by western theologians and were transferred precisely into our realm. But things are not as simple as they might first seem. The three hypostases of Neo-Platonism: “One”, “Mind”, “soul”, have nothing to do with the Christian Triunal God of the Christian Church, as expounded by the Holy Fathers. This is because in orthodox theology we do not accept the metaphysics and the principle of this ideology, and of course the creation of the world by “effluence”.
Then, as observed, there is a common terminology in the attempt to unite man with God, such as the terms “mind”, “soul”, “saving the soul”, “catharsis”, “ecstasy”, “enlightenment”, etc.. But let’s examine the meaning of these terms in the teachings of Neo-Platonism and compare them with the theology of the Church, in order to see the chasm that exists between Neo-Platonism and the orthodox neptic theology of our Church. Orthodox neptic theology and tradition has nothing to do with the Neo-Platonist theories, “ on the immortal by nature soul”, which has to return to the sphere of ideas, and the “nature of the body” which has to be eliminated. It furthermore has nothing to do with the Neo-Platonic teaching on the salvation of mankind, i.e., that man’s salvation consists of the soul’s release from the body. Likewise, the Orthodox Church’s teachings on catharsis, enlightenment and theosis have nothing to do with man’s attempt to be united with theurgical, magical acts and rituals, as taught and practiced by Neo-Platonism, and especially by Iamvlichos.
Therefore, there really is a viewpoint in certain orthodox theologians that is attributed to the interpretations of western theologians, whereby the orthodox ascesis (as expressed by the Fathers of our Church) is –supposedly- related to the oriental mysticism of the Neo-Platonists. There is subsequently an influence also in the area of practical implementation in people’s lives, since our tradition has been permeated by the propagation of a western, moralistic and activist monkhood, with an overlooking of -and a contempt for- the Hesychastic (2) spirit of the Orthodox Church. This constitutes a practiced Ecumenism; it is a secularizing of the Orthodox Church and of Orthodox monkhood.
In conclusion, I would like to note the following, very briefly: That in some orthodox theologians, one can detect an influence by other traditions, both in theology and in ascesis. Also, that some theologians -in practice- think, theologize and pursue the same lifestyles as papists and Protestants. That is why I support that we orthodox must also examine to what degree we are detaching the sacraments of the Church from the orthodox theology of our Fathers and the orthodox ascesis that is expressed in Hesychasm.
We must look into this matter, for fear that we might be discerned as “orthodox Uniates” and “orthodox Protestants”, while simultaneously being Orthodox clergymen, monks and laity who have embraced in certain areas the dogmas and the views of Papism and Protestantism, or, have at least accepted-embraced the methodology of theologizing and the methodology of ascesis that prevail in these two confessions.
In other words, we orthodox must take care that we do not prove ourselves to be Uniates in practice, nor display any particular protestant Unia (3), by maintaining orthodox sacraments and partaking of them, yet possessing protestant theology and ascesis; in other words, living Ecumenism in practice, both in theology as well as in ascesis.
(1) Ascesis = The exercising of a rigorous, harsh, “ascetic” living, deprived of worldly comforts and pleasures, in order to focus on spiritual perfection through prayer and other spiritual practices.
(2) Hesychastic = the “quiet” and “withdrawn” way of life of hermits and recluses (hesychasts).
(3) Unia = A piece of the Papist Church, which externally observes the formalities of the Orthodox Church, thus feigning Orthodoxy, but in reality is under the Pope’s jurisdiction and is faithful to the papist dogmas.
By: Rev. Ierotheos of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios
Transcript by: Th. A.
Translation by: A. N.
Article published in English on: 8-10-2005.
Last update: 8-10-2005.