by Protopresbyter fr. George D. Metallinos Professor Emeritus of the Athens University(An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith)"THE WAY"
JESUS CHRIST : THE LIGHT AND THE HOPE OF THE WORLD
With the year 2000, Christianity completed two millennia of historical presence and witness. However, the term “Christianity” contains the reference to Jesus Christ, given that the Divine-Human was the One who salvifically “invaded” the world during a historical point in Time, changing the very course and the meaning of History. The completion of Christianity’s second millennium is not only an opportunity to celebrate it, but more importantly, an appropriate time to review the course of the Christian world and the relations of contemporary Christians with the Founder of the Church. More than anyone else, we Orthodox, who despite our sins have remained faithful to the Tradition of our Saints (who are the only authentic Christians), are called upon to confess to the world what Christ means to us, and with what conscience we have embarked upon the third millennium A.D.
Naturally, for us Orthodox, the “Year 2000” chronologically speaking can only be a date of a conventional nature, given that it has been scientifically proven that our dating is 6 or 7 years behind the actual one, given that this was nothing more than another year added to the natural flow of Time. Nor, again, will the celebration of the Birth of Christ during this year differ in any way from any other year, in the thanksgiving and the glorification that we extend to His most holy Person for the occasion. The piety of our holy Fathers has supplied us with incomparable homilies and texts, which penetrate deep within the mystery of the divine Incarnation, thus composing a pious confession of faith and hope for every Christian heart. It is with these same texts, that we confessed once again our thanks and our glorification to our Lord Jesus Christ, “lauding Him as God, throughout time”. What, then, is Christ, for us Orthodox?
1. The “Archetype” and the “Destination”
Christ is the Person of the Holy Trinity that is directly linked to the world, even before His Incarnation. He is, first of all, the Creator of all Creation. God the Father creates Creation, “by the Son, in the Holy Spirit”. The Son and the Spirit are referred to as “the hands” of the Father in the theology of our Church. The Son-Christ acted salvifically upon the world, even while “fleshless” (=prior to His Incarnation), by leading the Righteous ones (for example the Prophets) towards theosis/deification, and by preparing the world to receive His impending incarnate presence.
However, Christ is also the “archetype” and the prototype according to which Man was created. This fact is expressed by the Old Testament phrase: “in the image of God did He create him” (that is, God created Man – Genesis 1:27). According to the Apostle Paul, who had delved into the mystery of Christ more deeply than anyone else, the “image of the invisible God” is the Divine-Human Christ, Who, being the Logos of God (John 1:1), revealed the Father to the world. During Vespers of the Feast of the Holy Spirit, we chant “….by Whom we came to know the Father….”, in the words of our emperor Leon the Wise († 912); these same words remind us of the words that our Christ Himself had said: “whosoever has beheld Me, has beheld the Father” (John 14:9). In other words, whosoever discerns the divinity of Christ (theopty-sighting of God) is also discerning the divinity of the Father. According to Saint Gregory Palamas, the term “the image of” pertains to Man as a whole (both body and soul together). Furthermore, according to the blessed Chrysostom (PG 59, 694), “…the fleshy prototype of Christ was decided initially (=the Divine Man had been appointed even before Time as the prototype of Man)… and Adam was created thereafter.” Before the Incarnation, our eternal prototype had remained invisible and unfamiliar; it was with the Incarnation that our prototype became known to us; was “revealed in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16), in the Person of Christ.
Jesus Christ is simultaneously however our “destination”. He is the purpose of both our existence and our presence in the world. Man was created as a “Christ-centered” being. Mens naturaliter Christiana, as Tertullian used to say (2nd century). Man is Christian by nature; that is, he reports to Christ as his creator, his prototype and his destination. The purpose of our life is theosis-deification, and our becoming “in Christ”, through Grace; our union with God “in Christ” and through Christ. According to Saint Basil the Great, Man was created as a “summoned god”; in other words, he bears within him the commandment (of God) to become God (through Grace). This means attaining the spiritual stature of Christ, since he is called upon to become “a perfected man, with the fullness of maturity of Christ’s age” (Ephesians 4:13: to the perfected maturity, to the measure of the perfect spiritual measure of Christ).
Being Divine-Human, Christ determines the spiritual course of mankind from the very beginning of History, given that He Himself is the model and the measure of that course. He thus became the key to comprehending History and Man, and the source that gave meaning to both. Man and History are continuously coursing towards the “coming” Lord, Whom they have been encountering as Creator, Saviour, Redeemer and Benefactor, but will also encounter as Judge at the end of History, during His Second - and this time glorious - Coming.
Thus, Christ was acknowledged as being the focal point of History. He divided History, into the period preceding His Birth and the period after it. With Christ, all of pre-Christ mankind flows into Him as though into a main river, and from His Incarnation onward, with Christ as the Father of a new generation, post-Christ mankind (as the body of those saved in Christ) marks its beginning. This is the reason that His Church spreads throughout the world, “churchifying” all of mankind (Matthew 28:19); so that the entire world may be “reborn” in Christ and through Christ. Christ thus not only becomes the central point in History, but also its commencement and its “entelechy”, its purpose and its fullness. That is why Christ is linked to everything “ultimate”, as He is the finality and the fulfilment of History. “Ultimate” implies a point, beyond which nothing else is expected for one’s salvation. Beyond Christ, the true Saviour, “nothing is new under the sun”, “nothing is recent”, as the Book of Ecclesiastes (1:9) says. The “ultimate” (eschatological) element entered the world with the Incarnation of the Divine Human. That is when “Christian eschatology” began, and will be fulfilled with His Second Coming. The anticipated element for our salvation – God’s Grace – came with Christ, and it resides in His Body. “Grace and Truth have come through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
2. The “Expectation of Nations”
Jesus Christ, as the Divine-Human, is unique and incomparable, as proven by His terrestrial life. He was the only Person, Who was already known and expected, even before His appearance on History’s scene. He was the “expectation of nations” (Genesis 49:1); of the entire world, because Christ had already promised His Coming, from as early as the Fall of the “first-fashioned” humans (in the “early Gospel” of Genesis, 3:14 etc.). Thus, mankind’s nostalgia oriented itself towards the future, to the Coming of Christ, in the hope of being re-joined to Him and for its redemption. This nostalgia left a deep imprint in all of mankind, in the East and the West, but especially in the Israelites, who, in the persons of their Saints, became the “chosen people of God” – not because God is a “discriminator” (Acts 10:34), but because it was their Saints who preserved the path to theognosy (the “cognizance” of God) - the method for theosis/deification.
In the prophecies (the preachings of the Old Testament theumens), the coming of the Messiah-Christ into the world is so intense and certain, that His opus is described with an amazing clarity, as though it were a reality already experienced. It is no wonder that the very “vociferous” Prophet Isaiah was named “the fifth evangelist”, given that he had foretasted the Messiah’s era, in the Holy Spirit, the way that the Evangelist-Disciples did.
However, this expectation was equally clear and definite in other peoples also: the Hellenes, the Romans, the Chinese, the Indians, the Persians, the Egyptians, etc. Relative testimonies to this effect reach as far as America and Scandinavia. To confine ourselves to a few of the more impressive testimonies: Confucius in China was waiting for the “Holy One” – the “Heavenly Man” (the Divine-Human!). The Gautama Buddha (the historical person of Buddha, India, 5th century b.C.) repulsed the allegations of his followers that his teaching was supposedly unsurpassable, claiming that “after five hundred years, his teaching would be bankrupt”. The most amazing detail of all is that one actually observes a convergence of worldwide expectation of the Messiah in Palestine, because the people of the West expect Him from the East, while the people of the Far East expect Him from the West.
The “seminal (sown) word” of God, which penetrated the hearts of spiritual people all over the world, guided their consciences towards the direction of Christ, thus preparing mankind to receive Him, when “the fullness of Time” had arrived (Galatians 4:4). This was eventually linked to the worldwide community under “Pax Romana” and especially to the person of the Most Holy Theotokos. The Most Holy Virgin became the “new Paradise”, in which the Anticipated Messiah took on His Incarnate form, as the Divine-Human Lord.
Christ was the “pre-announced” Messiah. David had announced His Birth (Psalm 109:3 etc.); Solomon had praised the eternal Wisdom of God in the form of a Person that would be entering the world; (Proverbs 8:22, 29); the prophet Isaiah had described His Birth from a Virgin (7:14) and His identity as the “light of Nations” (9:1 etc., 49:6 etc.), as the shepherd (40:11), as the redeemer of the world (25:6 etc.), who was going to inaugurate a golden era (35:6,11, etc.). Jeremiah had foretold the ascending from the house of David of a righteous king, who would be introducing a new society (23:5-6, 38:22). In the Book of Baruch, the incarnation of God’s Wisdom is prophesied (“he appeared on earth, and he associated with humankind”, 3:38). Daniel had foretold of the eternal kingdom of the “son of man” (7:13-14), etc. Every aspect of the Messiah’s time is vividly described in the books of the Old Testament. For example, from the prophet Micah, the place of Christ’s Birth (5:1, vs. Matthew 2:6); from the prophet Jeremiah, the slaughter of the infants (38:15); from the prophet Josiah, the flight to Egypt (11:1); the adoration of the Magi in Psalms (71:10 vs Isaiah 60:3-6); John the Forerunner (Malachi 3:1, 4:5) and his preaching (Isaiah 40:3-5); the miracles of Christ (Isaiah 35:5-6), His triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:9); Judas’ betrayal (Psalms 40:8-10 and Zechariah 11:12-13); Christ’s condemnation (Psalms 2:2); Christ’s Passions (Isaiah 50:6, Psalms 68:22, Psalms 21, Isaiah 53); His Resurrection (Psalms 15:10-11); His Ascension (Psalms 109:1); the descent of the Holy Spirit (Joel 3:1-5); the return of nations to Christ (Isaiah 60:1-4). What is more amazing, however, is that all these prophecies have already been “fulfilled”. This, according to Pascal, is a “continuous miracle”.
Furthermore, Christ is the only person in the world Whose name was given in advance and was completely aligned with His mission. “And you shall call His name Jesus”, the angel had instructed Joseph (Matthew 1:21), and immediately after, had explained: “for He shall save His people from their sins”. Those same words were also said by the angel to the Holy Mother (Luke 1:31). The name “Jesus” signifies that God is the true Saviour. This is exactly how the Church also experiences Christ (Acts 4:12: “….there is salvation in none other”). Christ’s entire existence and presence moves between heaven and earth, in full compliance with the meaning of the term “Divine-Human”. It was in His Person that the concocted “divine epiphanies” of the Gentiles finally found the fulfillment of their redemptive yearnings. But even the more pessimistic dogma of the philosophers, that “God does not mix with humans” (Plato) was overturned, because in the Person of Christ “God was revealed in the flesh….He was preached among the nations, and believed by the world” (1 Timothy 3:16).
3. A “self-appointed” Saviour
The enlightened poet of the Akathest Hymn highlights an amazing aspect of the Incarnation: “Desirous of saving creation, the Creator of all creation went to it, as one self-appointed”. Christ, the Creator of the world, also becomes the Saviour of the world, but specifically “self-appointed”! He ‘invaded’ History and Time in a salvific manner, in order to provide the potential for salvation. The sole motive behind this God-begotten move was His Love. “For thus did God love the world, that He gave His only-born Son, so that everyone who believed in Him would not be lost, but will have eternal life” (John 3:16). “Proof of God’s love for us, was that even though we are still sinful, Christ died for our sake” (Romans 5:8). The Incarnation was God’s loving response to mankind’s yearning for redemption.
Christ is the measure of Divine Love. The Incarnation and the Sacrifice of the Divine-Human Christ is the greatest proof that God loves the world. The Orthodox Patristic Tradition did not need to resort to any juridical theories in order to interpret the “Vacating” of the God-Logos (i.e., to “satisfy a divine sense of justice”, according to Anselm of Canterbury); it merely remained faithful to the words of the Apostles. In the Person of the Divine-Human, God offers Himself, “for us people, and for our salvation”; “He accepts everything, to save mankind”. What weighs most in the event of the Divine Incarnation is the term “through Him”: “so that the world may be saved, through Him”! This constitutes a truly majestic display of Divine Love; not only for the realization of salvation, but also because God knew that salvation could only be realized “through Him”. “For there is no other name under the heavens, which has been given to mankind, through which we can (it is possible for us to) be saved” (Acts 4:12). Salvation is possible, only in Christ, the only Divine-Human! Christ can save, because He is Divine-Human. What does this mean?
Christ’s divine-human characteristic is denoted by His name: the “Christ”. His full and proper name for us Orthodox is “Jesus Christ”. Christ is also referred to as the God-Human, because His divine and His human natures are never separated. They were “distinctly and inseparably” joined in the Person of the God-Logos, Who “hypostatically” unites His two perfect natures. The term “Christ” means “the anointed one”. With the Incarnation, Man was anointed by God; human nature by the divine one. It is therefore a heresy and a delusion, for one to regard Christ only as God, by disregarding His Incarnation, or, only as a man – albeit a sage and a model of morality – forgetting that He continued to be the true God, even after His incarnation. Without the God-Human Christ, there can be no Christianity, nor the possibility for salvation. According to Basil the Great, “the name ‘Christ’ is a confession of everything: for it signifies God as the anointer, the Son as the anointed, and the Spirit as the anointment….” (PG 32, 116). When accepting Christ as the Divine Human, we are expressing our belief in the Holy Trinity; otherwise, we are denying it.
In the Divine Human Christ, man was joined to God in a perfect and unique manner. The created thus acquired a unique potential for theosis/deification – to be united with the Uncreated – because this could only be attained through its union with the Divine Human. That was the purpose of the Incarnation: not simply the improvement of human matters, but the deification of Man and the sanctification of the material world. In the person of the Divine Human Christ we become familiarized with God, but not in an abstract, contemplative or intellectual sense. Christ, as the God-Human, revealed the God of our Fathers: of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob. The historical God-Human Christ is the essence of God’s revelation - the essence of Christianity. The God-Human Christ is the entirety of Revelation, Who leads us to the true cognizance/knowledge of God. Knowledge of God outside the God-Human Christ is nonexistent. And this is where we find the element that differentiates Christianity from every other form of religion (belief), but also the “transcendence” of religion “in Christ”. Every leader and founder of a religion (beliefs) refers his followers to a certain deity. Only Christ referred the people to His Person (“…I am...”, “…I say to you…”). Religious sects presuppose a movement from below upwards, in search of God. The God-Human Christ is the One Who “descended from heaven” (John 3:13). This is why He was entitled to say “No-one recognizes the Son, except for the Father, and no-one recognizes the Father, except for the Son” (Matthew 11:27). Christ, as the God-Human, is the Triadic God’s act of love towards the world. The Triadic God is One, and the God-Human Saviour of the world is One. In the words of Saint Gregory Palamas, “if the Logos of God had not been incarnated, the Father would not have been demonstrated as truly being the Father; the Son would not have been demonstrated as being His Son, and the Holy Spirit would not have been demonstrated as also coming from the Father.” (Hellenic Fathers 151,204).
By choosing for Himself (more than 80 times, as seen in the Gospels) the title stated by Daniel (“Son of Man” – Daniel 7:13), Christ was thus revealing His Messianic self-awareness as the anticipated God-Human. This is precisely what He had straightforwardly declared to the Samaritan woman (and later Saint Fotini) a somewhat misconstrued person (who was however illuminated by His Grace), when He said to her: “It is I, the one who is talking to you” (John 4:26), when she asked Him about the arrival of the Messiah.
When referring to His salvific mission, Christ characterizes Himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6), He had said to Thomas, when the latter had expressed the query: “Lord, we do not know where You are going, so how are we able to see the way?” (v.5) Being “the Way”, Christ is the only road to salvation-deification – to Man’s eternal fulfillment. He is the sole “mediator” (1 Timothy 2:5) Who bridges the gap that separates the sinner from God and reconciles man with Him (“reprieves”, Romans 5:10) - and naturally, not because it is God Who changes His disposition. “It is not He Who feels enmity, but we; for God never feels enmity” (John Chrysostom, PG 61, 470). This is why Christ proclaims “I am the gate; if one should enter, he shall be saved.” (John 10:9). It is worth noting that, after Christ had characterized Himself as “the Road” to God and Salvation, Christianity was correspondingly named “the road” (Acts 9:2), inasmuch as it was the road (way of life) that led to salvation. This was the first known name for the new faith, up until the faithful in Christ were eventually named “Christians” (Acts 11:25).
Christ as “the Truth” is the One Who brought to the world the authentic manner of existence, which can lead to the real life – the true life. Naturally, when Pilate asked Christ “what is the truth?” (John 18:30), he was not being accurate. He should have asked: “Who is the truth?”; because, as we mentioned earlier, Christ relates the Truth to His Person. He is the incarnate personification of the All-Truth! The Way and the Truth are inseparably connected, in Christ. The Way to God passes through the Truth. If the Christ who is being offered by a “Christian” community that seeks to call itself a “church” is not the true Christ – the one and only God-Human Christ – then that community is a “heresy” and cannot lead anyone to salvation. This is the drama of the heresies and the pseudo-messiahs of the world. However, it is also the criterion of the Christian “dogma” - the faith/teaching of the Church. A dogma is not a sum of abstract “truths” that are imposed on Man “from above”. It is the recorded experience of the theumens – the Saints – and it has a therapeutic character. It helps the faithful to seek salvation in the correct manner and to be led to it. Christ admitted about Himself that: “for this did I come to the world: to testify the truth” (John 18:37). Christ’s overall redemptive opus is the multi-faceted revealing of the redemptive personal Truth of Christ Himself. And that, precisely, is the Orthodoxy of our Fathers. Christ is Orthodoxy in the flesh.
As the living Truth, Christ not only reveals God – since “within Him resides the fullness of godhood, bodily” (Colossians 2:9) and is a complete God – as is the Father and the Holy Spirit – but He also reveals the true and authentic man. This was declared (unwittingly, and moved by the Grace of God) by Pilate, when he had pointed out to the crowds: “Behold, the Man” (John 19:5), because Christ is indeed a man – the complete/perfect Man - and the salvific model for every man.
Christ, as the Self-Truth, was also the content of His teaching – His prophetic preaching. That is why “all of the people hung from His lips” (Luke 19:48), and this, because “he taught, as one who had authority and not like the Scribes” (Matthew 7:29). The spies sent out by the potentates to spy on Him had confessed that: “never has a man ever spoken the way that this man has” (John 7:46). The search, therefore, for common points of reference in Christ’s teaching is a futile one. His teaching cannot be compared to any other teacher, religious leader or philosopher. The claim that “this was also said by the philosopher so-and-so”, for the purpose of demoting Christ, indicates a persistence in focusing on the words that were said, and an ignorance of the “Logos”-Christ. Phrasal coincidences are not proofs of an overall coincidence. Overall, Christ’s teaching is the revelation of His unique identity, which will lead either to one’s acceptance of Him as Savior, or one’s rejection. After all, His teaching is linked to His Person. He is the one who dared to state: “…for I tell ye…”. His word is the “seed” of divine Grace, which seeks the “benevolent soil”, the pure heart, so that it may bring forth fruits (Luke 8:15). The words of Christ do not save in the sense of moral persuasions, but because they are replete with uncreated divine Grace. They are words spoken by God. “Within Him is life, and life is the light of mankind” (John 1:4).
Everything that exists in Christ is life. With all His redemptive means, Christ transmits-offers Himself. He is “the offerer and the offering” of the Divine Liturgy and the Eucharist. The three terms “road-truth-life” as characterizations of Christ are the expressions of a natural continuance. Christ leads to God, by revealing Himself as the incarnate All-Truth, thus introducing us into eternal life, which is the inner-cardiac cognizance of God (John 17:3) – our union with Him.
4. Liberator and Pacifier
In the closing hymn of the feast of the Reception of Christ into the Temple (Luke 2:25f), He is characterized as the “liberator of our souls”. This is because He saves us, by acting as the liberator in two directions: internally and externally. He first liberates us from inner servitude – the servitude towards the devil and our vices. He cleanses the heart from sin, so that Man can find his inner unity and balance and thereafter create a brotherly communion with his fellow man. The procedure of restoring man’s inner balance takes on the form of a therapy. This is why Christ is referred to in the Divine Liturgy as the “physician of our souls and our bodies”. When someone enters the Body of Christ – the Church – he is placed under a “therapeutic regime”, which evolves with the stages of catharsis (cleansing)-enlightenment-theosis/deification. For a man’s egocentric and egotistic love to be transformed into a selfless one, he must follow that course. He must struggle, with the Grace of Christ as his assistant and guide, to keep His commandments, cleanse his heart, and be enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Man is called upon, to first become a “servant of Jesus Christ”, something that was considered a title of honor for the Apostle Paul. By subjecting himself willingly to Christ, he is liberated from the servitude to sin (Romans 6:18 etc.). The tragedy of the unrepentant person lies in his perceiving his servitude as freedom, and expecting the fruits of freedom from within his status of servitude. This is the reason why sociopolitical systems are in the long run a disappointment: because they are unable to liberate man internally.
Christ liberates, with His own freedom (Galatians 5:1). For this, He calls upon us to become acquainted with His truth – with Christ Himself as the Truth – in order to be liberated. “Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). This implies participation in spiritual life; furthermore, it is from that internal liberation that every “in Christ” struggle for external (social-national) liberation also begins. It is impossible for one “to profess freedom” while remaining “servile to deterioration” (2 Peter 2:19). Christ liberates internally, in order to renovate the world, without resorting to systems and manifestos. This happened with His Incarnation, which was the entry of His life – of Christ life – into the world.
Christ found a world in which Man had no personal worth, except only as a means that served the purposes of the State. Social rights were only for the circle of free citizens; besides this, there were practices such as infanticide, massacre and exposure of children. The woman was man’s property, and lived only for him. Philosophers such as Aristotle regarded the institution of slavery a natural thing. And all these facts were not simple infractions of the law; they were institutions. The faint glimmer of the Stoics’ philosophy had very few results, and it led to other delusions. Through Christ and in Christ, the elevating of Man was fulfilled - validated eternally, with the Incarnation of the God-Human. Man attained an unprecedented worth, having been “bought” at the price of Christ’s blood (1 Cor. 5:20). It was for Man’s sake that Christ Himself died (Romans 14:15). Only Christ had proclaimed that institutions are made to serve Man and not be his overlords, with His unsurpassable words: “The Sabbath was made for Man’s sake, and not Man for the Sabbath’s sake” (Mark 2:27). Christ gave equal worth to man and woman (Col. 3:11) and He abolished every kind of “disposal site” or “Kaiadas”. He furthermore broke the bonds of slavery in practice, by transforming the slave from a “living possession” (Aristotle) into a “beloved brother” of his Master (see Epistle to Philemon).
With the internal liberation of Man, Christ makes man be at peace with himself. Being the “lord of peace” (Isaiah 60:17), He becomes our peace by transmitting His pacifying Grace, the way He did after the Resurrection (“Peace be unto you…”). He had, after all, clarified before His Ordeal, that: “I leave you with peace; I give you my peace – I give it to you, but not the way that the world gives it” John 14:27). Christ Himself became peace, for both mankind and the world. This was proclaimed by the Apostle Paul, who lived in that “in Christ” peace, and who from persecutor became apostle. “He is our peace”, he said. “He is the one who joined together the two (opposing) sides and tore down the dividing wall between them (which was enmity), by abolishing in His flesh the law of the commandments… in order to create in His person a new man out of the two sides and bring peace.” (Ephesians 2:14 etc.) As regards the opposition between Jews and Gentiles, which was overcome in Christ through the Church, the Apostle Paul presents us in the most eloquent manner the pacifist work of Christ, which began with His Birth. According to the hymn that the Angels sang, “Glory to God on High, and peace on earth” (Luke 2:14). Christ unites and reconciles all of us in His flesh, with His Incarnation, His Crucifixion and especially with the Divine Eucharist. We consume our God, so that we do not consume each other!
5. Conqueror of Death and Life-giver
Contemporary Man has not familiarized himself with the mystery of death. Death remains Man’s permanent enemy. His anxiety to overcome death becomes apparent, in the strivings of modern science (cloning, “cryonics”, immortality, etc.). Even the Apostle Paul says that: “the final enemy, death, will be abolished” (1 Corinthians 15:26). But death, virtually, has already been abolished, in Christ. The “key” to the transcendence of death is the Resurrection of Christ – the personal victory of the Divine-Human over death. “Since Christ has risen from the dead, He shall die no more; death shall no longer have any power over Him.” (Romans 6:9).
The only personage in History to have conquered death is Christ. “Where, o death is your sting? Where, o Hades is your victory?” asks the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:55). And he completes his comment with the words: “for death’s sting is sin” (v.56). The conqueror, therefore, of death is the one who irrevocably conquers sin. And that is Christ, the only (Divine) human, Who “never committed any sin, nor was any deception found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Thus, whoever conquers sin in Christ, also partakes of Christ’s victory over death and everything that death represents. The “in Christ” victors of death are the Saints. Those who have looked at the intact holy relics of Saint Spyridon in Corfu Island or of Saint Gerasimos in Cephalonia Island, in their incorrupt and miracle-working condition, can understand what “victory over death and its corruption” means.
The Resurrection of Christ is the ontological foundation of the Church. “If Christ had not risen from the dead, (y)our faith would have been futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17). However, it is also a hermeneutic key in world history and our lives. The Incarnation of the Logos of God was the entry of the Eternal and the Incorruptible into History. Eternity – personified by Christ - invaded and settled itself in a world that is disintegrating and rotting in corruption, thus providing the potential to transcend death. The Resurrection of Christ is the final victory over death; not only as a continuation of biological life, but also as immortality – in other words, as a continuation of life inside Divine Love and Grace. This is what the expression “may his/her memory be eternal” implies, as chanted during memorial services and funerals: that the deceased may remain inside an eternal memory – that is, eternally inside the Grace of God; that he may be eternally with God, in the sense that Christ had promised the grateful robber on the cross: “On this day, you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Without Christ, death is dreadful. Christ, however, “through death, abolished the one who had power over death, who is the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). Neither death, nor its “master” the Devil, can cause any dread to the “in Christ” person, the Saint; because that person knows that death cannot interrupt or dissolve the “in Christ” life and its continuation in the uncreated Grace of God; only the biological life and its development in this corruptible and futile world.
Our life – both the biological and the spiritual aspects of it – is a life, as long as it belongs to Christ. And we belong to Christ, when we die and become resurrected with Him. Our voluntary passion (ascesis) and our voluntary death along with Christ (see Matthew 16:24 and Mark 8:34), in other words, our consistent “following” of Christ’s path - as is the case with monkhood – is the only path to the co-burial and co-resurrection with Christ. At this point, it becomes obvious that Christianity is not a philosophy or an ideology, but a way of life, in the full depth and breadth of the term. It is an experiencing. You either live “in Christ”, in a life of continuous repentance, or you do not belong to Christ. “Those of (=who belong to) Christ have crucified their flesh, along with their passions and their desires” (Galatians 5:24). Christians are those who have crucified themselves along with Christ, according to the confession of the Apostle Paul: “I am crucifying myself along with Christ; I no longer live, for Christ lives within me” (Galatians 2:20). Just as the deceased “is vindicated of his sins” (Romans 6:7 – he has been liberated of his sin, in other words, he ceases to sin), thus the one who “co-crucifies” himself with Christ is thereafter dead to sin. This is what is implied by the words of the prayer: “…deaden our limbs on earth…”. In the words of Saint Gregory Palamas, when Man reaches the stage of becoming “incapable of sinning”! This is why we beseech the Lord to grant us: “the entire day (or night) ….peaceful and sinless…”. These are possible, when, through ascetic living, man co-crucifies himself along with Christ.
This is the life – i.e., the victory over death, sin and the Devil – that Christ brought to the world. He did not found any Social or Philanthropic Institution, but instead, invited us to be joined to his Body, the Church, so that we can perpetually conquer death, sin and the Devil. Because it is only then that we can truly – selflessly - love our fellow man and co-establish a society of brotherly feelings and love. The societies of the Christ-less world are conventional, pseudo-societies, which are unable to attain such results, given that, by ignoring or disregarding Christ, they do not seek to attain them. Authentic life within the Church becomes a continuous course towards resurrection. With the Sacraments and spiritual living, the consistent Christian constantly conquers death and partakes of Christ’s Resurrection. “Repentance” is the potential to escape from the prison of our deadened nature and meet with the Resurrected Christ. This is why our monks teach us the following motto, from their personal experience:
“If you die before you die, then you won’t die when you die”!
6. Lord of Heaven and Earth
During Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, just before His Passion, the populace received Him like a king, addressing Him with the following cries: “Hosanna...the king of Israel”, which meant “save us, o king of Israel”. Despite the obviously “nationalist” and temporal innuendo underlying these words, the “crowds” – by the Grace of God – were in fact expressing a very important truth; because those words actually corresponded to the true identity of Christ.
Christ is indeed the king of the world, because He is its Creator, its Saviour and its Judge. He is the king of the “New Israel” – His Church. He is king, Lord and God, of every faithful one who calls out to Him and allows Him to reside inside his heart (see Revelation 3:20). After His Resurrection – that is, His victory over the Devil, sin and death – Christ proclaimed to His disciples: “ever (=full) authority has been given to Me, in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). The Resurrected Christ is (and is being experienced in the Church) the Lord of heaven and earth, “of all things visible and invisible”, “the head of every principality and authority” (Colossians 2:10). Before His Passion, Christ had been asked by the “high priests and the elders of the people”: “by what authority do you do these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). Christ had not replied at the time (Matthew 21:27), because, on account of their vehemence against Him, they would not be able to understand. Now, in the light of the Resurrection, He reveals that His “authority” springs from within His Resurrection. Within the limits of this authority, He was to found the Church, as His Body, on the Day of the Pentecost, and with this authority, He sent out His disciples to “fish” the world into His kingdom (28:19: “go forth, and teach all the nations…”).
When questioned by Pilate, Christ declared that His kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36). This meant that it is a kingdom “of another kind”, which differs from the kingdoms and the authorities of the world, as was Herod’s. Christ’s kingdom is celestial, spiritual, salvific, because it is linked to His uncreated grace. Wherever Grace is accepted, there will His kingdom reign. From this aspect, Christ is “king of kings and lord of lords” (Revel.19:16) and “there is no end to His kingdom” (Luke 1:33).
This is the kingdom that Christ is inviting us into. He came into the world, in order to propagate His kingdom, His glory, His power, His love throughout the world. These are all synonymous, and they express the uncreated energies of the Triune God. He does not seek to acquire followers and subjects, but to liberate and sanctify. “Come, all you labouring and burdened ones, and I shall relieve you” (Matthew 11:28). That is His invitation. He invites us to establish His celestial Kingdom within Man. “The kingdom is within you” (Luke 17:21). This indicates that He Himself should reside within Man, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 17:24, 14:23), because that is when Man belongs to Christ: “if the Spirit of God resides” inside him (Romans 8:9). God invites us openly (Matthew 16:24), but He leaves the final choice up to man. He does not create any illusions (“narrow is the gate and sorrow-filled is the road that leads to life, and few are those who shall find it” – Matthew 7:14). This is because the choosing of Christ’s kingdom is enacted with our personal struggle against our mutinous nature; against the empire of our instincts – something that requires a violation of nature and an incessant struggle. “The kingdom of heaven is violable and only violators shall snatch it” (Matthew 11:12). It is the only struggle for which Christ demands “violence”; not to defeat someone else, but our own, perverted self (“the victory over one’s self is far superior to other victories”). To enter the kingdom of Christ, a violent battle is required, as the lives of our Saints have proven. The only consolation and refreshment that we have are the words of our Christ: “In this world, you shall have suffering; but be brave, for I have defeated the world.” (John 16:33).
The Jews, under the influence of their nationalist and materialistic ideas regarding the Messiah, were unable to accept a king such as Christ, Who made His cross a throne and His martyrdom a sceptre. That was a “scandal” for the Jews, just as it was “folly” for the sages of the world (1 Corinthians 1:23). That is why, when Pilate asked them (relatively uneasily, in view of the premeditated condemnation of an innocent man): “crucify your king?”, they replied: “we have no king, other than Caesar” (John 19:15)! This is where every person can stop to, in every era, when he kills the spirit inside him; when he is dead inside and his heart becomes obsessed (Mark 3:5). This can also happen to the non-reborn “Christians”, who “accepted” Christ externally and only in name. Without a sincere spiritual life, without any spiritual labours (participation in the sacramental life of the Body of Christ), baptism remains inert. A Christian must constantly monitor himself, to determine if the Grace of God is still active inside him (2 Corinthians 13:5): “try (examine) yourselves, whether you are in the faith”. A Christian cannot share himself between many “kings” and “masters” (see Matthew 6:24), or exchange Christ with any other secular “Caesar”, or confine Christ to the so-called “spiritual sphere”, while in his social choices, he subjects himself to the ministering and the authority of the masters of this world.
We Orthodox Christians confess our acknowledgment of Christ as the only sovereign lord of our life, during the Divine Liturgy: “ONE is Holy; ONE is LORD: Jesus Christ”. Our Lord is the God-human, as our God and sole Regent. That is why every distortion of this point, and the transformation of the Church into an Institution of secular power (a State), with a secular king (pope) and the structure of a polity reveal a loss of what the meaning of Christ and His kingdom is. However, this is how we can comprehend the words of our Christ: “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and that which is God’s unto God” (Matthew 22:21). Christ acknowledges that political authority is God-given (see Romans 13:1): “there can be no authority, except under God”. Authority, as an institution (not the persons of the rulers), was given by God, for the harmonious co-existence of society. Consequently, a Christian owes respect towards authorities, “in which the commandment of God should not be hindered”, according to Basil the Great (PG 31, 860). Thus, when the Jews in their predisposition to entrap Him showed Christ a coin of Caesar’s, they were indirectly declaring that they acknowledged Caesar’s authority, by showing Him his coin. But, if the coin is Caesar’s because it bears his image (Matthew 22:20), Man is the image of Christ, hence, he belongs wholly to Him.
7. “Prolonged throughout time”
Christ was not tied to only one moment in History, as is the case with even the most important of personages. Christ covers the entire span of History, acting salvifically from its beginning to its end: “fleshlessly” in the pre-Incarnation era, and “in the flesh” after His Incarnation. Even after His Ascension, He did not desert the world, just as He had promised His Disciples (“I shall not leave you orphans” – John 14:18). “And behold, I am with you every day, until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20). On the day of the Pentecost, Christ returned, “in the Holy Spirit”, and His deified “flesh” – the one that is “clearly and indivisibly” joined to His human nature, became the “place” of congregating of all theumens – the Saints.
Christ’s continued presence as Saviour of the world is manifested through His Church. There is no other means for a salvific meeting with Christ, except in the Church – His Body. With His Incarnation, Christ “assumed the flesh of the Church” (Saint Nicholas Kavasilas) and “He rendered the Church His body”, as the blessed Chrysostom had underlined (PG 52, 429). Christ was thus linked inseparably to His Church and the Church, as His Body, remains inseparably tied to Christ, Who is Her head and Her beginning; Her life and Her life-giver. The separation of the Church from Christ or of Christ from the Church is the most formidable heresy, because this would mean a “de-fleshing” and a “denuding” of Christ, Who “for us humans and for our salvation was incarnated…”. When we exile Christ from the world we transform the Church into a social or philosophical club. It is through the Church that “Christ is prolonged throughout time”, because the Church is the continuation of the Incarnation and remains open to every person and every generation; Pentecost, because the Holy Spirit “which the world is unable to receive” remains inside the members o the Body of Christ, the Theumens (John 14:17. According to the blessed Chrysostom, “if the Spirit were not present, the Church would not have been constituted; but if the Church is constituted, it is clearly obvious that the Spirit is present” (PG 50, 459). The manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s energy on the day of the Pentecost is the substantiation that the Church as the Body of Christ was founded on that day.
Ever since that day, Christ has been the “churchifier” of mankind, because He is the one Who invites mankind incessantly to become joined to His Body and be added to the society of the saved (see Acts 2:24); because the possibility to be saved is only through the embodiment of mankind in the Church (as per the liturgical quote of “ourselves and each other and our entire life let us appose to Christ the Lord”). In other words, man is not saved (in other words sanctified, or enlightened and deified), just because he observes Christ’s commandments, but because he becomes a member of Christ’s Body, by participating and communing in His Life through the Divine Eucharist and the other Sacraments. There is no such thing as “deed-salvation”; only “in-Christ salvation” (Galatians 2:16 etc.). The “truth” in Christ is the life, the communion and participation in Christ’s life.
With Baptism, a Christian dies and is resurrected within the Body of Christ, as a new person, now resurrected into the life of Christ. “Those of you who have been baptized in Christ, have donned Christ”, we chant after the Baptism of a neophyte. He no longer belongs to the world, but to the Body of Christ (this is what is analyzed in the 6th chapter of Romans). For one to be a Christian means he belongs to a specific community and society of the Local Church. This is the model Church that is preserved by the monastic brotherhood-diocese, the Coenobitic Monastery, because there, it is far easier to fulfill the assertion: “our selves and each other and our entire life let us appose to Christ the Lord…” The worldly parish can function in the Orthodox manner, only according to the monastic model.
The spiritual “incrementing” of the faithful is realized within the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), while the measure of this increment is Christ Himself (Ephesians 4:13), Who is the spiritual model of every faithful (1 Peter 2:21). Christ was the one Who determined the mission of His Church in the world. It is a “spiritual hospital”, which, by restoring the “remembrance” (the presence) of God in man’s heart, becomes a “workshop for sanctification”, or, in modern terminology, a “Saint-producing factory”! That is the reason for the existence of the Church, because wherever sanctity exists, so does true love and a genuine “class-less” society.
Saint Cyprian, bishop of Carthage († 258), had said that “outside the Church, there is no salvation” (extra Ecclesiam nulla salus). Albeit God accepts every person and “from every nation those who fear God and perform labors of justice are accepted by Him” (Acts 10:35), however, it is only with his actual incorporation into the Body of Christ that Man is saved. This is what occurred with the Apostle Paul, who, despite his encounter with Christ during his experience of theopty (sighting of God) on the road to Damascus, (Acts 9:1), had to nevertheless be baptized, that is, to enter the Corpus of the Lord. (Acts 9:10 etc.) However, this being « inside the Church » should not be something to be “ideologized”; it is not exhausted in formalities, but demands fullness and punctuality, otherwise the path towards theosis becomes impossible. Baptism is not the end; it is the beginning. It is the opening of the “door” to the Body of Christ. The faithful need to remain inside the Corpus of Christ. This is achieved, through an incessant spiritual struggle. In this context, the Church is continuously “the pillar and the consolidation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), because She continuously preaches and testifies to Christ – the incarnate All-Truth – since Christ had also “come into the world, to testify to the Truth” (John 18:37) and to provide witness about the Truth, which He was the incarnation of. Needless to say of course, that the Church - only as Orthodoxy and only by preserving alive the tradition and the perception of Her Saints – can remain the Body of Christ and the ark of salvation.
8. “A mark of contradiction”
Symeon the Elder, when holding the infant Christ in his arms in the Temple and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, said the following words to the Holy Mother: “Behold, He is to be the fall and the uplifting of many in Israel, and a mark of contradiction” (Luke 2:34). Even from the moment of His Birth, both friends and enemies had surrounded Him - not only the meek shepherds or the wise and reverent Magi, but also the ferocious Herod; not only the Angels, but Satan also. Mankind’s History is continuously arrayed around the Person of Christ. Christ became the magnet that attracts everyone, whether with the intent to accept Him and follow Him, or to reject Him and fight Him. This is because some see salvation in His Person and others see their downfall, depending on the content of their hearts. Every dark and inhuman existence is bound to hate Christ, because His light inevitably reveals and checks its works (see John 3:20). “He who enacts the truth approaches towards the Light, so that his works might be revealed that they have been enacted in God” (21).
However, behind the polemics against Christ is the pre-eternal enemy of Man: the Devil. Christ was incarnated, in order to “dissolve (abolish) the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), thus liberating Man from the devil’s power. He did not come into the world, simply to introduce one more religion, even the most perfect one – the “religion of love” as some romantically believe – but to renovate man’s entire life, as well as the world’s: from the Holy Bema of the Temple to the marketplace, the place of one’s profession, the School, Parliament… If Christ had confined Himself (and us) within the four walls of a Temple, He would not have provoked the ungodly powers of the world, because society is their realm of domination, and this realm – their kingdom – would have remained intact and free, at their disposal only. If Herod had learnt that another religious leader had been born, he would not have been in the least disturbed. A religious leader, regardless of his magnitude, was not an irreparable threat to secular authority. Herod, however, confronted Christ as a newborn king, and in His person, he saw a usurper to his authority. And, albeit Christ never usurps the authority of any Herod, given that “His kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), it is, nevertheless a fact, that the spiritual authority of Christ disintegrated the Devil’s reign. This is the reason He is hated.
With Herod commenced the long line of enemies of Christ historically; they are the ones who “hated the soul of the child” (Matthew 2:20), who will forever be planting the Crucifix of Torture next to His Manger: the Scribes and the Pharisees, the roman Emperors, the armies of Christ’s persecutors throughout the ages; all the ungodly and antichrist powers, who with their various glamorous names act in a decomposing way on societies. The portion of the world, which has chosen the devil as its king, cannot tolerate another king; thus, Christ the King is sent away. And the persecution of Chris is not focused on Him exclusively either, but it includes all those who are “His”, that is, the martyrs and the confessors of His Truth. This is why Christ prepared His Disciples psychologically: “If the world should hate you, you must know that it hated Me first…if they persecuted Me, they will persecute you too…” (John 15: 18-20). Consequently, this is an irreversible certainty, which is why Christians should not overlook it. In fact, it is a criterion of their mentality and their lifestyle, when “the (antichrist) world hates them”.
In the past, one of the mechanisms of “persecuting” Christ was to doubt His historicity. Specifically, “historical materialism” had formulated the view that Christ never actually existed, and that He was merely a fictitious creation by religious nostalgics and the mythical fantasizing of His era. Others maintained that Christianity was a “communistic movement” of the financially oppressed masses or the personification of the idea of “kingdom of God” by the “proletariat” masses.
However, contemporary testimonies regarding the historical existence of Christ are sufficient and significant. They also do not originate solely from within the realm of the Church (New Testament – Gospels mainly), but also from the non-Christian world (Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, Jospehus, rabbinic literature etc.), so that this problem has now been scientifically settled. “‘Christianity’ implies Christ Himself, it is the incarnation in His Person of His teaching, the self-truth, and self-perfection” (Gr. Papamichael). The interpreting of the miracle of Christianity’s propagation on the basis of a nonexistent person would have been an even greater miracle than the Person of Christ Himself! One can, for personal reasons, reject the divinity of Christ, but one cannot deny His historicity.
However, the worst case of “persecuting” Christ and His Faith is the one that originates from within – from the Christians themselves. These are the heretics of all time, who have denied the divinity or the humanity of Christ; those who distorted His word, adulterated His Truth and who “thus teach the people” (Matthew 9:19). These may not be able to “kill off” Christ, but by “demoting” Him, they are killing mankind, because they are offering it a mock Christ – one that is incapable of saving. Furthermore, the confining of Christ to a certain aspect of Him only (a great teacher, a miracle-worker, a social reformer, etc.) also constitutes a refuting of Christ as well as a clear denial of Him. Christ saves, when He is accepted in His fullness, the way He revealed Himself, as “the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:17). This was the way that the Apostles and the Disciple accepted Christ, and this is the way that the saved ones will be accepting Him, throughout the ages. This is why:
9. Correct “Christology” ensures salvation
Christ’s question to His Disciples: “who do the people say that I am?” (Matthew 16:16) posed precisely that problem. If this question is not replied correctly, that is, in the context of authentic “Christology”, there can be no possibility of salvation for mankind. Quite often, the Person of Christ is falsified. All the “Christological” heresies offer a nonexistent Christ; one who is entirely irrelevant to the Christ Who was incarnated for our salvation. Docetism, Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Monotheletism, Monoenergetism, through to the contemporary falsifications of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Scientologists, e.a.. The hypothetically accepted Christ is not the Christ of History, but of deception and metaphysical fantasy.
The adulteration of the Faith in Christ in the area of the dogma has, as an unavoidable consequence, the adulteration of Christ’s word in the social sphere also. On the contrary, the Church, as a community of Saints, uninterruptedly delivers from generation to generation the one Christ, the true Christ, in the midst of the various heretic forgeries of Him. This is accomplished through the sermons and the poemantics of the Holy Fathers, the Ecumenical Synods, the liturgical practice and the spiritual lifestyle of the struggling faithful.
Within the multi-named heretic deceptions, a Christ-less Christianity is forming. This is the result of the tragic confusion that prevails in our time; a confusion that is worsened by the introduction of mankind into the insanity of the “New World Order” and the “New Age”. This is the darkest – and therefore the most dangerous – period of human history, because it has been linked to mythologizing (for example, of the “year 2000”), to occult theories (for example, Aquarius–the devil will be taking the place of Pisces–Christ), to Chiliast expectations (visions of thorough bliss), when the fact is, the “old world” is being resuscitated, with all its pathology and its pathogenesis. The much-advertised by its supporters and propagandists “new” system of “globalization”, despite its certain positive aspects, is essentially leading towards a “planetary society” with a levelling of all cultural and ethnic particularities, shaped thus by a “unified” education and controlled Mass Media. The course of events “towards one flock” - which could be construed as a fulfillment of Christ’s words (John 10:16) - is overshadowed by the instinctive query: “Yes, but under which shepherd? Will the shepherd be that Christ, as he said, or the pseudo-Christ of the New Age?”
Never has the Person of Christ been so demoted, nor Christianity threatened, the way it is being demoted in the confines of the “Pan-Religion” being assembled by the “New Age”. The congregations of the pan-religious New Age movement (in Assisi, 1, 2 and 3) leave no margin for doubt. Pan-Religion is also being promoted with the participation and representation of the Christian world, whereby the All-Holy Person of Christ is levelled and refuted altogether, by being dragged into the other “manufactured” “deities” of this Fallen world. Never has the uniqueness and exclusivity of Christ as Savior of the world been doubted so directly and absolutely. And for this alone, the “New Age” is historically the greatest of all challenges for Orthodoxy. What the Devil did not succeed in accomplishing with persecutions and heresies, he is now attempting to achieve through the renewed “ecumenism” of a Pan-Religion. Orthodoxy is called upon to salvage its truth regarding Christ, by remaining faithful to the Tradition of its Saints, so that Christ is enabled to remain the life and the hope of the world.
Page created: 23-8-2010.
Last update: 16-1-2023.