Eastern Orthodox theology

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Eastern Orthodox theology is the theology particular to the Eastern Orthodox Church (officially the Orthodox Catholic Church). It is characterized by monotheistic Trinitarianism, belief in the Incarnation of the essentially divine Logos or only-begotten Son of God, a balancing of cataphatic theology with apophatic theology, a hermeneutic defined by a polyvalent Sacred Tradition, a concretely catholic ecclesiology, a robust theology of the person, and a principally recapitulative and therapeutic soteriology.

Theology Study of the nature of deities and religious belief

Theology is the systematic study of the nature of the divine and, more broadly, of religious belief. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities and seminaries. It occupies itself with the unique content of analyzing the supernatural, but also especially with epistemology, and asks and seeks to answer the question of revelation. Revelation pertains to the acceptance of God, gods, or deities, as not only transcendent or above the natural world, but also willing and able to interact with the natural world and, in particular, to reveal themselves to humankind. While theology has turned into a secular field, religious adherents still consider theology to be a discipline that helps them live and understand concepts such as life and love and that helps them lead lives of obedience to the deities they follow or worship.

Eastern Orthodox Church Christian Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second-largest Christian church, with approximately 200–260 million baptised members. It operates as a communion of autocephalous churches, each governed by its bishops in local synods, although roughly half of Eastern Orthodox Christians live in Russia. The church has no central doctrinal or governmental authority analogous to the Bishop of Rome, but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognised by all as primus inter pares of the bishops. As one of the oldest surviving religious institutions in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East.

Monotheism is the belief in one god. A narrower definition of monotheism is the belief in the existence of only one god that created the world, is all-powerful and intervenes in the world.

Holy Tradition

Ecclesiology

Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine (centre) and the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325) holding the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381. Nicaea icon.jpg
Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine (centre) and the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325) holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.

The Eastern Orthodox Church considers itself to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church established by Christ and his apostles. For the early years of the church, much of what was conveyed to its members was in the form of oral teachings. Within a very short period of time traditions were established to reinforce these teachings. The Eastern Orthodox Church asserts to have been very careful in preserving these traditions. When questions of belief or new concepts arise, the Church always refers back to the original faith. Eastern Orthodox see the Bible as a collection of inspired texts that sprang out of this tradition, not the other way around; and the choices made in forming the New Testament as having come from comparison with already firmly established faith. The Bible has come to be a very important part of "Tradition", but not the only part.

Tradition belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past

A tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes, but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings. Traditions can persist and evolve for thousands of years—the word tradition itself derives from the Latin tradere literally meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping. While it is commonly assumed that traditions have ancient history, many traditions have been invented on purpose, whether that be political or cultural, over short periods of time. Various academic disciplines also use the word in a variety of ways.

Likewise, the Eastern Orthodox Church has always recognized the gradual development in the complexity of the articulation of the Church's teachings. It does not, however, believe that truth changes and therefore always supports its previous beliefs all the way back to what it holds to be the direct teachings from the Apostles. The Church also understands that not everything is perfectly clear; therefore, it has always accepted a fair amount of contention about certain issues, arguments about certain points, as something that will always be present within the Church. It is this contention which, through time, clarifies the truth. The Church sees this as the action of the Holy Spirit on history to manifest truth to man.

The Church is unwavering in upholding its dogmatic teachings, but does not insist upon those matters of faith which have not been specifically defined. The Eastern Orthodox believe that there must always be room for mystery when speaking of God. Individuals are permitted to hold theologoumena (private theological opinions) so long as they do not contradict traditional Eastern Orthodox teaching. Sometimes, various Holy Fathers may have contradictory opinions about a certain question, and where no consensus exists, the individual is free to follow his or her conscience.

Dogma is an official system of principles or doctrines of a religion, such as Roman Catholicism, or the positions of a philosopher or of a philosophical school such as Stoicism.

Tradition also includes the Nicene Creed, the decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the writings of the Church Fathers, as well as Eastern Orthodox laws (canons), liturgical books and icons, etc. In defense of extrabiblical tradition, the Eastern Orthodox Church quotes Paul: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by our spoken word, or by our epistle." (2 Thessalonians 2:15). The Eastern Orthodox Church also believes that the Holy Spirit works through history to manifest truth to the Church, and that He weeds out falsehood in order that the Truth may be recognised more fully.

Nicene Creed Statement of belief adopted at the First Ecumenical Council in 325

The Nicene Creed is a statement of belief widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because it was originally adopted in the city of Nicaea by the First Council of Nicaea in 325. In 381, it was amended at the First Council of Constantinople, and the amended form is referred to as the Nicene or the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

Church Fathers

The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were ancient and influential Christian theologians and writers. There is no definitive list. The era of these scholars who set the theological and scholarly foundations of Christianity largely ended by AD 700.

Canon law is a set of ordinances and regulations made by ecclesiastical authority, for the government of a Christian organization or church and its members. It is the internal ecclesiastical law, or operational policy, governing the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, and the individual national churches within the Anglican Communion. The way that such church law is legislated, interpreted and at times adjudicated varies widely among these three bodies of churches. In all three traditions, a canon was originally a rule adopted by a church council; these canons formed the foundation of canon law.

Consensus of the Fathers

Eastern Orthodoxy interprets truth based on three witnesses: the consensus of the Holy Fathers of the Church; the ongoing teaching of the Holy Spirit guiding the life of the Church through the nous , or mind of the Church (also called the "Universal Consciousness of the Church" [1] ), which is believed to be the Mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16); and the praxis of the church (including among other things asceticism, liturgy, hymnography and iconography).

<i>Nous</i> the faculty of the human mind necessary for understanding what is true or real

Nous, sometimes equated to intellect or intelligence, is a term from classical philosophy for the faculty of the human mind necessary for understanding what is true or real. English words such as "understanding" are sometimes used, but three commonly used philosophical terms come directly from classical languages: νοῦς or νόος, intellēctus and intellegentia. To describe the activity of this faculty, the word "intellection" is sometimes used in philosophical contexts, as well as the Greek words noēsis and noeîn. This activity is understood in a similar way to the modern concept of intuition.

Asceticism lifestyle of frugality and abstinence of various forms, often for spiritual goals

Asceticism is a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from sensual pleasures, often for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals. Ascetics may withdraw from the world for their practices or continue to be part of their society, but typically adopt a frugal lifestyle, characterised by the renunciation of material possessions and physical pleasures, and time spent fasting while concentrating on the practice of religion or reflection upon spiritual matters.

Liturgy is the customary public worship performed by a religious group. As a religious phenomenon, liturgy represents a communal response to and participation in the sacred through activity reflecting praise, thanksgiving, supplication or repentance. It forms a basis for establishing a relationship with a divine agency, as well as with other participants in the liturgy.

The consensus of the Church over time defines its catholicity that which is believed at all times by the entire Church.{{refn|group=note|St. Vincent of Lerins, wrote in his Commonitoria (434 AD), that Church doctrine, like the human body, develops over time while still keeping its original identity: "[I]n the Orthodox Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all" [2] Those who disagree with that consensus are not accepted as authentic "Fathers." All theological concepts must be in agreement with that consensus. Even those considered to be authentic "Fathers" may have some theological opinions that are not universally shared, but are not thereby considered heretical. Some Holy Fathers have even made statements that were later defined as heretical, but their mistakes do not exclude them from position of authority (heresy is a sin of pride; unintended error does not make one a heretic, only the refusal to accept a dogma which has been defined by the church). Thus an Eastern Orthodox Christian is not bound to agree with every opinion of every Father, but rather with the consensus of the Fathers, and then only on those matters about which the church is dogmatic.

Catholicity is a concept that encompasses the beliefs and practices of numerous Christian denominations, most notably those that describe themselves as Catholic in accordance with the Four Marks of the Church, as expressed in the Nicene Creed of the First Council of Constantinople in 381: "[I believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."

Heresy belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs

Heresy is any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs, in particular the accepted beliefs of a church or religious organization. A heretic is a proponent of such claims or beliefs. Heresy is distinct from both apostasy, which is the explicit renunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is an impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things.

Pride inwardly directed emotion that carries two common meanings

Pride is an inwardly directed emotional term that carries two antithetical meanings. With a negative connotation pride refers to a foolishly and irrationally corrupt sense of one's personal value, status or accomplishments, used synonymously with hubris. In Judaism, pride is called the root of all evil. With a positive connotation, pride refers to a humble and content sense of attachment toward one's own or another's choices and actions, or toward a whole group of people, and is a product of praise, independent self-reflection, and a fulfilled feeling of belonging.

Some of the greatest theologians in the history of the church come from the 4th century, including the Cappadocian Fathers and the Three Hierarchs. However, the Eastern Orthodox do not consider the "Patristic era" to be a thing of the past, but that it continues in an unbroken succession of enlightened teachers (i.e., the saints, especially those who have left us theological writings) from the Apostles to the present day.

Scripture

A page from a rare Georgian Bible, 1030 A.D, depicting the Raising of Lazarus. Raising of Lazarus.jpg
A page from a rare Georgian Bible, 1030 A.D, depicting the Raising of Lazarus.

Many modern Christians approach the Bible and its interpretation as the sole authority to the establishment of their beliefs concerning the world and their salvation. From the Eastern Orthodox point of view, the Bible represents those texts approved by the church for the purpose of conveying the most important parts of what it already believes. The Church more or less accepted the preexisting Greek Septuagint version of Hebrew Scriptures as handed down to them from the Jews; but the New Testament texts were written to members or congregations of the Church which already existed. These texts were not universally considered canonical until the church reviewed, edited, accepted and ratified them in 368 AD.

The Greeks, having a highly sophisticated and philosophical language, have always understood that certain sections of Scripture, while containing moral lessons and complex truth, do not necessarily have to be interpreted literally. The Eastern Orthodox also understand that a particular passage may be interpreted on many different levels simultaneously. However, interpretation is not a matter of personal opinion (2 Peter 1:20). For this reason, Eastern Orthodox depend upon the consensus of the Holy Fathers to provide a trustworthy guide to the accurate interpretation of Scripture. [3] [4]

Eastern Orthodox Christianity is a strongly biblical church. A large portion of the Daily Office is made up of either direct portions of scripture (Psalms, lections) or allusions to scriptural passages or themes (hymnography such as that contained in the Octoechos, Triodion, Pentecostarion, etc.) The entire Psalter is read in the course of a week (twice during Great Lent). The entire New Testament (with the exception of the Book of Revelation) is read during the course of the year, and numerous passages are read from the Old Testament at Vespers and other services.

The Gospel Book is considered to be an icon of Christ, and is placed in a position of honour on the Holy Table (altar). The Gospel Book is traditionally not covered in leather (the skin of a dead animal) because the Word of God is considered to be life-giving. Traditionally, the Gospel is covered in gold or cloth.

Eastern Orthodox Christians are encouraged to read and study the Bible daily, especially making use of the writings of the Holy Fathers for guidance.

Recent essays have emerged by various contemporary Eastern Orthodox scholars which attempt to reconcile and react to both the Creationist interpretation of Genesis 1-2 and the strict Darwinist theory of human evolution. [5]

God in Trinity

"Hospitality of Abraham" icon by Andrei Rublev; the three angels represent the three persons of God Andrej Rublev 001.jpg
"Hospitality of Abraham" icon by Andrei Rublev; the three angels represent the three persons of God

Eastern Orthodox Christians believe in a single God who is both three and one (triune); the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, "one in essence and undivided". The Holy Trinity is three "unconfused" and distinct divine persons ( hypostases ), who share one divine essence (ousia); uncreated, immaterial and eternal. The Father is the eternal source of the Godhead, from whom the Son is begotten eternally and also from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally. The essence of God being that which is beyond human comprehension and cannot be defined or approached by human understanding. [6]

Christology

Eastern Orthodox Christians believe the incarnate Word of God is one person in two natures, both fully divine and fully human, perfectly God (τέλειος Θεός) and perfectly man (τέλειος άνθρωπος). Throughout the ages this has been a point of contention between schismatic Christian theological factions (heterodox) and the mainstream body of Christian believers (orthodox). Christ had a divine will, or set of desires and spiritual incentives, and a human will with fleshly drives. He had a human body, human mind, and human spirit able to be tempted with sin and to suffer the same way as we would. In this way God is said to have suffered and died in the flesh of Jesus, although the divine nature is itself impassible and immortal.

Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of the Jews, the God of Israel come to be with His people, the Redeemer of the human race who saves the world from sin and its effects, the comprehensible self-revelation of the incomprehensible God, and the pre-eternal Son begotten of the Father before all ages: "the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father." [7] He is said to have been begotten timelessly as God without a mother and begotten in history as man without a father.

Eastern Orthodox Christians believe in the betrayal, trial, execution, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that he truly rose from the dead on the third day following his crucifixion. The feast of the resurrection of Christ, which is called "Easter" in Germanic languages, is known as Pascha in the Eastern Orthodox Church. This is the Aramaic variant (the language spoken at the time of Jesus) of the Hebrew Pesach, meaning "Passover". The resurrection of Christ is the Christian Passover. Pascha is called "the Feast of Feasts" and is considered the greatest feast of all the Church's liturgical feasts, including the feasts of the Nativity (Christmas) and the Annunciation.

Essence and energies

In discussing God's relationship to his creation a distinction is made within Eastern Orthodox theology between God's eternal essence and uncreated energies, though it is understood that this does not compromise the divine simplicity. Energies and essence are both inseparably God. The divine energies are the expressions of divine being in action according to Eastern Orthodox doctrine, whereas the persons of the Trinity are divine by nature. Hence, created beings are united to God through participation in the divine energies and not the divine essence or ousia.

Theodicy

The Eastern Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement, [8] wrote:

There is no need for Christians to create a special theory for justifying God (theodicy). To all the questions regarding the allowance of evil by God (the problem of evil) there is one answer - Christ; the Crucified Christ, Who burns up in Himself all the world's sufferings for ever; Christ, Who regenerates our nature and has opened the entry to the Kingdom of everlasting and full life to each one who desires it.

The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that from the time of Christ's coming into the world, the fullness of Divinity Love is revealed to those who believe in Him, the veil is fallen, and the Lord's sacrifice has demonstrated His Divine in His Resurrection. It only remains for the faithful to partake of this Love: "O taste and see that the Lord is good," exclaims David the Psalmist. [9]

These concepts theodicy and the problem of evil from an Eastern Orthodox perspective stems from misconception about the anthropology of man (i.e., free will and divine omnipotence). [9] [ failed verification ] In the earliest years of the Christian community labeled Gnostics (by church fathers such as Irenaeus) attacked the Jewish God and the story of cosmic creation contained in the Torah. Much of these Gnostic sects attacked the Jewish creator YHWH as inferior due to the Jewish God allowing his creation to be imperfect or allowing the occurrence of negative events. The clearest example of this foolish or wicked creator god is in modern terms expressed in the philosophical concept termed "the problem of evil." Western Roman Catholic philosophers (such as Augustine, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas following Augustinian theodicy) [10] [ need quotation to verify ] have attempted to make apologies for the Judeo-Christian God due to this characteristic of the material world, under the term theodicy. [10] [ need quotation to verify ]

The early church fathers addressed this form of fatalism (a more modern secular term for these teachings would be either necessitarianism or theological determinism) as it taught that humanity had no significant free will; Judeo-Christians taught humanity has indeterminate free will (a philosophical position called libertarianism). The Church taught (against the Gnostics) that the cosmos is fallen but not due to God creating it dysfunctional, but rather because Man misused his freedom of will to choose a path which separates him from God, i.e., to exist within the Divine will in perfect relationship, and idolatrously proclaimed his self-sufficiency. When humanity made this choice it is taught in Eastern patristics that reality or every sphere of human influence and participation "fell" and was corrupted, leading indeterminacy (a necessary condition for morally significant free will in a mode of separation from God) to be infused into human existence. As a result of this randomness or indeterminacy, good and bad befall all people whether they are of good or bad character. The first condition of this change was the Eastern understanding of creation which stands in radical contrast to the fatalist approach to sin as taught by the Gnostic sectarians, and later by strict Augustinians. In that God created sarx ("the flesh") as a provision for Man, led by the Spirit of God, to remedy his fallen state by using his time on earth to seek and reconcile with God, even while our common sarx separates us from God.

The notion that the Eastern Orthodox see theodicy as an exclusively Western preoccupation is belied by writings such as Pavel Florensky's The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters; Archbishop Stylianos's Theodicy and Eschatology: A Fundamental Orthodox Viewpoint in Theodicy and Eschatology (Australian Theological Forum Press 2005 ISBN   1-920691-48-0); Tsunami and Theodicy by David B. Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian and author of The Beauty of the Infinite; "The Lady and the Wench": A Practical Theodicy in Russian Literature by Paul Valliere; and with regard to one of the Fathers of the Church Irenaeus' Theodicy.

Sin

The Eastern Orthodox approach to sin, and how it is dealt with, shuns perceived Western "legalism." Following rules strictly without the heart "being in it" does not help a believer with his salvation. Sin is not fundamentally about transgressing a Divine law; rather, it is a label attributed to any behavior which "misses the mark," that is, fails to live up to the higher goal of conforming to God's nature.

Thus, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition sin is not viewed primarily as a guilty stain on the soul that needs to be wiped out, but rather as a pervading sickness or a failure to achieve the goal of the truly human life, fulfilling one's Divine design and function as the created image of God. Sin, therefore, does not merely imply guilt for violating a commandment, but rather the impetus to become something other than what we are. Because each person's experience is unique, conquering one's sinful habits requires individual attention and correction. The ultimate goal for this salvific process is to become divinized, to reflect the Divine likeness by becoming Christ-like in one's thought life and behavior.

A traditional practice of Eastern Orthodoxy is, as in other apostolic churches, to have a spiritual mentor and guide to whom one confesses and who treats the sin on an individual basis. An experienced and spiritually mature guide will know how and when to apply strictness in dealing with sin and when to administer mercy.

Original sin

In Eastern Orthodoxy, God created man perfect with free will and gave man a direction to follow. Man (Adam) and Woman (Eve) chose rather to disobey God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thus changing the "perfect" mode of existence of Man to the flawed or "fallen" mode of existence of Man. This fallen nature and all that has come from it is a result of "original sin." All humanity participates in the sin of Adam because like him, they are human and follow in his ways. The union of humanity with divinity in Jesus Christ restored, in the Person of Christ, the mode of existence of humanity, so that those who are incorporated in him may participate in this renewal of the perfect mode of existence, be saved from sin and death, and be united to God in deification. Original sin is cleansed in humans through baptism or, in the case of the Theotokos, the moment Christ took form within her.

This view differs from the Roman Catholic doctrine of original sin, the legacy of Latin father Augustine of Hippo, in that Man is not seen as inherently guilty of the sin committed by Adam, conceived as the federal head and legal representative of the human race. [note 1] According to the Orthodox, humanity inherited the consequences of that sin, not the guilt. The difference stems from Augustine's interpretation of a Latin translation of Romans 5:12 to mean that through Adam all men sinned, whereas the Orthodox reading in Greek interpret it as meaning that all of humanity sins as part of the inheritance of flawed nature from Adam. The Orthodox Church does not teach that all are born guilty and deserving of damnation, and Protestant doctrines such as predestination which are derived from the Augustinian theory of original sin and are especially prominent in the Lutheran and Calvinist traditions, are not a part of Orthodox belief.

In the book Ancestral Sin, John S. Romanides addresses the concept of original sin, which he understands as an inheritance of ancestral sin from previous generations. Romanides asserts that original sin (understood as innate guilt) is not an apostolic doctrine of the Church nor cohesive with the Eastern Orthodox faith, but rather an unfortunate innovation of later church fathers such as Augustine. In the realm of ascetics it is by choice, not birth, that one takes on the sins of the world. [11]

Hell

Detail of Hell in a painting depicting the Second Coming (Georgios Klontzas, late 16th century) KLONTZAS GEORGIOS End of 16th cent The Second Coming detail The Hell.png
Detail of Hell in a painting depicting the Second Coming (Georgios Klontzas, late 16th century)

The Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as the Non-Chalcedonian Churches (i.e., Oriental Orthodoxy and Assyrian Church of the East), teach that both the elect and the lost enter into the presence of God after death, and that the elect experience this presence as light and rest, while the lost experience it as darkness and torment. [12] The Orthodox see this doctrine as supported by Scripture and by the patristic tradition. Hell as professed in the East is neither the absence of God, nor the ontological separation of the soul from the presence of God, but rather the opposite—Heaven and Hell are the fully manifest divine presence, experienced either pleasantly as peace and joy or unpleasantly as shame and anguish, depending upon one's spiritual state and preparedness.

Salvation

Orthodox icon of the Resurrection (14th-century fresco, Chora Church, Istanbul). Chora Anastasis1.jpg
Orthodox icon of the Resurrection (14th-century fresco, Chora Church, Istanbul).

Disrupted communion with God

Eastern Orthodox Christians hold that man was originally created in communion with God, but through acting in a manner contrary to his own nature (which is intrinsically ordered to communion with God), he disrupted that communion. Because of man's refusal to fulfill the "image and likeness of God" within him, corruption and the sickness of sin whose consequence is death entered man's mode of existence. But when Jesus came into the world He Himself was Perfect Man and Perfect God united in the divine Hypostasis of the Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Through his assumption of human nature, human existence was restored, enabling human beings, the fulfilment of creation, through participation in divinity by incorporation into Jesus Christ. St. Athanasius:

The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image. In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once and for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image [of God]. [13]

Salvation, or "being saved," therefore, refers to this process of being saved from death and corruption and the fate of hell. The Orthodox Church believes that its teachings and practices represent the true path to participation in the gifts of God. Yet, it should be understood that the Orthodox do not believe that you must be Orthodox to participate in salvation. God is merciful to all. The Orthodox believe that there is nothing that a person (Orthodox or non-Orthodox) can do to earn salvation. It is rather a gift from God. However, this gift of relationship has to be accepted by the believer, since God will not force salvation on humanity. Man is free to reject the gift of salvation continually offered by God. To be saved, man must work together with God in a synergeia whereby his entire being, including his will, effort and actions, are perfectly conformed with, and united to, the divine. Vladimir Lossky:

God becomes powerless before human freedom; He cannot violate it since it flows from His own omnipotence. Certainly man was created by the will of God alone; but he cannot be deified [made Holy] by it alone. A single will for creation, but two for deification. A single will to raise up the image, but two to make the image into a likeness. The love of God for man is so great that it cannot constrain; for there is no love without respect. Divine will always will submit itself to gropings, to detours, even to revolts of human will to bring it to a free consent. [14]

Incarnation

Prior to Christ's incarnation on Earth it was man's "fate", when he died, because of the fall of Adam, to be separated from God. Because man distorted his mode of existence through acting against what was natural to him - thus disobeying God - humanity placed itself in a terrible and inescapable position. God, however, raised humanity's fallen nature, to unite his divine nature with our human nature. This he accomplished through the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who assumed human nature, thus becoming man, whilst retaining the divine nature proper to divinity. It is fundamental for Orthodox Christians that they accept Christ as both God and Man, both natures complete. This is viewed as the only way of escaping the hell of separation from God. The incarnation unites humanity to divinity. Orthodox Christians believe that because of that Incarnation, everything is different. It is said that St Basil stated: "We are to strive to become little gods, within God, little jesus christs within Jesus Christ". In other words, Orthodox Christians must seek perfection in all things in their lives; and strive to acquire Godly virtue. It is believed that God, through assuming humanity, makes it possible for man to participate in divinity. Orthodox Christians do not believe in becoming "separate" gods in the pagan sense; rather, they believe that humans may participate in the divine energies of God without loss of their personal particularity. Humans, therefore, become by grace what God is by nature.

Resurrection

The Resurrection of Christ is the central event in the liturgical year of the Orthodox Church and is understood in literal terms as a real historical event. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified and died, descended into Hades, rescued all the souls held there through man's original sin; and then, because Hades could not restrain the infinite God, rose from the dead, thus saving all humanity. Through these events, he released humanity from the bonds of Hades and then came back to the living as man and God. That each individual human may partake of this immortality, which would have been impossible without the Resurrection, is the main promise held out by God in his New Covenant with humanity, according to Orthodox Christian tradition.

Every holy day of the Orthodox liturgical year relates to the Resurrection directly or indirectly. Every Sunday of the year is dedicated to celebrating the Resurrection; many Orthodox believers will refrain from kneeling or prostrating on Sundays in observance thereof. Even in the liturgical commemorations of the Passion of Christ during Holy Week, there are frequent allusions to the ultimate victory at its completion.

Deification

The ultimate goal of the Orthodox Christian is to achieve theosis ("deification") or conformity to and intimate union with God. This is sometimes expressed thus: "God became man so that Man might become god." Some of the greatest saints have achieved, in this life, a measure of this process. The individual who achieves theosis never realizes his accomplishment, as his perfect humility keeps him blind to pride. Salvation therefore is not merely an escape from the eternal bondage of death, but an entrance to life in Christ here and now.

Noetic renewal as spiritual therapy

A central concept in Eastern Christianity is nous (typically translated "mind" or "understanding"), the apperceptive and relational faculty of attention or awareness which is the center, heart, or spirit of the person. [15] [16] Nous is the eye or soul of the person. [17] [18] It is the nous that is both logical and intuitive understanding. [19] It was humanity's nous that was damaged by Adam's sin and fall and it was this damaged consciousness that each human by birth now receives.

It is the nous which has to be healed and nourished by means of illumination (see theoria ). [20] In Orthodox thought, the Church offers a therapeutic treatment for pain, suffering, and the search for value in existence. Orthodox Christianity is healing or therapeutic, and works in each individual to overcome their passions (i.e. evil thoughts, pasts, addictions). [19]

As a reorientation of the self, faith (pistis) is sometimes used interchangeably with noesis in Eastern Christianity. [21] Faith is the intuitive, noetic experience of the nous or spirit. Transformative faith is a gift from God and among his uncreated operations. [22]

According to anti-Latin polemicist Fr. John Romanides, Western Christianity does not offer a spiritual cure for spiritual problems, but express salvation as a worldly (religious) goal in the pursuit of happiness, rather than seeking to attain the vision of God and transcend the self. [23] Spiritual work is done to reconcile the heart and mind, by putting the mind in the heart, and then contemplating through our intuition. [19] [note 2] According to Lossky, rationalism reduces man and nature to cold mechanical concepts, interpretations and symbols of reality not reality in and of itself. [20] [25]

Mother of God

The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most venerated of Orthodox Christian icons of the Virgin Mary. Vladimirskaya.jpg
The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most venerated of Orthodox Christian icons of the Virgin Mary.

A great many traditions revolve around the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Theotokos , the Birth-giver of the preeternal Word of God, which are theologically paramount. It is believed by Orthodox Christians that she was and remained a virgin before and after Christ's birth. Many of the Church's beliefs concerning the Virgin Mary are reflected in the apocryphal text "The Nativity of Mary", which was not included in scripture, but is considered to be accurate in its description of events. The child Mary was consecrated at the age of three to serve in the temple as a temple virgin. Zachariah, at that time High Priest of the Temple, did the unthinkable and carried Mary into the Holy of Holies as a sign of her importance – that she herself would become the ark in which God would take form. At the age of twelve she was required to give up her position and marry, but she desired to remain forever a virgin in dedication to God. And so it was decided to marry her to a close relative, Joseph, an uncle or cousin, an older man, a widower, who would take care of her and allow her to retain her virginity. And so it was that when the time came she submitted to God’s will and allowed the Christ to take form within her. It is believed by many Orthodox that she, in her life, committed no sin; however, the Orthodox do not accept the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate conception. The Theotokos was subject to original sin as the Orthodox understand it, yet she lived her life stainless and pure. In the theology of the Orthodox Church, it is most important to understand that Christ, from the very moment of conception, was fully God and fully man. Therefore, Orthodox Christians believe that it is correct to say that Mary is indeed the Theotokos, the Birth-giver of God, and that she is the greatest of all humans ever to have lived (except, of course, for Christ her Son). The term 'Theotokos' has tremendous theological significance to Orthodox Christians, as it was at the center of the Christological debates of the 4th and 5th centuries AD.

After her great role was accomplished, the Church believes she remained a virgin, continuing to serve God in all ways. She traveled much with her son, and was present both at his Passion on the Cross and at his ascension into heaven. It is also believed that she was the first to know of her son's resurrection – the Archangel Gabriel appearing to her once more and revealing it to her. It is believed she lived to the age of seventy and called all the apostles to her before she died. According to tradition Saint Thomas arrived late and was not present at her death. Desiring to kiss her hand one last time he opened her tomb but her body was gone. The Orthodox believe she was assumed into heaven bodily; however, unlike in the Roman Catholic Church, it is not a dogmatic prescription and the holy day is usually referred to as the Feast of the Dormition, not that of the Assumption.

Saints, relics, and the deceased

Relics of Saint Demetrius in Thessalonika, Greece. Relics of Saint Demetrius.jpg
Relics of Saint Demetrius in Thessalonika, Greece.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church a saint is defined as anyone who is currently in Heaven, whether recognized here on earth or not. By this definition, Adam and Eve, Moses, the various prophets, martyrs for the faith, the angels and archangels are all given the title of Saint. There is a service in the Orthodox Church in which a saint is formally recognized by the entire Church, called glorification. This does not, however, "make" a saint but simply accords him or her a place on the calendar with regular services in his honor. Recently, in order to avoid abuses, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople has begun to follow the longstanding practice of other local Orthodox churches by issuing special encyclical letters (tomoi) in which the Church acknowledges the popular veneration of a saint. Glorification usually happens after believers have already begun venerating a saint. There are numerous small local followings of countless saints that have not yet been recognized by the entire Orthodox Church.

A strong element in favor of glorification can be the perceived "miraculous" condition of physical remains (relics), although that alone is not considered sufficient. In some Orthodox countries it is the custom to re-use graves after three to five years due to limited space. Bones are respectfully washed and placed in an ossuary, often with the person's name written on the skull. Occasionally when a body is exhumed something believed to be miraculous occurs to reveal the person's sainthood. There have been numerous occurrences where the exhumed bones are said to suddenly give off a wonderful fragrance, like flowers; or sometimes the body is said to be found incorrupt despite having not been embalmed (traditionally the Orthodox do not embalm the dead) and having been buried for three years.

For the Orthodox, body and soul both comprise the person, and in the end, body and soul will be reunited; therefore, the body of a saint shares in the holiness of the soul of the saint.

Orthodox venerate saints and ask for their prayers, and consider them brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. Saints are venerated and loved and asked to intercede for salvation, but they are not given the worship accorded to God, because their holiness is believed to come from God. In fact, anyone who worships a saint, relics, or icons is to be excommunicated. As a general rule only clergy will touch relics in order to move them or carry them in procession; however, in veneration the faithful will kiss the relic to show love and respect toward the saint. Every altar in every Orthodox church contains relics, usually of a martyr. The Church building interiors are covered with the icons of saints.

The Orthodox Church sees baptism, both for infants and adults, as the moment one is incorporated into Christ. The person baptised is given a new name, always the name of a saint. As well as birthdays, Orthodox celebrate the day of the saint for whom the person is named (the person's name day).

See also

Notes

  1. Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Theology, Part II: God Manifest in the World, 5. Concerning Evil and Sin Footnote on Augustine and Original Sin. Man's fall into sin Perhaps no doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Church has caused such heated discussions and misunderstandings in our day as has this doctrine of original or ancestral sin. The misunderstandings usually occur either from the desire to define the doctrine too precisely, or from overreactions to this over-definition. The expressions of the early Fathers in general (apart from Blessed Augustine in the West) do not go into the “how” of this matter, but simply state:“When Adam had transgressed, his sin reached unto all men” (St. Athanasius the Great, Four Discourses Against the Arians, 1, 51, Eerdmans English tr., p. 336). Some Eastern Orthodox Christians have mistakenly defended the Augustinian notion of “original guilt" — that is, that all men have inherited the guilt of Adam's sin — and others, going to the opposite extreme,have denied altogether the inheritance of sinfulness from Adam. Fr. Michael rightly points out, in his balanced presentation, that from Adam we have indeed inherited our tendency towards sin, together with the death and corruption that are now part of our sinful nature, but we have not inherited the guilt of Adam's personal sin. The term “original sin” itself comes from Blessed Augustine's treatise De Peccato Originale, and a few people imagine that merely to use this term implies acceptance of Augustine's exaggerations of this doctrine. This, of course, need not be the case. In Greek (and Russian) there are two terms used to express this concept, usually translated “original sin” and “ancestral sin.” One Eastern Orthodox scholar in the Greek (Old Calendar) Church describes them as follows: “There are two terms used in Greek for 'original sin.' The first, progoniki amartia is used frequently in the Fathers (St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Maximus the Confessor). I have always seen it translated 'original sin,' though Greek theologians are careful when they use the term to distinguish it from the term as it is applied in translating St. Augustine. The second expression one sees is to propatorikon amartima, which is literally 'ancestral sin.' John Karmiria, the Greek theologian, suggests in his dogmatic volumes that the latter term, used in later confessions, does not suggest anything as strong as Augustinian 'original sin,' but certainly suggests that 'everyone is conceived in sin.' “There are sometimes extreme reactions against and for original sin. As recent Greek theologians have pointed out, original sin in Orthodoxy is so tied to the notion of divinization (theosis) and the unspotted part of man (and thus to Christology) that the Augustinian overstatement (of man's fallen nature) causes some discomfort. In the expression 'original sin' the West often includes original guilt, which so clouds the divine potential in man that the term becomes burdensome. There is, of course, no notion of original guilt in Orthodoxy. The Western notion compromises the spiritual goal of man, his theosis and speaks all too lowly of him. Yet rejecting the concept because of this misunderstanding tends to lift man too high — dangerous in so arrogant a timeas ours. The balanced Orthodox view is that man has received death and corruption through Adam (original sin), though he does not share Adam's guilt. Many Orthodox, however, have accepted an impossible translation of Romans 5:12, which does not say that we have all sinned in Adam, but that, like Adam, we have all sinned and have found death” (Archimandrite Chrysostomos, St. Gregory Palamas Monastery, Hayesville, Ohio). The King James Version rightly translates Romans 5:12 as: “And so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” The Latin translation of the latter clause, “in whom all have sinned,” overstates the doctrine and might be interpreted to imply that all men are guilty of Adam's sin.
  2. Father Archimandrite Rafael (Karelin): "Conquer yourself – this is the highest of all victories." [24]

Related Research Articles

Arianism is a nontrinitarian Christological doctrine which asserts the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was begotten by God the Father at a point in time, a creature distinct from the Father and is therefore subordinate to him, but the Son is also God. Arian teachings were first attributed to Arius, a Christian presbyter in Alexandria of Egypt. The term "Arian" is derived from the name Arius; and like "Christian", it was not a self-chosen designation but bestowed by hostile opponents—and never accepted by those on whom it had been imposed. The nature of Arius's teaching and his supporters were opposed to the theological views held by Homoousian Christians, regarding the nature of the Trinity and the nature of Christ. The Arian concept of Christ is based on the belief that the Son of God did not always exist but was begotten within time by God the Father.

Original sin Christian belief in the state of sin in which humanity has existed since the fall of man

Original sin, also called ancestral sin, is a Christian belief in the state of sin in which humanity has existed since the fall of man, stemming from Adam and Eve's rebellion in Eden, namely the sin of disobedience in consuming the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This condition has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a "sin nature", to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.

Grace in Christianity aspect of Christianity

In Western Christian theology, grace is "the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it". It is not a created substance of any kind. "Grace is favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life." It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to people "generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved" – that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God.

In Christian theology, divinization, or theopoesis or theosis, is the transforming effect of divine grace, the spirit of God, or the atonement of Christ. Although it literally means to become divine, or to become god, most Christian denominations do not interpret the doctrine as implying an overcoming of a fundamental metaphysical difference between God and humanity, for example John of the Cross had it: "it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before".

Justification (theology) Gods act of removing the guilt and penalty of sin

In Christian theology, justification is God's act of removing the guilt and penalty of sin while at the same time making a sinner righteous through Christ's atoning sacrifice.

The East–West Schism, also called the Great Schism and the Schism of 1054, was the break of communion between what are now the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches, which has lasted from the 11th century. The Schism was the culmination of theological and political differences between the Christian East and West which had developed over the preceding centuries.

Eastern Orthodox view of sin

The Orthodox Church presents a view of sin distinct from views found in Roman Catholicism and in Protestantism, that sin is viewed primarily as a terminal spiritual sickness, rather than a state of guilt, a self-perpetuating illness which distorts the whole human being and energies, corrupts the Image of God inherent in those who bear the human nature, diminishes the divine likeness within them, disorients their understanding of the world as it truly is, and distracts a person from fulfilling his natural potential to become deified in communion with God.

John Savvas Romanides was an Orthodox Christian priest, author and professor who had a distinctive influence on post-war Greek Orthodox theology.

Hypostatic union

Hypostatic union is a technical term in Christian theology employed in mainstream Christology to describe the union of Christ's humanity and divinity in one hypostasis, or individual existence.

Vladimir Lossky 20th-century Russian theologian and writer

Vladimir Nikolayevich Lossky was an Eastern Orthodox theologian in exile from Russia. He emphasized theosis as the main principle of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Incarnation (Christianity)

In Christian theology, the incarnation is the belief that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, also known as God the Son or the Logos, "was made flesh" by being conceived in the womb of a woman, the Virgin Mary, also known as the Theotokos. The doctrine of the incarnation, then, entails that Jesus is fully God and fully human.

Free will in theology is an important part of the debate on free will in general. Religions vary greatly in their response to the standard argument against free will and thus might appeal to any number of responses to the paradox of free will, the claim that omniscience and free will are incompatible.

God in Christianity is the eternal being who created and preserves all things. Christians believe God to be both transcendent and immanent. Christian teachings of the immanence and involvement of God and his love for humanity exclude the belief that God is of the same substance as the created universe but accept that God's divine nature was hypostatically united to human nature in the person of Jesus Christ, in an event known as the Incarnation.

Coptic history

Coptic history is part of history of Egypt that begins with the introduction of Christianity in Egypt in the 1st century AD during the Roman period, and covers the history of the Copts to the present day. Many of the historic items related to Coptic Christianity are on display in many museums around the world and a large number is in the Coptic Museum in Coptic Cairo.

Catholic theology is the understanding of Roman Catholic doctrine or teachings, and results from the studies of theologians. It is based on canonical scripture, and sacred tradition, as interpreted authoritatively by the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. This article serves as an introduction to various topics in Catholic theology, with links to where fuller coverage is found.

Nepsis

Nepsis is an important idea in Orthodox Christian theology. It means wakefulness or watchfulness and constitutes a condition of sobriety acquired following a period of catharsis.

Christian theology is the theology of Christian belief and practice. Such study concentrates primarily upon the texts of the Old Testament and of the New Testament, as well as on Christian tradition. Christian theologians use biblical exegesis, rational analysis and argument. Theologians may undertake the study of Christian theology for a variety of reasons, such as in order to:

<i>Theosis</i> (Eastern Christian theology)

Theosis, or divinization, is a transformative process whose aim is likeness to or union with God, as taught by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches. As a process of transformation, theosis is brought about by the effects of catharsis and theoria. According to Eastern Christian teaching, theosis is very much the purpose of human life. It is considered achievable only through a synergy between human activity and God's uncreated energies.

History of Eastern Orthodox theology

The history of Eastern Orthodox Christian theology begins with the life of Jesus and the forming of the Christian Church. Major events include the Chalcedonian schism with the Oriental Orthodox miaphysites, the Iconoclast controversy, the Photian schism, the Great Schism between East and West, and the Hesychast controversy. The period after the Second World War saw a re-engagement with the Greek, and more recently Syriac, Fathers that included a rediscovery of the theological works of St. Gregory Palamas, which has resulted in a renewal of Orthodox theology in the 20th and 21st centuries.

References

  1. Pomazansky, op. cit., p. 35
  2. (Chap. XXIII, §§ 54–59)
  3. Kallistos (Ware), Bishop (1963). The Orthodox Church. London: Penguin Books (published 1964). pp. 204, ff. ISBN   0-14-020592-6.
  4. Pomazansky, Protopresbyter Michael. "Orthodox Dogmatic Theology". 1984 [English trans.] (Rev. by author, 1973 ed.). Platina, California: Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood: 61. LOC # 84-051294.
  5. Maletis, John P. (2008). "Let There Be Light: An Orthodox Christian Theory of Human Evolution For The 21st Century". Theandros. 5 (3). ISSN   1555-936X.
  6. Lossky, V. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
  7. Nicene Creed
  8. In Memoriam: Olivier Clément
  9. 1 2 http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/parables_potapov.htm Gospel parables, an Eastern Orthodox commentary By Father Victor Potapov
  10. 1 2 God and evil: an introduction to the issues By Michael L. Peterson ISBN   978-0-8133-2849-2 pg 94
  11. Romanides, John S. (2002). Ancestral Sin. Ridgewood, NJ: Zephyr Pub. ISBN   0-9707303-1-4.
  12. Heaven, Hell, and the Afterlife According to the Bible, an Orthodox account
  13. St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation
  14. Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction
  15. Orthodox Psychotherapy. Chapter III by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos published by Birth of Theotokos Monastery, Greece (January 1, 2005) ISBN   978-960-7070-27-2 Archived January 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  16. What is the Human Nous? by John Romanides
  17. Orthodox Psychotherapy Section The Knowledge of God according to St. Gregory Palamas by Metropolitan Metropolitan Hierotheos published by Birth of Theotokos Monastery, Greece (January 1, 2005) ISBN   978-960-7070-27-2
  18. 1 2 3 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 1, 2009. Retrieved December 17, 2008.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  19. 1 2 Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise Exposition Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky Appendices New currents in Russian philosophico-theological thought Philosophy and Theology.
  20. Nikitas Stithatos-On the Inner Nature of Things and on the Purification of the Intellect: One Hundred Texts Palmer, G.E.H; Sherrard, Philip; Ware, Kallistos (Timothy). The Philokalia, Vol. 4 ISBN   0-571-19382-X
  21. Glossary of terms from the Philokalia pg 430 Palmer, G.E.H; Sherrard; Ware, Kallistos (Timothy). The Philokalia, Vol. 4 ISBN   0-571-19382-X
  22. The Cure Of The Neurobiological Sickness Of Religion The Hellenic Civilization Of The Roman Empire, Charlemagne's Lie Of 794, And His Lie Today by John S. Romanides
  23. Differences in the Religious Thinking Between the East and the West. by Father Archimandrite Rafael (Karelin).
  24. History of Russian Philosophy by Nikolai Lossky ISBN   978-0-8236-8074-0 p. 87

Further reading