For the Life of the World 7

Posted: October 31st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 7

This post ponders sections 10-12 of the second chapter of For the Life of the World. If you haven’t listened to it yet, here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast over sections 9-16.

When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being. He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be.

We talk about new creation, but I’m not sure we adequately wrap our minds around it. In and through Christ we are not simply individually made new. Rather, humanity is restored in Christ, our Eucharist, to what our nature was created to be. Yet not only mankind, but all creation is made new. “Behold! I have made all things new!” Very often, our gospel is too small. I like how Fr. Schmemann next describes some of the things faith is not.

“It is fitting and right to give thanks,” answers the congregation, expressing in these words that “unconditional surrender” with which true “religion” begins. For faith is not the fruit of intellectual search, or of Pascal’s “betting.” It is not a reasonable solution to the frustrations and anxieties of life. It does not arise out of a “lack” of something, but ultimately it comes out of fullness, love and joy. “It is meet and right” expresses all this. It is the only possible response to the divine invitation to live and to receive abundant life.

The beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer is called the “Preface”. However, it is not something to simply skip over. In his podcast, Deacon Michael comments that if you read the preface or the introduction of a book, you’re a bit strange. Most people jump right to chapter one. (As the head of a publishing company, I assume it’s his business to know such things.) I got a chuckle out of that part of the podcast. As I’m sure will surprise no-one who knows me, I almost always read prefaces, introductions, author’s notes, and all the rest of any book I read. I guess I’m statistically odd. He reads the whole prayer in the podcast. I’m going to include one translation of it here as well, for it is beautiful and makes a profound statement.

It is meet and right to hymn thee, to bless thee, to praise thee, to give thanks unto thee, and to worship thee in every place of thy dominion: for thou art God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing and eternally the same, thou and thine Only-begotten Son and thy Holy Spirit. Thou it was who didst bring us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away didst raise us up again, and didst not cease to do all things until thou hadst brought us back to heaven, and hadst endowed us with thy kingdom which is to come. For all these things we give thanks unto thee, and to thine Only-begotten Son, and thy Holy Spirit; for all things of which we know, and of which we know not, and for all the benefits bestowed upon us, both manifest and unseen. And we give thanks unto thee also for this ministry which thou dost vouchsafe to receive at our hands, even though there stand beside thee thousands of Archangels and ten thousands of Angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, six-winged, many eyed, soaring aloft, borne on their wings, singing, shouting, proclaiming and saying the Triumphal Hymn:

As Fr. Schmemann says, it’s the preface of the world to come.

This future has been given to us in the past  that it may constitute the very present, the life itself, now, of the Church.

The Sanctus, the adoration of God, the thanksgiving of creation, taken from the words of the Seraphim, is the only possible response to the divine love. It’s also beautiful, so I include it here as well. Say these prayers aloud. Don’t merely read them silently.

Holy, Holy, Holy,
Lord of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.

The next part of the great Eucharistic Prayer is called the Remembrance. But this is not simply an interior intellectual reflection. In a manner not unlike the Jewish Passover, we are making the past present. As we enter the Eschaton (the future), we bring forward Christ’s work, and our past and future collide in the present moment.

Holy and most holy art Thou in Thy glorious majesty,
Who has so loved the world
That thou gavest Thine only-begotten Son,
That whosoever believeth on Him
Should not perish but have everlasting life,
Who, when He had come
And had performed all that was appointed for our sakes,
In the night on which he was given up, or
In which, rather, He did give Himself
For the life of the world,
Took bread in His holy and pure and sinless hands
And when He had given thanks, and blessed it, and sanctified it,
He gave it to His holy disciples, saying:
Take, eat, this is my Body which is broken for you
For the remission of sins.
And in like manner, after supper
He took the cup, saying:
Drink ye all of this: this is my Blood of the New Testament,
Which is shed for you, and for many
For the remission of sins.

Remembering this commandment of salvation,
And all those things which for our sakes were brought to pass,
The Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the third day,
The Ascension into Heaven, the Sitting on the right hand,
The Second and glorious Advent --
Thine own of thine own we offer unto Thee,
In behalf of all and for all.

We praise thee,
We bless thee,
We give thanks unto thee,
O Lord,
And we pray unto thee,
O our God.

Amen and amen.


For the Life of the World 6

Posted: October 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 6

This week I’ll reflect on sections 9-16 of the second chapter of For the Life of the World. But first, the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast to which I’m listening as I read the book.

The book now moves into that part of the liturgy called variously the Liturgy of the Faithful, the Liturgy of the Table, or the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the book, Fr. Schmemman treats the transition not as a new liturgy, but simply as another transition in the Divine Liturgy. I have noticed that Orthodoxy seems to make less of a distinction between the first part of the liturgy and the second than I’ve found to be common in Western liturgies. Part of that, I’m sure, is due to the sacramental manner in which the Gospels and the reading of the Holy Scriptures are treated, something to which Fr. Schmemman earlier referred.

“Let us lift up our hearts,” says the celebrant, and the people answer: “We have lifted them up to the Lord.” The Eucharist is the anaphora, the “lifting up” of our offering, and of ourselves. It is the ascension of the Church to heaven. “But what do I care about heaven,” says St. John Chrysostom, “when I myself have become heaven …?”

We give thanks and we lift up ourselves. We do not merely offer. We become. Jesus commanded us to do this in remembrance of him, but the language he used is not the language of a memorial, of an intellectual reflection on a past event. The language he used is the language that Jews still use about Passover. It is the language of making a past event present — of participating and inhabiting an event in a way that transcends time. In fact, as we make the past of the Cross present, we also make the future of the Kingdom present. Past and future converge and live in the present moment. Indeed, we do become heaven together.

The Eucharist has so often been explained with reference to the gifts alone: what “happens” to bread and wine, and why, and when it happens! But we must understand that what “happens” to bread and wine happens because something has, first of all, happened to us, to the Church. It is because we have “constituted” the Church, and this means we have followed Christ in his ascension; because He has accepted us at His table in His Kingdom; because, in terms of theology, we have entered the Eschaton, and are now standing beyond time and space; it is because all this has first happened to us that something will happen to bread and wine.

I’ve found myself almost lost in the mire and confusion of all the debate over “what” exactly happens in the Eucharist. I even have a series here that tries to sort a little bit of that confusion out in at least a minimally organized way. I greatly appreciate Fr. Schmemman’s call to step back and truly see the larger picture. Yes, the fact that something does happen matters. But the context in which it happens matters even more.

I’m going to take the latter sections of Chapter 2 a little bit more slowly as there is a lot to absorb, especially for someone who is not Orthodox. So tomorrow I’ll pick up with section 10.


On the Incarnation of the Word 48 – The True Son of God

Posted: October 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 48 – The True Son of God

Athanasius continues his argument against the Greek pagans, and it’s worth reading the entire section. There are certainly parts of it that echo strongly in today’s environment. But I want to focus on one thought.

Then, if the Saviour is neither a man simply, nor a magician, nor some demon, but has by His own Godhead brought to nought and cast into the shade both the doctrine found in the poets and the delusion of the demons and the wisdom of the Gentiles, it must be plain and will be owned by all, that this is the true Son of God, even the Word and Wisdom and Power of the Father from the beginning.

Jesus didn’t simply best individuals. He brought all the powers to nothing. The Son is the eternal Word and was from the beginning. The Son is begotten, but always uncreated and true God.


On the Incarnation of the Word 47 – Christ Persuades All

Posted: October 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 47 – Christ Persuades All

As you read this part of Athanasius’ treatise, it helps if you understand something of the divine madness of the Delphic oracle or something both of Greek philosophy and the worship of the Greek gods. I’ll move straight to his conclusion.

But as to Gentile wisdom, and the sounding pretensions of the philosophers, I think none can need our argument, since the wonder is before the eyes of all, that while the wise among the Greeks had written so much, and were unable to persuade even a few from their own neighbourhood, concerning immortality and a virtuous life, Christ alone, by ordinary language, and by men not clever with the tongue, has throughout all the world persuaded whole churches full of men to despise death, and to mind the things of immortality; to overlook what is temporal and to turn their eyes to what is eternal; to think nothing of earthly glory and to strive only for the heavenly.

Even Plato convinced only a very few. Christ, on the other hand, used men who were not clever to persuade churches full of those who despise death.


On the Incarnation of the Word 46 – Defeat of the Pagan Gods

Posted: October 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 46 – Defeat of the Pagan Gods

Athanasius writes about the diminution of the pagan cults, the dying out of the oracles and the schools of magic, and the interference in the power of the demons. Moreover, even the wisdom of the Greeks has become foolish.

And, in a word, at what time has the wisdom of the Greeks become foolish, save when the true Wisdom of God manifested itself on earth? For formerly the whole world and every place was led astray by the worshipping of idols, and men regarded nothing else but the idols as gods. But now, all the world over, men are deserting the superstition of the idols, and taking refuge with Christ; and, worshipping Him as God, are by His means coming to know that Father also Whom they knew not. And, marvellous fact, whereas the objects of worship were various and of vast number, and each place had its own idol, and he who was accounted a god among them had no power to pass over to the neighbouring place, so as to persuade those of neighbouring peoples to worship him, but was barely served even among his own people; for no one else worshipped his neighbour’s god—on the contrary, each man kept to his own idol, thinking it to be lord of all;—Christ alone is worshipped as one and the same among all peoples; and what the weakness of the idols could not do—to persuade, namely, even those dwelling close at hand,—this Christ has done, persuading not only those close at hand, but simply the entire world, to worship one and the same Lord, and through Him God, even His Father.

Gods in the ancient world were gods of a place or of a people. The Word, however, is worshiped by the nations, by people who had once worshiped many disparate gods. Christianity spreads to the entire world in a way unprecedented.


On the Incarnation of the Word 45 – The Whole Earth Filled With the Knowledge of the Lord

Posted: October 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 45 – The Whole Earth Filled With the Knowledge of the Lord

This section invokes one of my favorite quotes from Isaiah 11 ( especially as held in tension with Isaiah 6). It’s something affirmed again in Habakkuk. One day the whole earth, already filled with God’s glory, will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. There is no place that is not so filled. There is no place of eternal separation from God as many Protestants like to proclaim.

But if a man is gone down even to Hades, and stands in awe of the heroes who have descended thither, regarding them as gods, yet he may see the fact of Christ’s Resurrection and victory over death, and infer that among them also Christ alone is true God and Lord.

Not even Hades, or death, is a place that is not filled with Christ’s victory and presence.

By these arguments, then, on grounds of reason, the Gentiles in their turn will fairly be put to shame by us. But if they deem the arguments insufficient to shame them, let them be assured of what we are saying at any rate by facts obvious to the sight of all.

Christ is revealed in all. There is no other reality.


On the Incarnation of the Word 44 – Redemption (or Re-Creation) Required More Than Creation

Posted: October 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 44 – Redemption (or Re-Creation) Required More Than Creation

This next section of Athanasius’ writing is complicated, but provides a vital component of his defense and explication of the Incarnation. I’ll do what I can to unravel it, but you made need to spend some time meditating on his words more than mine.

Athanasius considers the objection that since the Christian God is held to have created the world from nothing with a word (or Word as the case may be), he should have simply restored it with a command rather than through the messiness of the Incarnation. Athanasius responds that it requires more to cure that which already has existence than to bring it originally from non-existence.

To this objection of theirs a reasonable answer would be: that formerly, nothing being in existence at all, what was needed to make everything was a fiat and the bare will to do so. But when man had once been made, and necessity demanded a cure, not for things that were not, but for things that had come to be, it was naturally consequent that the Physician and Saviour should appear in what had come to be, in order also to cure the things that were. For this cause, then, He has become man, and used His body as a human instrument.

You see immediately that Athanasius primarily links Jesus’ saving work to the healing work of a physician, not in terms of law or judgment. Moreover, it required more to cure than it did to bring man into existence from nothing. I love this summary.

For it was not things without being that needed salvation, so that a bare command should suffice, but man, already in existence, was going to corruption and ruin.

Next comes another turn that bears close consideration.

Now if death were external to the body, it would be proper for life also to have been engendered externally to it. But if death was wound closely to the body and was ruling over it as though united to it, it was required that life also should be wound closely to the body, that so the body, by putting on life in its stead, should cast off corruption.

We’ve seen a lot about death and life in this treatise. Here he is drawing all of that together. Death and corruption had become part of the nature of man. We needed life. God had always been our only source of life and once we had abandoned life, the only way God could bring life to us was to become one of us — to assume our corrupted nature and destroy the death coursing through it.

For this cause the Saviour reasonably put on Him a body, in order that the body, becoming wound closely to the Life, should no longer, as mortal, abide in death, but, as having put on immortality, should thenceforth rise again and remain immortal. For, once it had put on corruption, it could not have risen again unless it had put on life. And death likewise could not, from its very nature, appear, save in the body. Therefore He put on a body, that He might find death in the body, and blot it out. For how could the Lord have been proved at all to be the Life, had He not quickened what was mortal?

Wow. Is that not a God worthy of not just all worship, but all love?

in this very way one may say, with regard to the body and death, that if death had been kept from the body by a mere command on His part, it would none the less have been mortal and corruptible, according to the nature of bodies; but, that this should not be, it put on the incorporeal Word of God, and thus no longer fears either death or corruption, for it has life as a garment, and corruption is done away in it.

All humanity has received life as a garment. It is no longer in the nature of man to die. We were meant to live.


Holy, Holy, Holy

Posted: October 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory. Isaiah 6:3

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. Trisagion

A couple of days ago, @tomcottar retweeted @edstetzer:

Holiness is not separation from sinners. It is separation from sin.

At the time I had several thoughts, but none that would fit in 140 characters, so I let it go. I saw it retweeted some more that day, so it stayed on my mind. Then yesterday, I was following up a reference in the OSB when I saw this note with Ephesians 1:4-6.

Becoming a Christian is not so much inviting Christ into one’s life as getting oneself into Christ’s life.

As I reflected on that, I realized that I would need to capture my reaction to the initial tweet on holiness in writing and it would take me considerably more than 140 characters to do it.

I believe many people think of holy as roughly synonymous with good or pure or moral. And, at least in the sense that Christians use the word, that’s really not what it means. We draw our use and understanding from that of the ancient Jewish people and qadosh, to the extent that I understand it, draws more from the idea of being distinct, set apart, or separate. As an illustration, variants of the word refer to the male and female temple prostitutes that were common in the ancient pagan world. The ancient Hebrews certainly did not think of the practice as pure or moral, but did recognize that the temple prostitutes had been set apart for worship, even if pagan worship.

As an aside, that does also illustrate an interesting point. Monotheism, the belief that there is only one God, is not actually the belief of the ancient Jewish people. Rather, it’s a belief that developed over time and we probably don’t see it really in evidence until around the 2nd century BCE. For much of the Old Testament, the faith of the Israelites is better described as henotheism, or the worship of one God even as you accept the reality of other gods. God guided them through a long transition from polytheism to monotheism rooted in the commandment to worship only him. The story of the people of God makes a lot more sense if you read it with that understanding.

One of the tidbits I’ve picked up along the way about the ancient hebrew language is that it did not have comparatives and superlatives (as was not uncommon in ancient languages) in the same way that we modify words to express those concepts. Rather, it repeated the word being emphasized. Thus “holy, Holy, HOLY” as the angels are singing in Isaiah’s vision is a way of saying the most Holy or the most apart, distinct, separate, or different. God, in his essence, is entirely other from creation. He is the uncreated. And yet in the same song, we find the remarkable tension of our faith. God is entirely other from creation, and at the same time all creation is filled with his glory. God is immanent. This is the truth we see  fully realized in the Incarnation of our Lord. The God who is wholly other becomes fully one of us. The God who is other enters into and joins his creation in the most intimate way possible. Why? Because our God is a God who is love and love sacrifices for the other. Our God is good and the lover of mankind. He is not other and distant, but other and near. We pray in the Trisagion for the thrice holy God to have mercy on us. And the raw beauty of the Incarnation is that he does, in the only way possible.

And that, finally, brings me to my reaction to the tweet. The words from which “sin” is translated draw from a theme of “missing the mark“. Since our mark is God and our life is now hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3), it is true that as we draw toward our mark, we will move away from that which is not our mark. And the point of the tweet is an important one. As the people of the Christ (indeed, in so intimate a way that a description of the Church as body and as bride is natural in Scripture) who dined with tax collectors and sinners without regard for the laws regarding ritual cleanliness, as those who are already being healed, we must not draw away from those who need healing. We are the hospital.

As another aside, in the laws of ritual cleanliness by which, in part, the Jews were set apart as a people, it’s clear that one could be made ritually unclean by touch. Ritual cleanness or holiness, however, could not be similarly transmitted. That was utterly dependent on your own actions and required positive effort. Jesus, however, acted utterly differently. Not only did he act as though he could not be made unclean by contact, he acted as though those who came in contact with him could be made clean. Unless you understand that part of the context, you will miss part of the power of the Gospel narratives.

Back to the point, though I agree with the intent of the original tweet, I think there is a problem with the way it’s phrased. Whatever our intent, when we express an idea of “holiness” in the negative sense, as something that it is not, we put the focus and emphasis on that thing which it is not. So by describing holiness as separation from sin, we place the focus on sin. And when that happens, I can find no place in history or experience where our efforts do not collapse into moralism and legalism. We inevitably end up doing exactly what Ed Stetzer was tweeting against. We draw away from sinners.

I would suggest that we are better served by focusing on what holiness is rather than on what it is not. And, as Fr. Alexander Schmemman says in For the Life of the World: “Holy” is the real name of God. We have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God. We seek to live by growing in communion with God. We are on a journey to rejoin our life, toward union with the only source of life. Holiness lies in the journey of theosis.

Holy is God and holiness is our life in Christ.


On the Incarnation of the Word 43 – Not to Impress, But to Heal

Posted: October 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 43 – Not to Impress, But to Heal

Athanasius is circling his target and moving closer in his treatise. He is responding to those who might criticize the Incarnation as something humble rather than an impressive display of divine power and might.

Now, if they ask, Why then did He not appear by means of other and nobler parts of creation, and use some nobler instrument, as the sun, or moon, or stars, or fire, or air, instead of man merely? let them know that the Lord came not to make a display, but to heal and teach those who were suffering. For the way for one aiming at display would be, just to appear, and to dazzle the beholders; but for one seeking to heal and teach the way is, not simply to sojourn here, but to give himself to the aid of those in want, and to appear as they who need him can bear it; that he may not, by exceeding the requirements of the sufferers, trouble the very persons that need him, rendering God’s appearance useless to them.

The Son did not come to impress us with his glory. He became one of us so that he might heal us, and in healing us, truly save us. I would say that if you do not understand that about Jesus, then you don’t understand him at all.

Athanasius goes on to point out that the rest of creation had never of its own volition turned from its created purpose. Man had. We were the ones in need of rescue.


On the Incarnation of the Word 42 – Union with Man Related to His Union with Creation

Posted: October 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 42 – Union with Man Related to His Union with Creation

Athanasius continues his argument against the Greek neo-platonists of his day in this section of his treatise. As I read this section, it struck me again how our situations are largely reversed today from that of Athanasius. Unlike the Jews, the pagan believers had relatively little difficulty with the idea of the Logos or Word as a divine being. Rather, they had a problem with the divine also being truly human. That’s what Athanasius is struggling against in his arguments. They sound a little strange to us, because the “secular” non-believers today have little issue with the reality of Jesus as a man. It’s his divinity that seems impossible to them.

In truth, that attitude and its opposite have both infiltrated the Church today to some extent as well. It’s not hard to find significant segments within Christianity today that on the one hand try to reduce Jesus to nothing but a man and on the other so elevate his divinity that it’s hard to see a real man at all. I appreciate the fictional work Anne Rice has done lately to perhaps heal and restore something of a proper Christian perspective about Jesus.

Let’s look at the heart of Athanasius’ argument in this section.

For just as, while the whole body is quickened and illumined by man, supposing one said it were absurd that man’s power should also be in the toe, he would be thought foolish; because, while granting that he pervades and works in the whole, he demurs to his being in the part also; thus he who grants and believes that the Word of God is in the whole Universe, and that the whole is illumined and moved by Him, should not think it absurd that a single human body also should receive movement and light from Him.

And as Mind, pervading man all through, is interpreted by a part of the body, I mean the tongue, without any one saying, I suppose, that the essence of the mind is on that account lowered, so if the Word, pervading all things, has used a human instrument, this cannot appear unseemly. For, as I have said previously, if it be unseemly to have used a body as an instrument, it is unseemly also for Him to be in the Whole.

In other words, if there’s anything wrong with the Word being fully incarnate within a particular human being, then there’s something wrong with saying the Word suffuses and sustains all of reality. Given the perspective of the platonists of his era, his argument is well-woven, even though it is not strictly the challenge we face today in most quarters.