Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics

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1. Orthodox Ecclesiological topics



D.  Pictorial Ontology

In the previous lesson we stressed that the Church is rooted in the life – in the very existence, one could say – of the Holy Trinity, because when creating the world, God’s will, God’s purpose and God’s end was for the world to attain communion with His life; with the life of the Triadic God. Consequently, we have an Ecclesiology that is not exhausted within the period of Providence. In other words, it is not exhausted strictly in the time between Creation and End Times; it has its origins and its destination in eternity.  This is a very important point that we should keep in mind, because there is also another Ecclesiology – especially in the West, but one that certain Orthodox have also embraced – which sees the Church as something that is related to that period between Creation and the Kingdom of God, in which case, the Kingdom of God somehow displaces the Church and we can no longer speak of a Church during End Times and within the Kingdom of God. This is wrong.  The Kingdom of God and the Church are the same thing, because –I repeat- in the will of God, the purpose in His creating the world was to transform all of it into a Church.  Consequently, Ecclesiology cannot be treated as a subject to be studied without any reference to that very life – the existence – of the Holy Trinity, and to the End Times, the Kingdom of God.

The Holy Trinity is linked to the Church in the following manner: the Father is the One Who favors, Who desires Providence in its entirety (in other words, for the world to be created and eventually be joined to God in an eternal communion); He is the One Who wants this – the One to Whom everything is attributed, while the Son is the One Who personally undertakes to realize, to physically materialize this union between the created and the Uncreated and the Holy Spirit is the Person of the Holy Trinity Who acts in a way that facilitates the transcendence of the limitations between the created and the Uncreated. This is the Spirit of communion; the Spirit of power and of life, Who tears down the barriers that separate the beings between themselves, but also the One Who leads to the transcending of the physically impossible communion between the created and the Uncreated.  The created and the Uncreated are two natures, which can in no way relate to each other, but in the Holy Spirit, this union of the two natures is made possible.  Consequently, the Holy Spirit is the One Who makes this union between the created and the Uncreated possible, in the Person of the Son.  Thus, all three Persons of the Holy Spirit act –and are present, each in His own way– within the Church.  The Church, thus, is a fact; a reality, in which all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are involved. But, because the Son is the One Who takes upon Himself the “interfacing” between the created and the Uncreated, through His “vacating” and His incarnation, this is why the Church is called the Body of Christ, the Body of the Son and not the Body of the Father or the Body of the Holy Spirit.

As for the final outcome of Providence, the End Times, the Church is fully identifies with the Kingdom of God; She is the Body of Christ, in which everything is recapitulated, everything is united – everything that will live, that will survive forever. The Kingdom of God is precisely that recapitulation, that union of everything in Christ, thus making Christ “the One Who, amongst all others, is the foremost of all”. In other words, Christ becomes the Head of that Body, in which everything is joined and in communion (by the Holy Spirit) with the life of the Holy Trinity, with the very existence of the Holy Trinity, to such a degree that it is enabled to live eternally and in bliss.

This reality of the End Time, which coincides with the very Kingdom of God itself, is depicted within History in that which we call “the Church”.  We need to pause at the word “depicted”, because if we say that it fully “identifies with”, we shall be confronting many problems.

First of all, the Church in Her present state quite clearly does not identify with the Kingdom of God. This is attributed to the fact that we still have within History the existence and the intervention and the actions of evil to such an extent, that the members of the Church and the entire world continue to be in a state of combat with evil, and this constant state of combat with evil is, for the Church also, one of Her characteristics.  In other words, the Church is not comprised solely of members who have overcome evil; the Church is comprised of those who are struggling against evil. Consequently, She is comprised of sinners and saints (and when we say saints, we don’t mean them in their eschatological state, with regard to the final reality of the Church, i.e., in their union, their relation to the other members of the Church).  It is possible –and it is of course a fact – for saints to exist, who, in their relation to God (there are delicate distinctions here) have already been judged as eschatological saints, but in their relation to the remaining body of the Church, these saints are not in the state that the Kingdom of God entails in its eschatological form.  In other words, there continue to be obstacles in the full union of the saints with the remaining Body of the Church, the foremost obstacle being –naturally- the “ultimate enemy” as it was called by the Apostle Paul – i.e., death, whose existence hinders the full union of the members of the Church with all of the saints.

Whether we accept that saints exist, and that saints in fact exist who have already been judged as such with eschatological criteria, who are the ones that we literally acknowledge as saints in the Church; whether we therefore see the Church from the point of view of those saints who have –as I said- been judged eschatologically as being saints, or, whether we we see it from the point of view of the sinners who are members of the Church, in both cases we are faced with the following problem:  that the reality which we call “the Church” does not identify absolutely with the reality that we call “Kingdom of God” nowadays within History – here and now.  This is why we use imagery for the term, i.e., the Kingdom of God, the End Times are depicted in the Church. This pictorial, eschatological ontology is a key in Ecclesiology; without it, we cannot speak of the Church without risking paradoxes that could quite easily be misconstrued as illogical.

One example is the paradox of the Church’s sanctity when we say that She is holy by nature, when on the other hand we have the reality of sinner-members in the Church.  It would be a huge mistake, to say that the Church is comprised only of saints – a trend that one frequently discerns in contemporary Orthodox theologians.  The Church is not of saints only. That would have been a huge mistake. The Church is composed of sinners also. But then, how can we claim that the Church is holy? This paradox cannot be comprehended (or used) in Ecclesiology, without introducing what I called “pictorial ontology”; in other words, we need to say that the reality of the Church in the form that it presently has in History, is only a depiction of the End Times; it is not the End Times, per se.  However, we need to clarify something here: a depiction can also be perceived purely symbolically, without having any ontological relationship to that which is depicted, or, it could be related to a form provided by a logical sequence of one’s imagination; for example, what relation can there be, between a person’s photograph and the person himself? The relation is obviously dependent on what I just mentioned, i.e., the logical sequence of the imagination, because of the reminiscent elements that man finds therein. This is the reason we say (when looking at someone’s photograph) that the photograph “is” that person, albeit the reality of the person and the reality of the photograph have no ontological relationship whatsoever. The photograph does not partake –ontologically- of the original, except only to the degree that one’s imagination intervenes and creates those mental associations that link the photograph to the original, in one’s thoughts.  This is not the meaning of “picture”.

A picture – an image – is one thing, and a photograph is another.  An “image of” something partakes of the original, ontologically; in other words, if we were to take the photograph of a person and abuse it; if we rip it up or scrap it, the original would not be affected. Our actions would have nothing to do with the original depicted therein. The “image of” something, however, is another thing. If we abuse the image, we also abuse the original.  Or vice versa: if we honor the image, we are also honoring the original. This is also the meaning behind the words of Saint Basil the Great, which were used (as you surely know) by the defenders of icons during the Iconomachy era, i.e., the famous phrase that the honor bestowed on icons “moves on, to the original”. Usually, we use this phrase by Saint Basil to highlight the distinction between an icon/image and the original person depicted therein. But this phrase has two elements. Observe how carefully such phrases are formulated: one could verily say that they were divinely inspired!

The honor bestowed on an icon moves on, to the original…. One truth that is discerned here is that we can see a distinction, and not an identification between the two. The other truth, however, if one were to focus on the word “move on”, is that the honor moves on, to the original, hence, it does not remain with the copy. In other words, with an image/icon (with the reality of an image), we have an actual communion, between the one depicted and the image itself.  This is the ontology of the image – the pictorial ontology.  It is the truth of things, which, however, is presented to us - is offered to us – in such a form and with such media, that are not the same media and form and method by which the original exists (or will exist, in its actual hypostasis).  When Saint Maximus made this important distinction between image and truth – this well-known distinction between shadow, image and truth (Hebrews 10:1), where he says that the “shadow” relates to all that is found in the Old Testament, while the New Testament contents are the “image” and all that is to come in the future – i.e., the Kingdom of God - is the “truth”, he is striving precisely to highlight the ontology behind the notion of “image”.  The New Testament is not a photograph of the truth; a photograph of End Times. It is an “image” of the things to come.  It partakes of – it possesses – the reality of things to come, “in clay shells” as Paul says, i.e., in a material and historical form.  But, while this may, on the one hand, allow for a distinction between the image and the truth (and thus allow us in our Ecclesiology to speak of the existence of saints who are sinful or are struggling against evil), on the other hand, there is that partaking of the truth, of the reality of the truth, which allows us to say that the identity of the image – the true being of the image is found in the person depicted therein, i.e. in the depicted truth. That is why we can –and must– say of the Church, that the identity of the Church is Her eschatological state. In other words, the Church is not what She is, but what She will be, at the end of Time. That is the mystery we call “the Church”.  The Church is a mystery, and it is for the following reason:  because She offers us Her identity, Her truth, within this clay shell of History, in which Her weaknesses can be seen, as well as the clashes with evil and sin. And yet, within that clay shell is also hidden the treasure of truth, which is the real identity of the Church.

Thus, we cannot formulate Ecclesiology without a ‘mysteriology’. It is not possible to describe what the Church is, if we don’t examine the mysteries-sacraments of the Church; i.e., those things that depict the truth of the Church, within historical reality. You can understand why John Kavasilas had said that classic expression, i.e., that the Church “is denoted in the sacraments” (P.G. 150, 452 CD); in other words, it is only therein, that we can discover the definition of “Church”.  If you look in the Fathers, you will not find any definition of the Church; it does not exist; it cannot be defined.  Scholasticism attempted to provide a definition of “the Church”; it provided various definitions, which we copied and we too repeat in our own Dogmatics – as we have done in practically every topic. A definition of the Church cannot be given, as though the Church is a reality per se.  The Church is revealed; She is manifested and realized within those images of the Kingdom of God, which are none other than the Sacraments. And that is why the Church is a mystery in Herself, and why She is denoted “in the Sacraments” exclusively.

It is therefore necessary, in Ecclesiology, to start from the sacraments and to not regard them as a chapter of Ecclesiology. We must begin with the sacraments, because that is where the reality is – the experienced reality of the Church.  And the sacraments have that precise character, which I mentioned: they are the images of the reality, images of the truth of End Times – not in the sense of a photograph, but in the sense of an image; i.e., the manifestation of the real and true identity of beings that are in the historical and material forms of the present.  When the future is depicted with materials of the present, then we have an “image” of it; but, the reality, the true identity of the image is its future state, not its present one. That is how all of the sacraments of the Church are, and that is why (as I said) we must begin with the sacraments.  But we must again pose the question:  when we say “sacraments”, what do we mean? I will again say that, as a general definition, a sacrament is the depicting, the revealing of an eschatological (true) reality – the reality of beings in their eventual, final state, because that is the truth of beings.  The truth of beings is not found in the ever-changing reality of History, but in their final form. That is how God willed things, and that is the way He sees them.  This is because the entity, the truth of beings is dependent on the will of God – on how God willed it – and it is for that reason, that the true identity of beings and their truth is found in their hindmost form. Thus, it is this “depiction” of the ultimate, true reality – with the forms and the means provided by today’s historical reality – that constitutes the sacrament.

One such revelation of the eschatological reality of the Kingdom of God in such a manner is the Divine Eucharist and its officiating, its enactment, which is the Liturgy.  The Divine Eucharist depicts the future state; it does not symbolize the future state (there is a vast difference), but it denotes it; in other words, it reveals the future state in its reality, under the forms and the manners of the present. Historically, the roots of this virtual, pictorial ontology is found in the Bible, chiefly in the prophetic tradition, and in fact in the revelatory form as developed towards the end of the Old Testament, in the Book of Daniel and in other Books (Isaiah etc.); i.e., the prophet “sees” the End Times actually entering History and preventively judging History with their presence.  This depiction of End Times in the Judaic tradition (and subsequently in the Christian tradition) took on the form of depicted celestial realities; of the celestial reality as opposed to the terrestrial reality. (There is no difference between the Celestial Kingdom and the Kingdom of the Future; they are the same thing, and the term “celestial-heavenly” or “our Father in Heaven” – the reference to heaven is the same as the reference to End Times). It is just a way of seeing the truth – the Kingdom of God – outside of, beyond our own historical experience and reality.  A prophet either sees the Throne of God “in heaven”, or, he sees the End Times.  In revelatory tradition, this leans more towards End Times, however it also alternates, even within the “celestial” concept.  Thus, even if we say that the celestial things are being depicted, we mean the same thing. In other words, a truth is being depicted; a reality, which, albeit a reality of things to come, appears within History with a historical form.

That which depicts the End Times or the Celestial state in the sense that I just described, is the Divine Eucharist.  Because the Divine Eucharist has its reality, its truth, in that communion of the created with the Uncreated; the union of created and Uncreated in a specific manner, which is the “union in Christ”, the “recapitulation of everything in Christ”.  Thus, when this “recapitulation of everything in Christ” is revealed and realized, that is when we have the mystery of the Church, but at the same time, the sacrament of the Eucharist, because that is when the “recapitulation of everything” takes place “in the Eucharist”. Therefore the Eucharist is the sacrament that manifests -within Time- the identity of the Church; an identity that is eschatological, and it renders the truth of the Church a reality, here and now.  This, therefore, is the starting point of Ecclesiology. If you wished to “phenomenologically” speak of the Church (i.e., on the observations that we shall make on the experience), you must begin from the Divine Eucharist, because that is the “phenomenology” of the Church; that is the way in which the Church is revealed. As I have already explained in the previous lesson, the Church is that ultimate recapitulation of everything, which the Father had favored pre-eternally, which He had willed pre-eternally, which the Son had incarnated and which the Spirit had made possible with His potential to transcend the limitations of the created. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Church and the Eucharist – from this aspect – are the same thing. This may often sound one-sided, and there are many who resent this viewpoint. This is because the have a perception of the Eucharist, which is a very segmental one and by no means an overall perception of the Eucharist as the eschatological recapitulation of everything. If the essence of the Divine Eucharist is that depiction, that manifestation of the recapitulation of everything, then it is not an exaggeration to assert that the Eucharist and the Church identify with each other, because, as I explained, that is also what the Church is.  But, if we harbor the perception that the Eucharist is just another Sacrament among the many (and especially the prevalent Western concept of the Eucharist being the sacrament that merely perpetuates the Last Supper and Calvary, throughout History), then according to this perception, the relating of Eucharist and Ecclesiology leaves out many facets of Divine Providence and a view such as this is naturally a one-sided one.  This is where we Orthodox also stumble nowadays, and we find it difficult to communicate between ourselves, often attacking each other because of this lack of understanding on the subject. Of course it is one-sided for one to perceive the Eucharist as just another sacrament among the others; however, it is not one-sided, if one can perceive the Eucharist as that recapitulation or the depiction of that recapitulation of everything in Christ.  In other words, everything depends on how we perceive the Eucharist.  If we see the Eucharist in that segmented sense, and not in the overall sense that I have proposed, then the issue immediately arises, as to why we should say this, only of the Divine Eucharist and exclude the Baptism and the Chrism and all the other Sacraments.  On the other hand, if we take this overall concept of the Church as the eschatological recapitulation of everything, then what happens to the other Sacraments? Well, the other Sacraments are likewise incorporated in the Eucharist, and they too draw their meaning – their hypostasis, one could say – from the Divine Eucharist.

And here, we truly have a huge problem in Orthodox theology; a problem that springs from the influence of Western Scholasticism, which had initiated this segmenting of the Mystery of the Church into separate sacraments, which were even enumerated – given that we speak of seven sacraments only (and who today would dare say that they are not seven, and that the matter appeared thus, in just the 12th century, and even without the specific form that it has today?) This is because it went through a series of fluctuations; for example, even the funeral service was once considered a Sacrament, just as the tonsure of a monk was once regarded as a sacrament, but these are no longer included in the sacraments. The seven Sacraments that we have named are a Western enumeration, which was introduced at some point in History and is still preserved. This is not the usual approach to the sacraments, the way they were in the ancient Church. The bad thing - which has caused such a problem for us today – is that this splintering of the Sacraments was not only on a theoretical level, but also a liturgical one, and therefore we cannot even incorporate in our thoughts the other sacraments within the Divine Eucharist.  We cannot do it, because this incorporation is not possible in our experience; this correlation cannot even be considered. But, just as this separation was nonexistent in theory and was introduced in the West during mediaeval times, likewise in practice – in the experience of the Church – there was no such separation in the ancient Church. The things that we call “sacraments” nowadays, which we perform separately (if not all of them, at least the basic ones), used to take place liturgically within the Divine Eucharist, a fact that is very clear when observing the liturgical structure that we use nowadays for these sacraments.

Baptism was performed within the divine Eucharist, proven by the fact that it commences with the words “Blessed is the Kingdom….”, while the entire liturgical structure of the Baptismal Service is also Eucharistic in form.  The Sacrament of Marriage likewise. Why, then, do we say that the correlation of Divine Eucharist and Church is a one-sidedness, when we can easily imagine (because we can probably accomplish it with the imagination, since we don’t have it in practice) the other sacraments incorporated within the Divine Eucharist, in which case, everything acquires its true significance from within the Divine Eucharist?  Indeed, no other sacrament can lead to - can depict - the Kingdom of God, independently of the Divine Eucharist. None.  Baptism inserts us in the Kingdom of God, through the Divine Eucharist. It inserts us in the Divine Eucharist; it does not insert us anywhere else – it does not insert us directly into the Kingdom of God.  The baptized one immediately participates in the Divine Eucharist, because that is the purpose of the Baptism. The purpose of Baptism is to render us members of the Eucharist congregation and communicants of the Divine Eucharist. In the ancient liturgical ritual, Marriage had the same purpose.

If we see things in this light, then we cannot speak of one-sidedness. The Divine Eucharist embraces the life of the Church in whole, and it embraces all of the so-called sacraments. Consequently, that is where the depicting of End Times is located; that is where the image of the Kingdom of God is found, hence, that is where the identity of the Church is also found. But, by commencing from this starting point, and building Ecclesiology on this basis, there will be specific consequences with regard to our Ecclesiology.  The image of End Times that the Divine Eucharist presents us with is now the image, or, rather, the structure of the very Church. Subsequently, if we wish to find the structure of the Church, we should look for it in the structure of the Divine Eucharist. And that is where we will also find the structure, exactly as it was shaped in the ancient Church and delivered to us in the Orthodox experience.  This of course is the basis on which the canonical structure of the Church is built.  The canonical structure of the Church is not an accommodation of the Church’s organizational needs; it is a manifestation of the structure of the Kingdom of God, because the Kingdom of God also has its structure, and therefore all of these nonsensical things that are heard from time to time with regard to administrational canons or dogmatic ones, or, with regard to an irrelevance between canons and dogmas etc. are entirely inadmissible.  Naturally there are canons that are not relevant to the structure of the Church; but the canons that are related to the structure of the Church, are related not only to the dogmas (which is nothing); they are related to the hypostasis and the truth of the Church, which is the very Kingdom of God itself. Therefore, these structures cannot be tampered with, without altering the image of the Kingdom of God.

In the next lesson, we shall analyze these structures; we shall put them in the light of those principles that I have described so far. And chiefly the principle of the imaging of the End Times – the principle of the depiction of the Kingdom of God by the Church, through the Church.


–It has been viewed from time to time, and is quite possibly still viewed by the West, in Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, that the being of the Church is linked to a “Christomonism” (isolating/focusing on Christ) in Roman Catholicism and to a “Pneumatomonism” (isolating/focusing on the Spirit) in Protestantism. Could we say that a fusing or a transcendence of the two is what characterizes the being of the Orthodox Church and is discerned in the Eucharist?  Could it perhaps be a “collaboration” of the Father and the Son that is discerned in the Eucharist, or is it something else?

A. –Yes, it is a fusion and a transcendence of the two, and of neither.  The mentality of the Eastern Orthodox Church is an entirely different one. There is indeed a Christomonism in the West; in other words, the mystery of the Church is indeed based on the Person of Christ and the Providence of the Son; on whatever Christ did; on Christ’s work within History.  This is why in the West, both Roman Catholics and Protestants have reached the point where they visualize the Church as a reality that most likely commenced –at the very most– with Creation or the Incarnation, and one that will end with the Second Coming; i.e., they regard the Church as a kind of interim stage. This is because they regard the mystery of the Church in a Christomonistic way. On the contrary, what I have been suggesting, is to look at the matter Triadologically.

The Westerners highlighted Christ; they overlooked and they demoted the role of the Holy Spirit, thus, we have now intervened, in order to stress the role of the Holy Spirit, in our desire to show how we differ. Our difference is not just at that point, nor do we wish to reach the point of saying that for us, Ecclesiology rests solely on Pneumatology, whereas for the Westerners it rests on Christology. It would be wrong, to reach this point, for the sake of sheer contradiction.  I have tried to tell you that Ecclesiology is neither a matter of Christology, nor of Pneumatology; it is a matter of Triadology. Consequently, if we were to introduce Pneumatology in a decisive manner (which we must do, unlike the Westerners who did not), we must do it, always under the presupposition that we are acknowledging the Providence of the Son, i.e., that we are speaking of the realization of that recapitulation of everything in the Person of the Son, and not in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

I would therefore say that a Christ-centered view is a correct one, and that we must preserve it. Ecclesiology basically rests on Christology; furthermore, the memorable G. Florovsky had written (perhaps with some exaggeration and without giving it the appropriate hue) that Ecclesiology is a chapter of Christology – an expression that he used, in opposition and in contradiction to other Russians such as A. Komiakov etc., who, being opposed to the West, had overstressed Pneumatology to the point of making Ecclesiology a chapter of Christology; i.e., they asserted that the Church is a communion of the Holy Spirit, thus overlooking its Christological basis.  I believe it is necessary to find the correct line, the “golden mean” which, in my opinion, is a Christ-centered Ecclesiology. It cannot be a Spirit-centered one, because –I repeat– the essence of the Church is the recapitulation of everything, in Christ, and re-capit-ulation means that the head is Christ, not the Holy Spirit, or the Father. Christ is the Head That is not what Christomonism is; This is a centering on Christ, which is imperative, for a healthy Ecclesiology.

So, to summarize:  The dilemma is not between a Christomonism and a Pneumatomonism or a Pneumatological Ecclesiology; the dilemma is between a Triadological or simply a Providential, Christ-centered Ecclesiology on the one hand, or, on the other hand, a Chistomonistic Ecclesiology, in which case, we should clearly choose the first of the two. Anyway, the role of the Holy Spirit should never lead us to an Ecclesiology that will not be built on Christology – on the Person of Christ.

Q.In certain new, contemporary Eucharist studies, it is stressed that during the enactment of the Eucharist, the overall Church, along with Christ Who is Her Head, are referred to the Father. Couldnt this create a misinterpretation, that there is a splitting between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit during the Eucharist?

A. -Yes, and I am the one who par excellence stresses this distinction. I do not know whether anyone else points it out.  I stress this detail very much, and I hope that I too do not fall into this very same splitting, or the danger that you just pointed out, because there is indeed such a danger, if we ever forget that the Persons of the Holy Trinity can never be separated from each other – that the three of them co-exist, in every activity of the Church. In spite of this inseparability, they nevertheless do not have the same opus within Providence.  The referral is the Son’s work; it is not the Father Who refers the Eucharist, nor is it the Holy Spirit. It is exclusively the Son, as He is the Head of the Body, and the Body is referred by its Head. Referred where? It is referred to the Father, Who, however, can in no way be perceived without the Son and the Spirit.

When this huge question that you just posed had been posed in the 12th century, it had shaken the Church and had given rise to a serious argument. It was during that time that an important theologian had risen to prominence (but unfortunately, very little was written about him): it was Nicholas of Methoni, and a synod had also been convened for this very problem. In other words, it was preoccupied by the question as to whether the Divine Eucharist (which is offered only by the Son) is accepted-received only by the Father, or also by the Son and the Spirit. You must note here, that undoubtedly, it is only the Son Who offers the Eucharist; however, the question is, whether it is only the Father Who accepts it, or if the Son accepts it as well. The answer that was given was that the Son also accepts it, which is why, in the liturgies of Saint Basil the Great and of Chrysostom there is the expression (during the Cherubic prayer, the priest’s prayer):  “You are the One Who offers and the One Who is being offered; the One Who accepts and the One Who is propagated”. But, the fact that He is the One being offered, and that the Son also accepts the Eucharist, does not imply that the offer is not exclusively addressed to the Father. It suffices to study the history of the Anaphora (referral) – the Eucharist referral – in order to get an idea of just how complex yet so important this matter is.

It is quite possible, that the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is older than the one by the Chrysostom; this seems to be the converging opinion of liturgiologists nowadays.  In the Anaphora of St. Basil’s Liturgy, the Eucharist is referred – is offered – to the Father alone; neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit are referred. This is according to the ancient tradition.  In Chrysostom’s Liturgy, if one studies the Anaphora, he will see that it has two stages – two levels. The one stage is the one we see in St. Basil ( i.e., the Anaphora to the Father ), while the other stage is the one that does not withdraw the referral to the Father, but adds the Son and the Spirit next to the Father (again, I stress, without withdrawing the fact that it is being offered to the Father.)

Observe how this prayer is formulated!  “Worthy and just it is, to offer songs to You, to offer praise to You, to exalt You, to thank You, to worship You, in every place of Your dominion”.  You will see right away who this “You” refers to, in the words that follow: “…for You are the inexpressible, the unimaginable, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the inapprehensible God; the One Who always is, and thus is; You and Your only-begotten Son, and Your Holy Spirit…”

Therefore, the “You” refers to the Father, but the other two Persons are also added, precisely in order to provide that necessary balance, lacking which, one could easily be led to that dangerous misunderstanding that you mentioned.  We are not sure exactly when these two were added, however, they clearly constitute additions to the original Anaphora.  They may have been added as early as the first centuries, i.e. the 5th or 6th, due to the heresies of the time. They may have been added in the 12th century, on account of the argument that I mentioned previously.  At any rate, they are additions that are intended to protect us from the danger that you very aptly brought to our attention.

We need to keep in mind that we cannot split up the Persons of the Holy Trinity, which are forever together. Therefore, when the Father accepts, the Son is present also: “…..You, and Your Son, and Your Holy Spirit…”  On the other hand, we cannot confuse the Persons to the degree that we might say “it doesn’t matter, whether we offer to the Son or to the Spirit, since all three of them are Persons of the Holy Trinity”.  When I had remarked to a certain bishop that he shouldn’t turn towards the icon of Christ when citing the words “Let us thank the Lord” (because “the Lord” at that point refers to the Father, or at least to the Holy Trinity), he replied: “but Christ has the fullness of Godhood in His Person”. Well, that was not a proper response, because, even though Christ may have the fullness of Godhood, we never address an impersonal deity, or a deity that is present within a person.  We address specific persons.

Q.If, as you said, the Church constitutes adepiction of the future Kingdom, could one then likewise seek adepiction” within History, of the future condition of Hell?

R.We do, of course, have numerous images of the future Hell, however, we should not relate them to the Church.  Man already has a foretaste of hell within History – repeatedly and continuously – just as he has a foretaste of the Kingdom of God at certain moments, and especially during the Divine Eucharist.  The Divine Eucharist is the moment that we get a taste of Paradise, a taste of the Kingdom of God.

Of course we cannot formulate an image of hell from within the reality of the Church, not even a partial one, without distorting the nature of the Church.  And to put it the other way around: quite often there is the danger (and it is a real danger) of distorting the Church so much, that instead of being a ‘depiction’ of the End Times status – of the Kingdom of God – it becomes a ‘depiction’ of hell.  This is what heretics do. If a heresy is a serious and mortal issue, it is so precisely because it distorts the image of the End Times state; it alters it and it introduces an imagery that does not originate from the Kingdom of God, but instead, from that which is not the Kingdom of God, i.e., hell.

I will give you a few specific examples: If we were to perform a Divine Liturgy for –let’s say– only white people and not black people, or, only men and not women, or, only the educated and not the illiterate, or, only the rich and not the poor, or, only students, only lawyers, only doctors, then that would be a depiction of what hell is; because that is what is going to happen in hell.  And this is the foretaste of hell that we have, every time we segregate ourselves from our neighbor, with criteria of this kind.  What I mean to say with all this, (and it is very important), is that the Church can very easily be transformed into a depiction of hell, and not even notice it has happened.  And I would like to thank you for bringing up this question, even though you may not have had in mind those things that I just said, nevertheless, it is a very serious problem.  The Church must, therefore strive to preserve Her structure at all costs, so that it is always a ‘depiction’ of the Kingdom of God. This is why we must always feel exasperated, every time something is distorted – especially the Divine Eucharist - because that is how elements of this world can infiltrate it, and this world is a picture of hell, in the sense of a Fallen world, in the sense of sinfulness, with tendencies for segregation like the ones I mentioned previously, but also in many other ways.

Very often, I even find myself in an almost pedantic agony, whenever I see the benediction of the bread taking place after Holy Communion, or when I see them not giving Holy Communion to the faithful until after the completion of the Liturgy, or after the genuflection of the Pentecost, which is on the Vespers of the following day, and after the sanctification of the waters on the day of the Epiphany… all these are very upsetting for me; it makes me believe that something very serious is going on, and that the image of the Kingdom of God is being brutalized.  The final purpose, which is our partaking of the table that is set in the Kingdom of God, i.e., our communion in the life of God (which is where the Divine Eucharist leads us), is twisted into a totally different thing, another kind of experience, in which it does not appear as though the end purpose is that partaking of the table of the Kingdom, of the life of God, of the Holy Trinity, but instead, appears to be a totally different purpose.

Thus, we must handle such matters with the utmost awe and fear, because the danger is – as you pointed out - that the Church will cease to be the image of the Kingdom of God. 

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Transcript: Anna Navrozidou and Nick Zarkantzas

Proof-reading: Stavros Yiagazoglou

Typing: N. P.

Webpage format: N. M.

Translation by A. N.


Article published in English on: 15-2-2007.

Last update: 15-2-2007.