Friday, January 21, 2011

Transfiguration, deification, vision

I was hoping to treat this last section more fully but this short summary will have to suffice. This will also be my final post on Orthodox Spirituality: An Outline of the Orthodox Ascetical and Mystical Tradition.

The glory of the resurrection is connected with another event in Jesus' life, the transfiguration. Some more recent Orthodox writers see in this event a foreshadowing of the transformation of the world. But even apart from them the transfiguration has played an important role in Orthodox spirituality. The hesychasts, particularly, believed that a similar transfiguration experience ("the light of Tabor") could be experienced inwardly by the mystics.

The transfiguration is linked to the concepts of deification and vision. Deification is the normal course of Christian life in which the soul is unified with God. The process may be continual or it may be interrupted by falls, but it is the path of all Christians which is perfected "when Christ has attained in him the stature allowed by God to the capacity of that man." Visions are often closely linked to the unitive life. They are not limited to "sensory visions". Also included are: inner or intellectual visions; "the vague and diffuse feeling of an outward or inner life"; "awareness of an atmosphere"; consciousness of the presence of God; "divine light of direction"; a prophetic dream. Visions are the "anticipation and reflection, however dim, of the vision of God in heaven" and a "participation in angelic life".

Eternal life will bring the fulness of vision, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as also I am known" (1 Cor 13:12). But, in this earthly life, every Christian, whoever he may be, can obtain at least a glimpse of the Vision. Some ray from the glory of God may be granted to him. These glimpses, these rays, are often given; far more often than we think. And it is only because of these gracious gifts that many who are heavily laden are able to live on. The Face of our Lord can be dimly reflected in the mirror of the heart of man. If the Lord Jesus calls us and says: "What will ye that I shall do unto you?" let us answer: "Lord, that our eyes may be opened" (Matt 20:32 ff). For a vision is destined to every man. And blessed are they who, at the journey's end, can say: "I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19).

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Christ our Passover

Notes on chapter five of Orthodox Spirituality: An Outline of the Orthodox Ascetical and Mystical Tradition, "Christ our Passover".

  1. The Paschal Lamb. "Eucharistic grace fulfills the grace of Baptism and the grace of Chrisma." The Paschal Mystery consists of the Lord's Supper, the Passion, and the Resurrection.
  2. The Supper of the Lamb. "The fractio panis, the breaking of the bread, remains the center of the Holy Mysteries." The Orthodox Church affirms the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but does not have a theory explaining it. "The Greek Fathers nevertheless eschewed the crude literalism which might become a kind of Eucharistic materialism. which might become a kind of Eucharistic materialism. They warned us against a one-sided or disproportionate piety towards the sacramental action or elements. They knew the the Eucharistic sacrament is not an end in itself, but a means to a spiritual reality greater than the sacraments." The Eucharist is a means of union: "Communicating with Christ, we communicate with all His members. ... The individual Jesus, the historical Christ, was in some sense the sacramentum, the sign, of the mystical body and total Christ, who constitutes the res, the full and ultimate reality of the Eucharist." Other Eucharistic beliefs/practices:
    • Orthodox Christians generally do not commune frequently, though there is a strong tradition in the Fathers for frequent communion. Augustine recommends that everyone act according to their conscience here.
    • Jesus is himself the "real and invisible priest" in the Eucharist.
    • The faithful offer small loaves of bread, prosphorai, which the priest slices into small bits. These pieces are not consecrated, but are placed inside the chalice after the wine has been distributed. This symbolizes the union of Christians with the sacrifice of Christ.
    • The Eucharist is not a "new immolation" of Jesus. "Our present Eucharists are offerings, actualizations, applications of this one all-sufficient Sacrifice." They are "unbloody sacrifices" of praise.
  3. The Blood of the Lamb. It is not true that the Orthodox church gives less consideration to the Cross than the Western church. The Cross is commemorated in the Orthodox liturgy numerous times. They do not, however, have realistic depictions of Christ on the cross, preferring to keep crucifixion and resurrection together by depicting Christ on the cross as a victor. There is a veneration and mysticism of the wounds of Jesus in Orthodoxy. Linked to these things is the Orthodox passionate feeling for the martyrs and its traditional "evangelical non-resistance to violence".
  4. The Marriage of the Lamb. The Bride of Christ is the Church, but "nuptial analogies" have also been used of the relationship between Christ and individual Christians, e.g., virgins, martyrs, mystics. Although Orthodoxy sets virginity above matrimony, the union between a husband and a wife is "a sharing in the marriage between the Lamb and the Church."
  5. The Triumph of the Lamb. "Christ immolated is also the risen Christ." A peculiarity of the Orthodox church is the way they give the grave of Christ "a kind of predominance" over the cross. Another difference in emphasis between East and West is the way that the Orthodox keep cross and resurrection together, not limiting Easter joy to the resurrection only. [Comments: This seems a little unfair. Even so, I prefer proceeding through Holy Week at a more deliberate pace, not jumping ahead to the end of the story.] Gillet concludes with a section on the Transfiguration, deification, and vision, which I will discuss in a separate post.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The self-immolation of parenting

The goal of healthy parenting is children who are capable, upon reaching adulthood, of creating their own lives. That is, the goal of parents is to render themselves unnecessary. As the years pass and children grow in independence, parents must learn to let them go. But it is only in achieving the death of the relationship of necessity that a new relationship of mutuality can be resurrected.

Christ, the sender of the Spirit

Notes on chapter four of Orthodox Spirituality: An Outline of the Orthodox Ascetical and Mystical Tradition, "Christ, the sender of the Spirit".

  1. The grace of Pentecost. "The grace of Pentecost follows and completes on the grace of Baptism." Water and Spirit are linked numerous times in Scripture. Chrisma (the Eastern equivalent of Confirmation) is the "external expression of the mystery of our participation in the Holy Spirit", though, as with baptism, the Spirit cannot be "exclusively identified" with Chrisma (i.e., others are given the Spirit apart from it). "The Holy Ghost does not replace Christ and does not serve as His substitute, but He prepares us for Christ and achieves in us the Parousia, the eternal coming and Presence of Jesus the Lord."
  2. The Anointing. "Our Chrismation is an extension of, and a sharing in, the unction of our Lord [Christos, the Anointed] with the Holy Ghost, accomplished by the Father." "The sacramental link between the Spirit and the oil or balsam of Chrisma or Confirmation was sometimes conceived by the Fathers as being parallel to the link between Christ and the Eucharistic elements", though the Orthodox church proposes no theory about the relationship.
  3. The seal. The Holy Ghost is spoken of in the Scriptures as a seal, but as a seal with reference to Christ. "The sealing by the Holy Ghost means therefore that the Spirit imprints on us the Father's likeness, that is, the Lord Jesus Himself." "In the Orthodox Church, the priest anoints the Christian's organs of sense, saying at each anointing: 'The seal of the gift of the Holy Ghost.'" This sealing is both ascetical and mystical. Ascetical in that we dedicate our senses to God, shutting out from them anything opposed to God. The mystical aspect is discussed next.
  4. The new spiritual senses. This gift of grace is the "opening of our senses to realities until then unperceived, untasted." This is not merely symbolic. The lives of the saints provide evidence of the physical senses opened up to spiritual realities, e.g., visions, voices.
  5. Charismatic life. The gifts of the Spirit are given to the Church for all times. The Orthodox church does not have a rigid enumeration of these gifts. Their purpose is "the sanctification of the man who holds it and ... the edification of other people." Though these gifts are normally manifested in saints, there is also a communication of Pentecostal grace in the ordination of bishops, priests, and deacons, i.e., they are not mere administrators. The reason these gifts are seen as exceptional today is our lack of faith. The Eastern church is much more open to asking for the demonstration of these gifts than the Western church, though she agrees that the gifts are not the aim of the Christian life. The gifts and miracles of the Spirit are "a return to the primitive, free state of creation, i.e., a world entirely transparent to the glory of God." The saints and charismatics "are the liberators of the world."
  6. Pentecost and Illumination. "If Baptismal grace mainly corresponds to what has been called the way or life of purification, Pentecostal grace corresponds, rather, to the illuminative life. At this stage, spiritual life becomes less subjective. Our doubts, difficulties, and emotional flights cease to be foremost." The experience of the divine darkness is the beginning of the illuminative life in which the Holy Ghost works directly upon the soul. [Comments: This is perhaps at odds with (what I believe is) the Lutheran view that God only works through means, not directly. But, then, Lutheran theology is uncomfortable with mystical experience while Orthodoxy clearly is not.] "Under the touch of the Spirit, the soul acquires an acute penetration, an inner and experimental knowledge, of divine things." The soul is given the discernment of spirits, knowledge of hidden things, understanding of Scripture, and habitual guidance in daily life. We recognize the true voice of the Lord in these experiences by determining whether it produces the fruits of the Spirit and by discussing it with our spiritual father, who consults the wisdom and tradition of the Church.
  7. Praying to the Holy Ghost and Praying in the Holy Ghost. The Orthodox Church has few prayers directly addressed to the Holy Ghost. It does practice prayer in the Holy Ghost, in which "the words and the intentions are not our own, but are given by the Spirit, or a praying silence in which the soul unites herself to the unknown and continuous prayer of the Spirit."
  8. The Christ of the Spirit. This section is discussed here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Christ of the Spirit is not merely the historical Jesus

There's a fascinating section of Orthodox Spirituality called "the Christ of the Spirit" that I want to break out as a separate post. Frankly, I don't know if I agree with it or not. It seems to be in danger of cutting Jesus loose from history by separating the "Jesus of history" from the "Christ of faith". It sounds similar to what I've read about Luke Timothy Johnson's critique of historical Jesus scholarship, though I may be wrong about that since I have not read the book. Please let me know what you think. I'll summarize the opening and then quote Gillet.

The Spirit reveals "new aspects of our Lord. Christ, as disclosed by the Spirit after Pentecost, cannot be merely identified with the historical Jesus." He cites 2 Cor 5:16: "From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way." The "Christ of the Spirit has replaced the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53" (as seen in Orthodox art's predilection for Christ glorified), though his sacrifice remains salvific.

To the Orthodox mind a "back-to-Jesus" movement, stripping the Gospel of all its supposed "later accretions", would not constitute progress. Real progress consists in becoming more and more deeply conscious of the presence and action of our Lord in all the phases of human life and of our own life. The "Galiliean Gospel", the ipsissima verba of Jesus, cannot be isolated from the interpretations put upon it by the eye-witnesses of His Life and the ministers of His words. Modern criticism has made it perfectly clear that the Sermon on the Mount, taken by itself, does not provide an adequate explanation of the rise of Christianity. The vitalizing centre of Christian thought and devotion was neither a body of ethical teaching, simply relating the individual to his Father and Maker (Harnack, Tolstoi), nor a mere eschatalogical expectation (Schweitzer). Christianity was a stream of charismatic life flowing out with torrential might from Palestine upon the Greco-Roman world. It was a new spring-tide of the Spirit. Out of faith in, nay, out of experience of the risen and exalted Christ and the manifestation of His Glory grew the whole efflorescence of prayer and belief, of grace and self-giving, which we call the Holy Catholic Church. "Christ", on our lips, is no longer the exact equivalent of the name "Jesus" or of the Jewish title "Messiah". When we say "Christ", we think of the Pentecostal Christ, of the spiritual Lord of the new life. It is this spiritual Christ, and not merely the Christ of history, who was the source of Christianity. The confession of faith of the first Christian generation was: "Jesus is the Lord" (Kyrios Christos). But during the same period Paul wrote: "The Lord is the Spirit - Kyrios to Pneuma" (2 Cor 3:17). This equation magnificently expresses the fact that the Holy Spirit living in the Church is one with the historical Jesus, and is really the Spirit of Jesus (as well as the Spirit of the Father).

We have yet, perhaps, to recognize more clearly that the Spirit - or, if we prefer it, the Spiritual Christ (and by this phrase we do not mean to belittle in any way the distinct personality of the Holy Ghost) - is still a genuinely creative force among men to-day. Not only Paul but the author of the Book of Revelation, the Alexandrine exegetes, martyrs like Ignatius of Antioch, Felicitas and Perpetua, and many others, have witnessed - (the "cloud of witnesses") - to the Spiritual Christ, to the actual charismatic presence of the Lord, as the great fact behind the whole Christian movement. Do we believe as intensely in the reality of the Spiritual Christ? For the early Christians, the danger was of secluding themselves in the worshipping remembrance of the historical Jesus, and of perceiving but dimly the actuality of the Pentecostal Christ. For us, the danger is rather of localiizing and limiting the Pentecostal Christ within the Apostolic or sub-Apostolic times, and so failing to acknowledge that He is just as much present now as He was then.

About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.