Dumitru Staniloae on the Christology of the Synods

Father Staniloae states that the Church has made two fundamental affirmations concerning Christology with reference to our salvation: first, that Christ is fully God and fully man; second, that Christ is one single being. The Church has used person or hypostasis to refer to this unity, and natures to refer to the godhead and manhood united in Christ.

 In the Formula of Union of 433, it was stated that there was a “union of two natures,” “one Christ, one Son, one Lord,” a “union without confusion,” and that the Blessed Virgin is the Mother of God. In the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the first draft of the Definition had the words ἐκ δύο φύσεων, whereas the final draft had the words ἐν δύο φύσεσιν.

The Old Eastern Churches did not accept the formula “in two natures” (ἐν δύο φύσεσιν); therefore, subsequently the Church sought to explain such expression. One explanation equated ἐν δύο φύσεσιν with ἐκ δύο φύσεων as equivalent. The final text says that ἕνα και τον αὐτον Χριστόν, Υἱόν, Κύριον, Μονογενῆ, ἐν δύο φύσεσιν ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως γνωριζόμενον· – that is to say, γνωριζόμενον refers to Christ, Son, Lord, Only Begotten. Christ is known/recognized in two natures, not the two natures themselves known/recognized as existing in themselves.

The oneness of the Person is recognized. Consequently, Christ is a Person in two natures and of two natures, while the natures do not lose their distinction. Similarly, the Council of 553 (5th), in its 13th anathema, states that if anyone uses ἐκ δύο φύσεων to mean a confusion of natures and one ousia, and not according to the original understanding of the Fathers, i.e., as referring to the hypostatic union, let him be anathema.

 Similarly, Leontius of Byzantium’s doctrine of enhypostasis stated that it is the divine hypostasis of the Logos who gives existence to the human nature, which He takes from the Blessed Virgin. This emphasizes the oneness of the Person as the ontological basis of the humanhood. Justinian adopted this and agreed with Severus of Antioch in affirming that in Christ’s single hypostasis the two natures are not two realities but exist only in word and thought, i.e., thought alone conceives one nature separate from the other or from the oneness of the Person.

In reality, the two natures form one hypostatic whole – and yet the godhead and the manhood persist without confusion in Christ. Non-Chalcedonians (NC) objected to using numbers as it implies division; but the NC affirmed one nature, confusing the two natures. They answer that they speak of a “composite nature,” which the Orthodox rejected because this would imply two mutually dependent natures to form the unity; the NC also deny this, affirming three distinct oneness: of the godhead, of the manhood, and of the unit formed. Fr. Staniloae affirms that this ultimate puts the Orthodox and the NC in converging Christologies.

The 6th Ecumenical Council affirmed that the human nature continues in its human ontological status, and that it is the vehicle for manifesting the divine hypostasis. It affirmed two wills and two activities in Christ’s two natures, as they are dynamic. The human activities are penetrated by the godhead of his hypostasis, and the divine activities have a subject with a human nature. Thus God moves manhood to act and it reveals the godhead; Christ suffered voluntarily as God, and worked miracles humanly. This is done in one hypostasis.

The implication, as the 6th Ecumenical Council stated, is that there are two natural wills and activities and two unopposed wills (the human following the divine) and the body is the Word’s as the body’s nature will is the Words – i.e., the whole man, body, soul, will, activities, is deified by being united in One Person, one divine hypostasis, the Logos, with the divine essence. Christ is fully God and fully man, and one single being. Deified human will (and the whole human being) is not abolished but preserved, each sharing each other’s activities.

Fr Staniloae argues that the 5th, 6th, and 7th Ecumenical Councils brought the Orthodox and the NC nearer, in a common witness, moving in converging lines.


Vladimir Lossky on the Economy of the Son – Incarnation, Death and Resurrection for our Salvation.

Vladimir Lossky argues that the way to deification, the original plan for man, is impossible until human nature triumphs over sin and death. For fallen humanity, the way of union is the way of salvation (from death and from sin, its root). There is a triple barrier that separates us from God – death, sin and nature.

This barrier can only be broken through by God in the inverse order, beginning with the union of the separated natures in his Incarnation, through the destruction of sin by his death, and ending with the victory over death by his Resurrection.

The union of the two natures has been determined in the eternal counsel of God, and so deification is the final end for which the world has been created out of nothing. The incarnation is not a matter of necessity, but of the free will of God, a mystery of divine love in which the divine will works in relation to the human will, condescending to human freedom and coordinating in His providence His actions with the acts of created beings, thereby governing the universe without doing violence to human freedom.

In the person of the Virgin, humanity has given its consent to the Word become flesh, and thus in the one and the same act the Word assumed human nature, gave its existence, and deified it. The humanity received its being from the Divine hypostasis, and it was subjected voluntarily to the condition of our fallen nature, in the sense of assuming the consequences of sin, without sinning.

Finite and infinite are united in Him; the hypostasis of the Logos remains God while it becomes flesh – the deity does not become humanity, nor is humanity transformed into deity, but both are united in one hypostasis. He is perfect in deity and in humanity, consubstantial with God and with us respectively in the two natures which are unmixed, unchanged, indivisible, inseparable – the properties of each nature remaining while united in one Person or hypostasis.

In the Person of the Son the common will of the Trinity is done. The kenotic will of the Son penetrates the flesh and gives to in an ineffable faculty of penetrating the Divinity. The body is united to God, and the humanity of Christ is a deified nature that is permeated by the divine energies from the moment of the Incarnation – like iron penetrated by fire, becoming fire, though remaining iron by nature.

Each nature acts according to its own properties (“it is not the human nature that raises Lazarus, nor the divine power that shed tears before his tomb,” says St John of Damascus). He who wills is One, in whom the two wills – divine and human – are united. Christ does not have a gnomic will, which deliberates between choices, as we do, because he has no need of it; but the humanity of Christ always wills divinely, in accordance with the divine will. His body experienced hunger and thirst, his soul grieved, his spirit prayed, and the two natural wills never entered into conflict.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the human will reacted against death, unnatural to it, but as the divine will wished, the human will voluntarily conformed to the divine will and accepted the Passion. The human will continually renounced what naturally belonged to it, and, in a continual humiliation, accepted what is contrary to incorrupt and deified humanity.

The Transfiguration shows the humanity of the Word deified by the divine energies, revealing the divinity in the splendor of the Three Persons. In his Passion, “He who covers himself with light as with a garment, stood naked before the judges . . . He who suspended the earth upon the waters, is hung on the tree.” Man must be sanctified by the humanity of God, and God himself must deliver us by overcoming the tyrant through his own power. Christ bridges the gulf between God and man by leading him into the heart of his Person, healing all that belongs to man, particularly the will which was the source of his sin.

Thus the whole of our fallen nature (death included) have been transformed by the life-giving Cross, and the three stages of salvation – being (Incarnation), well-being (incorruptibility of the will) and eternal being (Resurrection) are fulfilled. Our salvation is then accomplished by the union of the two natures in the One Person, the natures remaining united while intact, as the divine and human wills and operations remain intact and in full harmony.

What is not assumed cannot be deified, and it is the One Divine Person of the Logos who assumes the full human nature to unite it to the divine nature as they remain unmixed, unchanged, indivisible, inseparable. What is deified in Christ is his human nature assumed in its fullness. A new nature, a restored Creature, appears in the world. A new body, free from sin and necessity, is made, and the way is open for us, as persons, to be united to God by the Holy Spirit as we are united in our natures to God in Christ. The work of Christ is consummated in the work of the Holy Spirit.

-Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, chapter 3 (“The Economy of the Son”).

St Cyril of Alexandria against Nestorius: Whom do We Worship?

At the beginning of the controversy between St Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius, the latter had preached a sermon arguing against the use of the term Theotokos (Θεοτόκος, the Mother of God) based on his understanding of who Jesus Christ was. Cyril corresponded with Nestorius, who was the Patriarch of Constantinople, to correct him. Nestorius refused to be corrected; Cyril eventually wrote 12 anathemas which were adopted by the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus, 431), and Nestorius was condemned.

St. Cyril of Alexandria,  c. 376 – 444AD

Why is this important? For many reasons, but ultimately, it clarified who Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos of God is. Whom do we worship?

Out understanding of who Jesus Christ is, the Divine Logos who unites in his Person human nature and divine nature, bears direct relevance to our understand of how we can be saved, how we can be healed and deified.

These issues were clarified even further by the Council of Chalcedon (451).

Here are the relevant excerpts from Nestorius’ arguments and Cyril’s response. Cyril’s original texts and the Greek technical terms which later became standard in Christian theology and Christology are provided in the footnotes.

Nestorius’ First Sermon Against the Theotokos

Nestorius asserts that “humanity is the image of the divine nature” and so “God fashioned from the Virgin a nature” and so by that “human being” he revived the human race. In this way, the Virgin is not Θεοτόκος, but ανθροποτόκος, the Mother of a man and not of God. Nestorius’ emphasis on nature rather than on the person becomes evident as he argues that God cannot have a Mother (idea which, according to him, would be Greek paganism), and that Mary did not give birth to the “Godhead” (emphasis on nature) but to a “human being;’ the “incarnate God did not die, he raised up the one in whom he was incarnate.” It is clear that Nestorius has at least two individuals in mind, the “incarnate God” who cannot be born and die, and the “one” who is born, dies, and is raised by the incarnate God.

For him, “Christ Jesus” (e.g., as mentioned by Paul in Phil. 2) is not the same as God the Logos; in some fashion, he argues, “Christ is an expression of the two natures, and “Christ assumed the person of the debt-ridden nature.” He “assumed a person” of the same nature as ours, he “assumed man” and “the third-day burial belonged to this man, not the deity.”

Nestorius ends with two persons, which raises the question of whom exactly he worships. He answers, “I worship this one [the man] together with the Godhead.” He says, “I revere the one who is borne [the man] because of the one who carries him [the Logos], and I worship the one I see because of the one who is hidden . . .  I divide the natures, but I unite the worship” because “that which is formed in the womb is not in itself God . . .  that which is buried in the tomb is not itself God. If that were the case, we should manifestly be worshippers of a human being and worshippers of the dead. But since God is within the one who is assumed,” the latter is “styled God” even though God “has not shared its suffering.” This man is “joined to omnipotent deity.”

Cyril of Alexandria, Second Letter to Nestorius

Cyril’s response makes clear that, contrary to what Nestorius says, Nestorius truly worships a man when he fails to understand that we worship God the Logos who assumed a human nature hypostatically. It is by worshipping the God who was born, died and rose again that we worship God the Logos.

Cyril begins by emphasizing that the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed stated that it was the only begotten Son himself who was born according to nature of God the Father . . . he came down, and was incarnate, and was made man, suffered, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven.[1]

Cyril emphasizes that the Logos from God took flesh and became human: “rather we say that the Logos having personally [hypostatically] united to himself flesh animated by a rational soul, did in an ineffable and inconceivable manner become man, and was called the Son of Man,[2] not merely as willing or being pleased to be so called, neither on account of taking to himself a person[3] but because the two natures being brought together in a true union[4] there is of both one Christ and one Son.[5]

The Logos was born of a Woman after he had united humanity hypostatically to himself.[6] It is not that first a man was born anew from the Holy Virgin and later the Logos descended upon him.[7] Rather, the union being made in the womb itself, he is said to undergo a fleshly birth, ascribing to himself the birth of his own flesh.[8]

Cyril emphasizes against Nestorius that “we confess one Christ and Lord, and we do not worship a man along with the Logos,[9] but we worship one and the same[10] because there are not two Sons enthroned together[11] but One because of the His own union with his own flesh.[12]

In this way, the one Lord Jesus Christ must not be divided into two sons.[13] For it is not said in the Scriptures that the Logos united himself with a person, but that He became flesh.[14]

Therefore, the Fathers boldly believe that Holy Virgin is the Θεότοκος (Theotokos, the Mother of God)[15] not because the divine nature of the Logos began to exist in her,[16] but the body with the rational soul, which was born, was hypostatically united to the Logos.[17]

On the Anathemas and Worship:

The Anathemas promulgated by Cyril address the issue of worship both directly and indirectly. Directly, anathema VIII explicitly addresses the issue:

VIII. If anyone dares to maintain that the ascended man ought to be worshipped together with the divine Word, and be glorified with Him, and with Him be called “God” as one with another [ὡς ἕτερον ἑτέρῳ] (the addition of “along with” [σύν] will always entail this interpretation), and does not instead honor in one act of worship Emmanuel and praise Him in one doxology, in that He is the Word made flesh, let him be anathema.

In other words, separating a man from the Logos inescapably results in worshipping a man, distinct from the Logos, along with the Logos.

Similarly, other anathemas touch on the issue indirectly. For example,

V. If anyone dares to maintain that the Christ is a man bearing God [θεοφόρον ἄνθρωπον], and not rather that He is God in truth, and single Son by nature [φύσει], according as the Word was made flesh, and shared blood and flesh in like manner with ourselves, let him be anathema.

Or, if Christ is not the same Person as the Logos, then one would worship a man (Christ) along with God (the Logos); furthermore,

VII. If anyone says that Jesus was energized as man by God the Word, and that He was invested with the glory of the only-begotten as being another beside Him [ὡς ἑτέρῳ παρ᾿ αὐτὸν], let him be anathema.

Here Cyril uses language that includes adoptionist ideas: if Jesus is “energized” by the Logos (άνθρωπον ενηργήσθαι παρα του Θεου Λογου τον Ιησουν), then there are two persons, Jesus and the Logos, and a man and God are both worshipped.

XI. If anyone does not confess that the Lord’s flesh is life-giving [ζωοποιὸν], and proper to the Word of God Himself [ἰδίαν αὐτοῦ], but (states) that it is of another than Him, united indeed to Him in dignity, yet as only possessing a divine indwelling, instead of being lifegiving, because it is proper to the Word [ἰδία τοῦ λόγου] of Him who has the power to give life to all, let him be anathema.

That is, if the flesh of the Lord is not the flesh of God the Logos, but of a man who received the Logos, this flesh is not lifegiving; one would worship the flesh of a man, rather than God.

The birth, death and resurrection of a man would have been just that – what happened to that man. However, it is the Incarnation which heals and saves us. It is the birth of the Logos who takes flesh and unites human nature to himself; it is the life of God, the death of God, the burial of God and the resurection of God the Logos that deifies us.

[1] Αυτόν τον εκ Θεού Πατρός κατά φύσιν γεννηθέντα Υιόν μονογενή . . . κατελθείν, σαρκωθήναι τε και ενανθρωπήσαι, παθείν, αναστήναι τη τρίτη ημέρα, και ανελθείν εις ουρανούς.

[2] Εκείνο δε μάλλον ότι σάρκα εμψυχωμένην ψυχή λογική ενώσας ο Λόγος εαυτώ καθ’υπόστασιν, αφράστως τε και απερινοήτως γέγονεν άνθρωπος, και κεχρημάτικες Υιός ανθρώπου.

[3] Αλλ’ ουδε ώς εν προσλήψει προσώπου μόνου.

[4] Προς ενότητα την αληθινήν συναχθείσαι φύσεις.

[5] Είς δε εξ αμφοτέρων Χριστός και Υιός.

[6] Ενώσας εαυτό καθ’υπόστασιν το ανθρώπινον, προήλθεν εκ γυναικός, ταύτη τοι λέγεται γεννηθήναι σαρκικώς.

[7] Ου γαρ πρώτον άνθρωπος εγεννήθη κοινός εκ της αγίας Παρθένου, είθ’ ούτω καταπεφοίτηκεν επ’ αυτόν ο Λόγος.

[8] Αλλ΄εξ αυτής μήτρας ενωθείς, υπομείναι λέγεται γέννησιν σαρκικήν, ώς της ιδίας σαρκός την γέννησιν οικειούμενος.

[9] Ούτω Χριστον ένα και Κύριον ομολογήσομεν· ουχ ως άνθρωπον συμπροσκυνούντες το Λόγω

[10] ώς ένα και τον αυτόν προσκυνούντες

[11] Ουχ ώς δύο πάλιν συνεδρευόντων υιών

[12] Αλλ’ ώς ενός καθ’ ένωσιν μετά της ιδίας σαρκός

[13] Ου διαιρετέον τοιγαρούν εις υιούς δύο, τον ένα Κύριον Ιησούν Χριστόν.

[14] Ου γαρ είρηκεν η Γραφή ότι ο Λόγος ανθρώπου πρόσωπον ήνωσεν εαυτώ, αλλ’ ότι γέγονε σάρξ.

[15]  Oύτω τεθαρσήκασι [οι Πατέρες] Θεοτόκον ειπείν την αγίαν Παρθένον

[16] Oυχ ώς της του Λόγου φύσεως

[17] Αλλ’ ώς γεννηθέντος εξ αυτής του αγίου σώματος, ψυχωθέντος τε λογικώς, ώ και καθ’ υπόστασιν ενωθείς ο Λόγος, γεγεννήσθαι λέγεται κατά σάρκα.

Theodore Of Mopsuestia – School of Antioch “Word-man” Christology and its confusion.

Theodore Of Mopsuestia (350, Antioch — 428/429, Mopsuestia, Cilicia [now part of Turkey]), a pupil of Diodore of Tarsus (condemned by a local synod in Constantinople in 499 as a Nestorian) was at one point considered the greatest biblical interpreter of his time and the spiritual head of the exegetical School of Antioch.

Theodore, a theologian in the Antiochian “Word-man” Christological tradition (whose biblical exegesis and theological reflections became the standard in the churches in Persia after the 5th century), speaks in contradictory ways about Christ’s person and nature. When he asserts that “by nature God the Logos is one thing and that which is assumed is another” one might think he is speaking imprecisely about the distinction between the divine nature and the human nature. However, it becomes clear that he is speaking of the Logos who associates with the man Jesus, “in” him and “with” him – and in this way Theodore uses both adoptionist and Nestorian categories.

In earlier section of his “On the Incarnation” he sets the context by saying that God indwells in all creation, but in his chosen ones, by his ευδοκία, his good will, he indwells in a special way. He later makes clear that this is the way the Logos indwells in Jesus.

He often states that the Son is “one person.” But just as often he goes on to contradict such statements by saying that this Lord at a “later stage” had “the Logos of God working within him.” This is classical adoptionist language. The “Lord” was “urged on by the Logos” and had a “union with the Logos” – which he attained by showing himself worthy to receive God’s ευδοκία by his moral achievements, by his “cooperation with God the Logos.” (Book VII).

Theodore says that Jesus and the Logos are not two persons, but one, and there is no mixture in the natures, for they are distinct; he says that the personal union is not destroyed by the distinction of natures, as the person is complete and the nature of man is complete (Book VIII), which is correct. However, this is contradicted by his other statements.

Theodore clearly speaks of the Logos and Jesus as two distinct “ones,” the former uniting the latter to Himself. “God the Logos . . .  united Jesus with himself” and this Jesus was “counted worthy of higher gifts that the rest of humanity” (Book VII). Again using adoptionist language, he is arguing that the man Jesus is virtuous and the Logos indwells him. When he considers whether Mary is the Θεοτόκος, he argues that She is man’s mother by the nature, and God’s mother by the relation (neither of which is true; She is not the mother of a nature, but of a Person with two natures, and that person is God the Son).

 His views were eventually condemned in the 5th Ecumenical Council in 553.

“That which is not assumed is not healed”: St Gregory the Theologian’s Letter 101

St Gregory’s letter to Cledonius (101) has one of the most important and famous Patristic statements (present in other forms in other Fathers as well):

Το γαρ απρόσληπτον και αθεράπευτον.”

Or, for that which is not taken up (or assumed) is not healed.

The full quotation continues,

“Ο δε ήνωται τω Θεώ, τούτο και σώζεται.

That which is united to God, that will be saved.

Εί ήμισυς έπταισεν ο ‘Αδάμ, ήμισυ και το προσειλημμένον και το σωζόμενον . Εί δε όλος, όλα τα γεννηθέντι ήνωται , και όλως σώζεται

If half of Adam fell, also half will be taken up and saved. But if all [of Adam], all of his nature will be united [to God], and all of it will be saved.

Why does this matter? Why does Christology matter? Because God has come to us to redeem, to save, to heal, the entirety of us; that gives us the power and responsibilitiy to live entirely new lives, body and soul, by the power of the Spirit, in holiness for eternal life. He has done it for us, and calls us to join him.

In positive terms, the Logos of God takes on the entirety of human nature (body, soul, spirit, mind, everything except sin) to unite it to his divine nature in his divine Person, in order to fully heal humanity.

St Gregory Nazianzus, the Theologian

St Gregory presents two main principles: first, that God the Logos united full humanity to himself. Second, that the purpose of doing so is to redeem humanity, for this is the only way he could redeem it.

As he addresses the heresy of Apollinarianism (i.e., that the Logos substitutes the human mind in the human nature of Jesus Christ), he says, “Do not let the men deceive themselves and others with the assertion that the Man of the Lord, as they call Him, Who is rather our Lord and God, is without human mind. For we do not sever the Man from the Godhead, but we lay down as a dogma the Unity and Identity of Person”.

As St Gregory lists Christological errors, without using labels, he refutes adoptionism (“If any assert that the Manhood was formed and afterward was clothed with the Godhead, he too is to be condemned’), Nestorianism (“If any introduce the notion of Two Sons, one of God the Father, the other of the Mother, and discredits the Unity and Identity, may he lose his part in the adoption promised to those who believe aright . . . for there are not two Sons or two Gods.”) and even docetism (“If anyone assert that His flesh came down from heaven, and is not from hence, nor of us though above us, let him be anathema.”)

St Gregory contrasts the different properties of the human nature (passible, circumscript, earthly, tangible) with the properties of the divine nature (impassible, uncircumscript, heavenly, intangible) and asserts that they are united in one Person, “that the entire humanity, fallen through sin, might be created anew.” The deity is made man, so that manhood may be deified. We worship the Crucified God who has ascended in his deified body.

A man without a mind would be a beast, but Jesus Christ has redeemed the entirety of human nature, that we might be saved. The purpose of his Christological construct is always, and very clearly (as with St Athanasius), redemption.

 “But, says such an one, the Godhead took the place of the human intellect. How does this touch me? For Godhead joined to flesh alone is not man, nor to soul alone, nor to both apart from intellect, which is the most essential part of man. Keep then the whole man, and mingle Godhead therewith, that you may benefit me in my completeness . . . He needed flesh for the sake of the flesh which had incurred condemnation, and soul for the sake of our soul, so, too, He needed mind for the sake of mind, which not only fell in Adam, but was the first to be affected, as the doctors say of illnesses.”

Theosis, Humanness, Personhood and Race – a Brief Assessment.

A proper assessment of the issue of racism in general, and in particular in the Church, is fundamentally related to the question of what it means to be a human person. While there are many different approaches to the question of what it means to be human (in ethics, bioethics, sociology, politics, and economics), the Orthodox Church focuses on the Patristic tradition regarding what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God.

According to contemporary definitions, racism is a “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group . . . a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”[1] Racist ideologies and practices depend on a definition of being human in which race is a fundamental determinant of human traits, and define differences that apply to individuals and groups as to a spectrum (e.g., from superior to inferior).

However, from a Christian (and particularly Orthodox) point of view, any definition of humanity, and of being fundamentally human, has absolutely no relation, fundamental or peripheral, inherent or accidental, with any issues related to biological race.

What does it mean, then, to be human, according to the Church? More specifically, what does it mean to be a person?[2] The Orthodox Tradition, while having no single canonical definition of what it means to be a human, has nonetheless identified several characteristics of humanness. They stem originally from the account from the book of Genesis;[3] briefly, the image relates to inherent human qualities that remain even if marred after humanity turned from God (in the original account); and likeness refers to those qualities that constitute the human goal from the beginning, and our present calling.

Here we can identify, with reference to the Patristic exposition, six major characteristics of what it means to be human, or to be a person, according to the image of God.[4] First, a person is unique and unrepeatable.[5] Each individual has a unique personality, history, self-expression, etc.[6]

Second, every person is free. Reflecting the image of the only true God, who is a free communion of Persons, each human being, each person, possesses and exercises the sum of their personal characteristics as they exercise their free will.[7] Third, all persons are on a path to continuous, infinite growth. As we are created by an infinite God as finite creatures to be in communion with God, our journey to communion with the infinite, is, always, infinite.

Fourth, we are created as the Body of Christ through Baptism and communion, and, as such, we are created for ecclesial communion.[8] Fifth, we are inherently creative beings, reflective of the God who created all things out of nothing (ex-nihilo) in beauty and creativity. Lastly, and ultimately, we are created freely by the love of God, and as human beings who fulfill ourselves in love, especially and ultimately in self-sacrificial love for God and one another – the highest form of our likeness to God.

In this way we are on the journey in the becoming like the True, the Good and the Beautiful, as we are transformed in our reason and cognition, in our memory and imagination, using our whole selves, including our body, emotions, and souls. The Orthodox Tradition has a maximal vision of humanity, one in which the Resurrection and Pentecost, both and respectively redeem, in Christ and in the Holy Spirit, the human nature and the unique persons.[9]

As the analysis of the Orthodox Tradition on what it means to be human persons, created in the image of God, and called to fulfill his likeness, it is clear that race is entirely outside of the purview of what it means to be a human person.[10]

As to the goal of attaining to God’s likeness, a few points could be made about what it means to be called into  communion with God, into what the Church calls theosis (or, θέωσις). If persons are to share in God’s glory, they are to become by grace what God is by nature, i.e., we are to be deified.[11]

Deification involves not only the inward person but also the body, for human beings are hylomorphic beings, unities of body and soul, and Christ took upon himself full humanity in order to redeem the whole person. And yet, this has no reference to accidental modes of race, According to St Maximus, “our body is deified at the same time as our soul.” Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we are to offer them as living sacrifices to God (1 Cor. 6:19, Rom. 12:1).[12]

The Incarnation, of course, is both the basis and means through which God redeems all of creation, including matter. Christ took flesh and thus the material order in him was united to God. From his Incarnation springs God’s cosmic redemption (not limited to any race) and the Orthodox doctrine of the deification of the body, its iconology, and indeed its view of the holiness and even sacramentality of the created order are firmly grounded on it.[13]

Metropolitan Kallistos lists six points that must be made in order to avoid misunderstandings concerning the doctrine of θέωσις: First, it must be clear that θέωσις is for every Christian without exception, regardless of race, culture, origin, age, tribe, tongue, or nation. The process of divinization begins in this life for all Christians, and not for a select few. However weak our attempts may be to follow Christ and keep his commandments, of using our will in making choices that conform to the grace of God, we are already in some degree deified.

Secondly, the process of deification does not mean that one becomes perfect or sinless in this life, or that one ceases to be conscious of sin[14]. Deification always presupposes a continual act of repentance, and the Jesus Prayer says, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The doctrine of θέωσις is not mutually exclusive with a doctrine of ongoing penitence, but rather presupposes it.

Thirdly, θέωσις does not come about through some esoteric or magical technique. Rather, the process of deification, in which we cooperate with the grace of God, takes place in one’s life through the means God has appointed  to bring that about.[15] Therefore, fourthly, deification is not a solitary but a “social” process. The commandments are summed up in the love of God and the love of neighbor. These two are inseparable, for one cannot fulfill one without fulfilling the other. Only if one loves God – and therefore only if one loves his neighbor – can one be deified. As the Persons of the Trinity dwell in one another, so we must also dwell in our neighbors.

Fifthly, and consequently, θέωσις is practical because love of God and of our neighbors must be expressed in action. The process of θέωσις does not exclude mystical experience, but it certainly includes the service of love. This communion in love excludes all objectifications of the other, including of race, which is irrelevant both to the constitution of human persons, and to the process of being transformed into the likeness Christ, our prototype. In Him, there’s no Jew, nor Greek – even the constitutive characteristics of our individualities (e.g., male and female) are transcended in Christ (Gal. 3:28).

In our efforts, our synergia, we cooperate with the grace of God by conforming not only our minds and hearts to him, but also in imitating his love through actions. Deification presupposes life in the Church, life in the sacraments, for they are the means appointed by God for us to acquire the Holy Spirit and be transformed into the divine likeness.

[1] Merriam-Webster.

[2] In the Orthodox Tradition, “humanity” is considered  an abstract construct, denoting certain general characteristics that are shared by human persons. For example, that humans have a body, a soul, emotions, capability of thinking, etc.[2] Yet, this abstract construct, while helpful and even necessary, does not exist apart from concrete realities. In other words, one can refer to the concept of being human, but humanness does not exist apart from concrete individuals. If there were no living men and women in the universe, humanness would be a concept that does not refer to anything real, like, say, a unicorn.

[3] Which presents אָדָם, Ἀδάμ, man – or more precisely, humanity – as created in the image and  likeness of God.

[4] Anton Vrame, The Educating Icon, pp.67-80.

[5] As God is unique even beyond comparison to created things, there is also an analogous, irreducible quality among human beings who might share many – or even almost all (e.g., identical twins) – physical characteristics and yet are not identical persons to say the least.

[6] From a Christian perspective, each unique person is uniquely known by God, has received a “name which no one knows” but God, Rev. 19:12.

[7] This free will, moreover, is most fully exercised in relation to other persons, since no one can become fully human on his or her own; no person is a island

[8] This is expressed in askesis, in prayer, and in ministry – all three which care communal efforts.

[9] Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, pp. 101-135.

[10] All human persons have a body of some sort, and those bodies have – to use philosophical categories – accidents which are not referent to their “humanness.” Some are tall some short, some have brown hair and/or skin, others are blonde; some have other kinds of bodily characteristics. From the previous discussion, it is clear that what constitutes the image and likeness of God is irrelevant to racial accidental qualities inhering in the human substance and in persons.

[11] As St Athanasius put it, “The Word was made man in order that we might be made divine [also translated, that we might become god]. He displayed himself through a body, that we might receive knowledge of the invisible Father. He endured insult at the hands of men, that we might inherit immortality. On the Incarnation, 54 –  Αυτός γαρ ενηνθρώπησεν, ίνα ημείς θεοποιηθώμεν·

[12] Indeed, the doctrine of θέωσις, which informs a worldview of God suffusing human beings with his grace, in his energies, is also the framework for the understanding that God redeems not only human beings, but all of physical creation as well. Not only our human body but the whole of the material world will be eventually transfigured, for Christ came to make all things new, and God’s redemptive plan culminates in the establishment not only of a new heaven, but also a new earth. Creation is to be saved and glorified along with humans, and icons are the firstfruits of this redemption of matter

[13] As C. S. Lewis has famously stated in Mere Christianity, “God likes matter, He invented it.” Indeed, he also has redeemed it.

[14] It was St Paul who called himself the “chief of sinners,” for it is characteristic of great saints to have an acute awareness of their own limitations

[15] Metropolitan Kallistos lists six such means: Church (i.e., participating in the liturgy and in the life of the community); the regular reception of the sacraments; perseverance in prayer; the reading of the Gospels; the keeping of God’s commandments; and Christian service.

Fr. Maximos Constas on the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation

Seven days after his birth, Jesus was taken to the Temple to be circumcised (1 January). Thirty-two days later (2 February), he was brought back to the Temple to be presented there. Tomorrow thus marks the fortieth day since his birth, when we will reach the end of the great Nativity cycle that began on 15 November, which brought us to the cave in Bethlehem, the banks of the Jordan, and, tomorrow, into the very Temple of God.

The name of the feast, ὑπαπαντή, means “meeting” or “encounter,” which refers largely to the figure of Symeon, who had been told by God that he would not die until he saw the Christ. 

There is a pious tradition that Symeon was one of the Septuagint translators, and thus would have been something like three hundred years old when he met Christ. When he was a much younger man, he was given the book of Isaiah to translate, but doubted the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14: “The Lord himself will give you a sign (σημείον); Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you will call his name Emmanuel.”

Because Symeon was unable to believe this, he was not permitted to depart from this world until he saw the prophecy’s fulfillment, which took place when the Mother of God brought Christ into the Temple and placed him in Symeon’s arms.

Embracing the child, Symeon proclaimed that the child is a sign – a σημείον – to be spoken against; that the child will create divisions; that ultimate choices will have to be made for or against Him. He declared the child to the “light of the Gentiles,” which further points to the struggle between light and darkness. And there is darkness in our world because there is darkness in our hearts – yet the child comes to us at a time of year when the days are lengthening, “because the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:5).

In early icons of the Presentation, the Mother of God holds the child in her arms. In later icons, we see the child being held by Symeon. Images of Christ in the arms of his mother are like excerpts or details, like a close-up, taken from the iconography of the Presentation.

This means that when we look at icons of the Mother of God we are seeing her entering the Temple holding the child. This also means that we are seeing her from the perspective of Symeon, as if we were standing in the place of Symeon, and that she is offering the child to us.

The icon is not a picture to be looked at from a safe distance, but is rather something that beckons to us, reaches out to us, and seeks to engage us in an encounter with Christ. And when Symeon receives the child, it signals his death, because to receive Christ means to die, to die the death of your false self, with all its sins and passions.

Forty days have passed since Christmas. What is different about us? What is different about our lives? How do we enter the temple? Do we look to the Mother of God, who brings us the light? Are we waiting for Christ? Do we open the arms of our hearts and minds to him? Are we ready to receive him?

Who are you in this story?

V. Rev. Arch. Maximos Constas

Interim Dean Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology

Melito of Sardis (d. 180AD) – the Passover and Christ in the Old Testament

Melito was the Bishop of Sardis near Smyrna in Asia Minor, a very early expositor and herald of Christianity (he died c. 180AD).

Melito of Sardis, d. 180AD

In his Paschal homily, an exposition of the Paschal event in connection to Christ, he prefigues much of later Biblical theology which has been established in the Church for two millenia. With a high Christology, he based his exegesis on a framework of type/antitype, shadow/substance, promise/fulfillment, images/realities.

In the original account of Exodus, the paschal Lamb is sacrificed and its blood is poured on the doorposts of the covenant people who are to be delivered from the Angel who brings death to the unbelieving and unrepentant Egyptians, represented and embodied in their king, Pharaoh, himself a type of the god of this world.

In this way, the model given in Exodus present in type all that is later accomplished in substance in Christ. The images prefigure the reality of the death, passion, and resurrection of the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, for the redemption of His people delivering them from ultimate death.

In this way the principles of the Gospel are proclaimed beforehand, as a sketch, in the Law; and the Gospel is the Law’s explanation and fullness. In the Law, particularly in the account of Exodus, there is the sheep, the blood of the sheep, the lamb, the Jerusalem below and the narrow inheritance of the Promised Land, later known as Palestine. These prefigure the Lamb of God, the Great and Good Shepherd, the true Israel, and the One who bestows on His people not a plot of land, but the renewed cosmos.
Christ is God and human being. He is everything.

The Passover is old and new; it is old in the Law, a figure in time; it is new in the Word, eternal in grace. The sheep are corruptible, mortal; the Lord is incorruptible, immortal in his Resurrection. The Law is old, the Word is new. Christ, as human being, contains all crated things. As God, he creates all things. The shadowy account of Exodus gives the commandment and prefigures the grace to come; the figure eventually gives place to the reality. The Law judges, the Logos brings grace; Christ begets and is begotten, he is God and man, the sheep and the Lamb and Shepherd.

In the Passover, the lamb was slaughtered and eaten; the firstborn of those who were not consecrated was taken by the Angel of death. The sheep were sacrificed for Israel’s salvation, the death of the lambs brought life to the people. This was a prefiguration of the Lord, who died and was raised for the redemption of his people. Melito takes an etymological liberty with the word Pascha (originally a Hebrew term, Pesach, meaning passing over, skipping) correlating it with παθειν, to suffer.

As Abel suffered and was murdered, so was Christ; Isaac was bound to be offered as a sacrifice, Jacob was exiled, Joseph was sold in slavery, Moses was exposed, David and the prophets (Jeremiah, Isaiah) were persecuted and dishonored, the sheep were sacrificed. These all prefigured Christ, the One who was murdered, bound, sacrificed, exiled, betrayed, persecuted, dishonored, and raised for our sakes; the One who was killed and yet who smote Egypt.

Has made flesh in a Virgin, He was hanged on wood, entombed in the earth, raised from the dead, lifted up to heaven; He was the speechless Lamb, the One who suffered unjustly, God’s Firstborn who created all things. He was the Old Testament’s pillar of fire, the cloud, the manna that rained on God’s people as heavenly food, the Rock who gushed out drink to quench the ultimate thirst, the One who gave the Law, the One who gave Israel the prefigured inheritance, the One who sent the prophets, the one who raised the kings, and the One who came as the Prophet, Priest and King, to save and refashion all humanity.  

In summary, Melito sees Christ as

(1) Typologically prefigured in the events and persons of the OT,

(2) The fulfillment of prophecy, and

(3) Personally present in the Theophanies, and even as Creator

A Very Brief Synopsis of the Letter to the Hebrews

The Epistle to the Hebrews has no epistolary introduction (greetings come at the end of the letter), but it begins with the soaring rhetoric about the identity of Jesus and the significance of his work. God spoke in times past to our fathers, but now He speaks to us; he spoke before through the prophets, but how He speaks by His Son.  This gives the blueprint for the message of the letter, i.e., the superiority of Jesus in its manifold ways as compared to all that pertained to the shadows (the Old Covenant) that prefigured the realities which have now come (the New Covenant).

Jesus is superior to angels, to Moses, to the Law, to the Aaronic priesthood, and to the entire Old Covenant with its sacrifices. He is so because he is the Son of God, God’s final Word, holding the eternal and superior priesthood of Melchizedek; he has finished the true and ultimate sacrifice as Priest and offering, and has entered the true temple in heaven, of which the earthly temple was just a type and shadow.

In 1:4-2:18 the author shows that Jesus is superior over the angels, through whom the Law was given; he is the Son, the One to whom the inspired David says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,” and so “let all angels worship him.” He was made a “little lower than the angels,” i.e., he took human nature, but in that humanity he destroyed him who had the power over death (the devil) and was crowned with a glory the angels do not have.

In 3:1-4:13 Jesus is shown to be superior over Moses, as a Son is superior to a tutor and steward with respect to the inheritance and ownership of the house. He is a Son over his house (his people), and has entered the rest of God (the eschatological presence), opening the way for us. Moses was faithful as a servant, but Christ is faithful as a Son – and the Son is superior to the servant.

In 4:14-7:28 we see the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood over the Levitical priesthood; as the tribe of Levi came from Jacob, and Jacob was the grandson of Abraham, the father of faith, so Abraham is reckoned superior to Levi; and yet Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek (the superior receiving tithes from the inferior), who appears without genealogy, without beginning or end of days, and, as a priest, blesses Abraham with bread and wine. Jesus’s priesthood is eternal because he is risen and immortal, having the “power of an endless life;” so the Psalmist has said that God sworn that He is “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” the surety of a superior covenant, an unchangeable priesthood, once and for all offering up Himself.

In 8:1-10:18 the author speaks of the superiority of that offering up himself, which is Jesus’ sacrifice. The high priest of the old covenant could enter the Holy of Holies only once a year, to offer up sacrifices for himself and for the people, year after year. But now, in a trinitarian fashion, the blood of Christ through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God once and for all to remove all sin; and he did so as he entered not the earthly shadow of the temple, but entering heaven itself, in the presence of God, sitting at His right hand.

In 10:19-12:29 the author applies all the forgoing to how Christians avail themselves of  His priestly work, exhorting them to profit from Jesus’ sacrifice (10:19-39), and follows with the greatest examples of faith from the Old Testament (Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the judges, the Prophets, 11:1-40). They all died in faith, not receiving the promise, which has come now in the Son.

Discern the Things that Matter – St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians

In the letter to the Philippians, given the circumstance of St Paul’s imprisonment and the persecution at Philippi, St Paul wants to encourage the congregation to learn how to find joy, which can only be done when one “discerns the things that [really] matter.”

He writes to them, it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may discern the things that matter (Καί τοῦτο προσεύχομαι ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καί μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ ἐν ἐπιγνώσει καί πάσῃ αἰσθήσει εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τά διαφέροντα (Phil. 1:9-10a).

Αἰσθήσει has the sense of perception, discernment; δοκιμάζω has the sense of test, to examine, to approve, and τὰ διαφέροντα are the things that make a difference, that surpass – as opposed to indifferent things, the αδιάφορα.

In Stoic philosophy, as an approach to moral and practical matters, there were categories using the verb διαφέρω as to levels of importance. One would ask, τι διαφέρει, what does it matter? The response would indicate either τα αδιάφορα, things that do not matter, or το διάφορον, things that are important, excellent, things that matter.

For St Paul, in his teaching the Philippians to find joy in the midst of adversity and discouragement, the only way that joy can overcome grief is when one focuses on the things that matter, the things that are not transitory. As he said elsewhere, we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (μή σκοπούντων ἡμῶν τά βλεπόμενα ἀλλά τά μή βλεπόμενα τά γάρ βλεπόμενα πρόσκαιρα τά δέ μή βλεπόμενα αἰώνια (2 Cor. 4:18)).

A central concept in the letter to the Philippians is that of hope in the midst of suffering, particularly as St Paul was writing from prison (it is not clear where; he refers to the Praetorium but that can mean any provincial governor’s residence). Paul had received a gift from Philippi while opponents of the Church there were persecuting the Christians of the region (“do not be frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear omen to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,” 1:28-29). The Philippian Christians are, generally, discouraged from such persecution, and afraid that they might not see Paul again.

In response, Paul tells them that his imprisonment, in the good providence of God, has actually furthered the gospel, as his captors have heard it and others were encouraged to preach the gospel as well (1:12-18); consistent with his emphasis on the διαφέροντα, he tells them that to die is gain, since to depart and be with Christ is better than all things; and yet, that he is confident that he will still remain to complete his work, which includes serving them (1:19-26)

In this way, Paul writes them a letter in a known ancient format of “consolation.” This included the elements of

(1) a comparison between the αδιάφορα and the διαφέροντα;

(2) the advance of the things that matter;

(3) the emphasis that hardship enhances one’s reputation;

(4) the idea that bearing misfortune well makes one an example to others; and

(5) that joy comes to the one who is properly trained.

In this way, Paul is using a rhetorical technique used by the pagan Stoics, while reframing it and filling it with the content of the gospel.

As with 1 Thessalonians, Paul’s encouragement to them was that they ought to have confidence, for “He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Paul was teaching them to suffer in a “philosophical way;” but with the content of the gospel, he can say, rejoice in the Lord (ἀδελφοί μου χαίρετε ἐν Κυρίῳ, 3:1, χαίρετε ἐν Κυρίῳ πάντοτε πάλιν ἐρῶ χαίρετε, 4:4); since, whatever may befall him and them, ultimately, does not matter in comparison with what really matters: “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. . . .  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (3:7-11).