The Harmony between Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis in Chrysostom’s Anaphora

The Christian world is often cast in terms of divide and distinction. There are those who would argue that the apostolic churches emphasize the power of sacramental mysteries to bring salvation as opposed to Protestant congregations and their greater focus upon an individual’s faith in God for eternal life. In this paradigm, a person’s reception of something external to them is considered to be critical for salvation in the Catholic and Orthodox churches, whereas an internal act of faith is preeminent in the Protestant view. Does this make the Catholic and Orthodox perspective one that leaves out our own personal and internal life of faith and instead focuses on a sort of magical view where the external sacramental life is all that is needed for salvation? Some would say so. After all, if Catholics and Orthodox receive “life-creating mysteries”, there is a sense of passivity that enters into our spirituality if these mysteries are in and of themselves able to make life in our hearts with no regard to the faith in our hearts. In this essay we will reflect on this by exploring the way that the theology of the apostolic churches embraces both an external or passive reception of salvation, as well as an internal or active embrace of the faith.


Specifically, we will consider the anaphora of St. John Chrysostom, the primary Eucharistic prayer of the Byzantine Rite. Not only is it most often used in the Byzantine Tradition, the Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom is a wonderful image of divine theology, and it exemplifies how our connection to salvation incorporates the reality of salvation as something received and yet truly incorporated by the faithful. By viewing our entire existence and salvation being brought about by God the Father, seeing thanksgiving (Eucharist) in all of life, meditating upon how Christ has saved us in a manner that leaves nothing undone, and professing that our complete transformation is rooted in our complete sacramental participation in the life of the Holy Spirit who comes to us in the mystical supper, we will find a balance between the primacy of God as Savior and the importance of personal adherence to the faith.

Existence and salvation accomplished by God the Father
In the Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom, we begin with the admonition to stand aright, in awe, and attentively so that we may offer it in peace. We are blessed with the Pauline phrase from 2 Corinthians which states, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” These words are not merely a Scriptural quotation, they are a powerful way to prepare our hearts and ensure that our theology and practice of the faith is full of the grace that is needed for what is to come. This dialogue is also a two way street, as the faithful respond by saying “And with your spirit.” Once grace is bestowed and received, the celebrant continues to guide our prayer by chanting, “Let us lift up our hearts”. Our hearts and minds must be engaged if we are most true to the words of the anaphora and so the faithful respond, “We lift them up to the Lord.” The last admonition is perhaps the most important, as the celebrant intones, “Let us give thanks to the Lord” and the faithful reply by singing, “It is proper and just.” Why is this so crucial to the offering that we make? Eucharistia is the Greek word for thanksgiving, and as such we must give thanks to the Lord for a proper celebration of the Eucharist.
If we step back, it should be clear that all of the blessing and prayers enjoining us to be ready to offer our thanksgiving to receive the body and blood is in keeping with the theological understanding that as Catholics and Orthodox receive the life of God through the Eucharist, and that we must consider whether we are in such a state to be deemed worthy to receive. What this entails is a subject of much debate and is not the focus of the essay. But what is important is that while we profess that it is proper and just to give thanks to the Lord, we do not stop at simply preparing to receive communion as an external sacramental mystery. The celebrant’s prayer takes us further to consider exactly why we should give thanks to the Lord. The Anaphora continues by confessing who God the Father is as we pray to Him. We profess His ineffability, inconceivability, invisibility and incomprehensibility, and these sublime attributes are then placed in the context of what his creation of all things means in terms of mankind. The celebrant prays, “You brought us out of non existence into being, and again raised us up when we had fallen, and left nothing undone until you brought us to heaven and gave us your kingdom to come.” In hearing the words of the Anaphora, we tend to focus on who God the Father is, when the prayer uses lofty terms such as ineffability, incomprehensibility and the like. The proclamation of why we should thank God for His greatness of being casts our gaze to the external magnificence and wonder of who God is and that can cause us to long to receive Him in the Eucharist. Furthermore, the description of God’s relationship to humanity should also be meditated upon in addition to our focus on God. Before commemorating the saving passion of His Son, this prayer has a powerful focus on the reality that God has accomplished all for salvation. In those words that are about what He has done for us and in us, we acknowledge that our very existence is through God who raises us up when we have fallen. This raising from sin, bringing to heaven, giving us the kingdom to come is all accomplished by God. All of these acclamations take our own contributions and they are set aside, while the salvific love of God comes into focus. Nevertheless, these are the prayers of Christians who focus upon salvation as an ongoing journey that is received through sacramental mysteries.

It may also be surprising to read that these actions of salvation that we acknowledge God as having accomplished include bringing us to heaven and giving us the Kingdom to come are actually placed in the past tense! We do not hear that we will be brought to heaven and receive the kingdom to come one day at our deaths, or perhaps at the Second Coming of Christ. We hear that God has done this. When so much in our life may seem incomplete and our destiny may feel far away, we are reminded that union with the Eternal God who will make all things right provides an objective reality where all has been accomplished for us by the One who is beyond the constraints of time itself. In praying to God the Father, we profess our faith in a manner that would ward off any sense of earning His favor through the sacraments. This prayer also dispels the notion that our salvation is something that puts us into a fixed state of “being saved”, for we hear that He has raised us up again when we had fallen. The mystery of redemption finds its beginning and end in the loving kindness of God who has accomplished all for us, and as such our focus is external, on the eternal God who has brought about our salvation.

Thanksgiving for all things

As the anaphora continues prior to the Sanctus, the proper response to the salvation described above is thanksgiving. Accordingly, we again thank God in our act of Eucharistia. The celebrant prays, “For all this we thank you, and your only-begotten Son, and your Holy Spirit, for all that we know and that we do not know, for the manifest and hidden benefits bestowed on us. We also thank you for this liturgy which you are pleased to accept from our hands even though there stand before you thousands of angels…”
We not only thank God for our creation and salvation in the Eucharist, we give thanks to God for everything as we pray the Anaphora. We thank Him for the Divine Liturgy itself, which He accepts from us. God could have ordained that the choirs of angelic powers would be the ones who offer the highest worship to God, and yet this prayer emphasizes that His pleasure is seen in accepting our sacrifice in the Anaphora, even though the angels stand before Him singing the thrice holy hymn. God thus accounts us humans worthy to celebrate the Holy Eucharist on this earth and this pleasure emphasizes that he accepts the offering from our unclean hands not in a manner of pagan placating. Instead, the dialogue is one of thanksgiving, love and pleasure.

With all this borne in mind, our hearts are called to a thanksgiving that is unbounded, when we pray that we thank God for all the things that we know and for all those things that we do not know. There is so much that we know which could arouse doubt in our lives, limiting our thanksgiving to only those certain aspects of life for which we have decided are worth thanking God. There are also so many things that we do not know which could likewise kindle fear or despair and quench our thanksgiving to not include all things. But if and when we exclaim that we thank God for everything both known and unknown, our heart is opened in all facets of our being to God entering our lives and even our view of the world itself. Therefore, we invite God to come to us via the mystery of the Eucharist so that we may have thanksgiving both in our hearts and to show thanksgiving through our gratitude for all things. Our focus then is, in a sense, external on God whom we are thanking for His acceptance and love that we can see in all things. In another sense, our focus is also internal in that we are the ones making thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving for the economy of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist

As the Anaphora continues after the Sanctus, there are more acclamations of the holiness of God the celebrant prays to Christ, “You so loved your world that you gave your only-begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him should not perish, but have life everlasting. He came and fulfilled the whole divine plan on our behalf.” The anaphora brings our hearts to thank God the Father for the work of Christ with these words as well as the words of institution which follow. The spirituality of the Anaphora is focused on Christ, who could be viewed as the Savior who brought us our salvation. Our salvation is seen to be part of the whole divine plan which we receive as having been completely fulfilled on our behalf. No sense of lack is seen as these words are prayed. Are these words in keeping with the view that Catholics and Orthodox “work their own way” to salvation? This charge could be made, but only if we are not fully listening to the prayers!
After the words of institution which recount Christ at the Last Supper, the anamnesis follows. There we remember the sacred command and all that has come to pass in our behalf, and because we are praying to the Eternal God for whom all things are Eternally present, it even includes the second coming in glory, an event in the future! This remembrance reaches its apex when celebrant and faithful pray “Offering You, Your own, from Your own. Always and everywhere. We praise you, we bless you, we thank you O lord, and we pray to You our God.” The voice of this language has shifted from the external work of the Trinity saving us to the internal perspective of our own offering, praise, blessing, thanksgiving, and prayer. Our focus shifts on our own call to make an offering that is united to the external offering of God. While this offering is in keeping with the general depiction of how Catholics and Orthodox view the divine mysteries, the previous context of the Anaphora where we reflect on God as the one who accomplishes our salvation may shed light to balance one’s perspective on salvation as both external and internal.

The transformative effects of salvation in our union with God through Theosis

As we continue in prayer after the words of institution and come to the epiklesis, the Holy Spirit is called down to make the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ. From a perspective of our union with God, this is important because these prayers allow us to receive God Himself through the Eucharist as the gifts are changed by the Holy Spirit. However, to see the link between our theology and our life of faith, let us reflect upon a section of the epiklesis that is not so focused upon the transformation of the Eucharist itself but upon the transformation of our lives. Reading this section in an edited form the celebrant prays, “send down your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts lying before us…that for those who partake of them they may bring about a spirit of vigilance, the remission of sins, the communion of your Holy Spirit, the fullness of the heavenly kingdom, and confidence in you, not judgment or condemnation.” Oftentimes, the epiklesis is focused on to exemplify that in Byzantine spirituality, Christ comes to us through thanking the Father, repeating the words of Christ at the Last Supper, and calling down the Holy Spirit to effect the change. This is perhaps more Trinitarian in nature than the Western perspective that the words of institution are the central and essential aspect of transforming the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. This distinction between the Latin Rite Catholic and the Byzantine approach could be used to drive a wedge between East and West, but is that the true focus of the prayer? If we step back and allow the words of the epiklesis that are about us to speak to us, we see something that may be more important than trying to bring chronology to a liturgy (which we have already mentioned is timeless in its remembrance of things past and future) or distinction between Churches. The transformation is also deeply focused upon us as participants in the Eucharistic celebration. The celebrant does pray “make this bread the precious body of your Christ and that which is in this chalice the precious blood of your Christ”, which were omitted in the quotation above. Nevertheless, when we expand our focus to the entire prayer of the epiklesis we can see our own part in being transformed. We hear that the Holy Spirit is sent down upon us and these gifts lying before us because we do not only want there to be transformation of the bread and wine into body and blood. We also want our entire being to be transformed so that we can be united to God Himself. We hear that the Holy Spirit is called down upon us so that we may partake and receive a spirit of vigilance, the remission of sins, the communion of [His] Holy Spirit, the fullness of the heavenly kingdom and confidence in [Him], not judgment or condemnation.
In so many ways, this last part of the Anaphora is a clarion call to demonstrate what the Gospel is with regard to us as recipients of the Divine Eucharist. Our theology of salvation effected by the Trinity and the reality of the Presence of the Trinity in the Eucharistic gifts pours out into our lives so that those lives might be transformed in divine union with the Trinity. In these words, we are being called not to just be prepared to receive the Eucharist and be forgiven. Instead, we are being prepared for what has been called by many “the liturgy after the liturgy”; that is, we are being prepared and transformed so that we can live out our life in union with God. We need a spirit of vigilance to walk wisely in life and live as God would want of His sons and daughters. We need remission of sins to overcome our own weaknesses, failures and guilt. This is the healing of our souls and bodies for which we pray prior to communion, but it is also a basic human experience that we are cleansed and can continue to walk in the light that calls us. We need the communion of the Holy Spirit to have the inspiration and guidance to live our life as He speaks to us in His still small voice, just as He guided the Prophet Elijah and the Church at Pentecost. We receive the fullness of the heavenly kingdom to be true sons and daughters of God who can not only “go to heaven” when we die, but we can live the blessedness to which we are called by Christ in the Beatitudes. For if we are receiving the heavenly kingdom, we will walk in those precepts and practices taught so clearly by Christ in narratives such as the Sermon on the Mount. Lastly, we need confidence in God and not judgment or condemnation, because anything short of this is a life of doubt and guilt. As we make missteps in the life to which we are called, the confidence asked for is the remedy to any judgment or condemnation that we experience. Thus, while the first half of the Anaphora grounds us in the perspective of Christ as our Savior in the Orthodox faith, the ending part of the epiklesis demonstrates that all of our theological points about the Eucharist which are external and received by the faithful find an arguably deeper reality in the Orthopraxis that we are called to not only by the purity of Eucharist, but by the deep prayers of internal transformation that come to us. The importance of an external reception of the transformed bread and wine is deeply linked to the importance of an internal actualization through our own transformation from humanity to divinity.
The most important fact to consider is that God whom we may have referred to above as external is not truly external. After all, He is internalized in the act of Holy Communion! Thus, the whole dichotomy of external versus internal is conquered by the Christian’s experience of receiving Christ in the Holy Eucharist and being transformed by God through it. Perhaps that is the deepest lesson to be learned when we reflect upon salvation as it is celebrated in the Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom. We are not passive, but we are also not acting out our salvation on our own. Instead, the theology and praxis that we see in the Anaphora testify that we are united to the life-creating Trinity, and the most important consequence of our reception of Holy Communion is that we are transformed through this unitive reception. As the Thanksgiving prayer after holy communion of our holy Father Basil the Great states: “Grant that they may bring about the healing of my soul and body; the defeat of every enemy; the enlightenment of the eyes of my heart; the calming of my thoughts and emotions; a faith that cannot be confounded; a love that does not pretend; a wisdom that overflows; the full observance of your commandments; the increase of your divine grace; and citizenship in your kingdom. Being preserved in your holiness by them, I will remember your love at all times. I will live no longer for myself, but of you, my Lord and Benefactor. Thus, having spent my earthly life in the hope of life without end, I will attain eternal rest where the sound of rejoicing never ceases, where the delight of those who gaze upon the beauty of your face cannot be expressed. For you, Christ our God, are our true desire, and the inexpressible joy of those who love you; and all creation glorifies you forever. Amen.”

Kenosis, Christmas and Christians



Whenever we reflect on Christ and who He is, we knowingly or unknowingly engage in what is formally known as Christology. Fr. Dumitru Staniloae wrote wonderfully on Christology in the third volume of his dogmatic theology series entitled “The Experience of God.” In chapter four of this volume “The Person of Jesus Christ as God and Savior”, just three sentences of Staniloae’s writing make it clear how closely our salvation is tied to a proper understanding of Christology. He writes:

“Christ would not save us were He to manifest Himself as purely divine through the divine nature’s attributes and actions toward us, and as purely human through his human nature’s attributes and actions. In both cases He would not raise His human nature to cooperation for its salvation and ours. Moreover, in both cases He would remain, as God, inaccessible to us, and then the two natures in His Person would remain unknown and ineffective.”

This brief passage succinctly captures what lies behind the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ. As perfect God and perfect Man, our salvation is possible. In contrast, errors in Christology lead to a break between the deep union of theosis (deification) which come to us through Christ’s Incarnation. Thus, focusing on the intersection between Christ’s two Natures united in One Person leads us to consider some critical truths which are the focus of this essay; namely, the kenosis of Christ, His sinlessness, His connection to His Mother, and the implications of these three concepts. By meditating upon who Christ is, we can come closer to seeing what He has done in becoming Man for our salvation.

The second chapter of the Letter to the Philippians arguably contains the most distilled passage on the doctrine of kenosis, or self-emptying, of Christ. In verses five through eleven St. Paul writes:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In many ways, a more vivid means to see His self-emptying is seen through reading of His life in the Holy Gospels. When we see Him hungry, weeping, wounded, and dying, we tremble to consider how real His humanity is. How can God suffer through all of this? And yet the Byzantine tradition considers the moment of His Passion to be the most apt place to bestow upon Him the title of “the King of Glory”. Kenosis becomes the ability to see the glory of Christ most clearly, because it is precisely at the time of emptying and losing His life that our salvation and union with Him is accomplished.

In the context of Christ’s self-emptying, we understand that He maintains His divinity at every moment. A key way to reinforce that His divinity is present in the midst of Christ’s suffering as man is to meditate upon the key Christological affirmation that Christ remained sinless even during that suffering. The Epistle to the Hebrews makes the importance of Christ’s sinlessness clear when the author states:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16

Christ’s complete self-offering is seen through His sinlessness both in terms of what His priestly offering is qualitatively, and through our understanding that He has been through all forms as temptation and yet is without sin. In terms of the perfection of His offering, no aspect of Christ’s personality was withheld from the beautiful union between the human and the divine, and as such His High priestly ministry is not focused merely on His dying on the cross and rising from the grave. Instead, His offering is made perfect because He is the spotless Lamb of God, as 1 Peter 1:19 makes clear. The fullness of human nature is purified because He lived a perfectly pure life that was fully human. Thus, holding to Christ as sinless is not merely a point of dogma, but is critical to bringing about completeness to our salvation.

In addition to speaking to the quality of His offering, the sinlessness of Christ is important for our salvation through our own perspective as we look to Him for salvation. The weight of our weaknesses and failures could lead us to despair, but it is made crystal clear that Christ’s sinless life is a beacon of hope that we have a high priest who truly sympathizes with us, living His human existence in a blameless manner. In contrast, Docetism represents a Christological misunderstanding whereby Christ only appeared to be man. Were this to be true, His life on earth would not be so deeply intertwined with our temptations and sufferings. He would be perfect because He was God and not truly man. If He were perfect as God but not truly human, this sinlessness would have no bearings on our own struggles because we are humans. The Christological formulations of the Orthodox faith embrace Christ’s true divinity and true human sinlessness so that we can have hope that we can conquer our sin through our union to Christ. The Orthodox view of Christ’s sinlessness therefore makes secure our salvation in terms of what is offered, and what we experience as imperfect people. As Staniloae says, our human nature is raised, His sinlessness shows that He is not inaccessible, but is instead close to our very hearts.

Between Catholic and Orthodox Christians, there is consensus that the Incarnation brings God and Man together not just in terms Jesus Himself. Rather, the Incarnation extends to those whom He has saved. This is seen perhaps the most clearly in the participation and union that His Mother had with Him, though this also extends to all Christians. At the foot of the Cross, Our Lord spoke to His Mother and said of St. John the Theologian, “Woman, behold your Son”, and to St. John Christ says, “Behold your Mother” (John 19:26-27). While the words of the Prophet Simeon were fulfilled as a sword pierced her heart (Luke 2:35), the death and resurrection of Christ showed not only His importance in bringing out salvation, but we can also see His Mother’s role as Mother of Christ’s mystical Body, the Church.

From the Council of Ephesus’ embracing the term Theotokos to state that the Mary is truly the God-bearer, to the Second Council of Nicea stating that icons of Our Lord and the Saints can be venerated precisely because of the Incarnation, the Church’s teachings on Christ can be seen to extend to those whom He has saved. After all, those non-Catholic Christians who deny the veneration of icons would not deny venerating Christ. But perhaps that is the whole shortcoming of their thinking, in that there is an implicit individualism separating us from Christ such that He deserves veneration but the saints do not. In Byzantine spirituality, our journey of theosis is so all-pervasive that the light of Christ shines through Mary and all of the saints, because the union is complete. This incarnational union began at the Annunciation when God became man in the Virgin Mary’s womb, and thus the Mother of God occupies a special place in highlighting that when we see her suffering at the Cross and glorified in heaven, we do not become idolaters. Instead, we profess the totality of the Incarnation and the fact that Christ’s union with us extends to our lives.

The Scriptures make it clear that we participate in the salvation of not only ourselves but of others (e.g., 1 Timothy 4:16). They also make it clear that the One Mediator between God and Man is Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). When St. Paul says that he fills up on what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24), we realize that St. Paul is either contradicting himself, or that the reductionist viewpoint that only Christ is involved in our salvation comes up short. As Staniloae says, Christ’s human nature participates in our salvation. In sharing the same nature, and receiving the divine nature through grace, Mary and all of the faithful participate in our salvation. This is why when the Byzantine Tradition prays we hear words such as the following, which come from the Troparion of the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos: ‘O Theotokos, in giving birth you preserved virginity; and in your falling asleep you did not forsake the world. You are the Mother of Life and have been transferred to life, and through your prayers you deliver our souls from death.”

We do not shrink away from saying that the Mother of God delivers our soul from death, just as the Apostle Paul speaks of filling up on what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. In both cases, the salvific work of Christ is lived out in those united to Him, and that brings salvation through the saints to the world. Through theosis, the divine union with the human comes to the humans who partake of the divine nature, and that divine nature shines through humans like St. Paul and the Virgin Mary in a beautiful mirror image of human nature shining through the fully divine nature in Christ. Therefore, to hold to the incarnation and salvation of Christ we must see the fundamental connection between His kenosis, sinlessness, and the holiness and union that we see between Christ and His Mother. As we grow to see our union of Christ, may we like St. Paul see that our own life is called to kenosis, sinlessness, and theosis so that we may share salvation with all people. Glory to Jesus Christ!

Arianism: from Arius to Today

The earliest conciliar debate on Christology stemmed from the teachings of the Alexandrian priest Arius. In defending the exalted nature of the divinity of God, he taught that it was impossible for the Man Christ Jesus to be truly the uncreated God. While Christ’s essence could be said to be quite similar in essence (homoiousios) to that of the invisible God, Arius would not agree that Christ as Son of God and God the Father had the same essence (homoousios). Like subsequent controversies, it can be argued that Arius was coming at Christology from a good motivation of defending the holiness of God, but he had neglected to appreciate the Incarnation as the mystery that it is. Others might defend the divinity of Christ to the exclusion of fully embracing His humanity, but ultimately the challenge of Arianism was to believe that one born of a Virgin could not also be the eternal God. He failed to see that the immortal God could become Man and die as a mortal man. By examining the debate over Arianism and seeing its ripples down to the present day, we will see the importance of the Incarnation not merely for theological accuracy and rigor, but in order to appreciate our salvation which is achieved through theosis.

O’Collins’ Christology lays out the topic of Arianism with a Scriptural and historical perspective that puts the debates about Christ into context. He notes that Athanasius, in writing against the Arians, provides a snapshot of the key texts in the Bible which were used to question whether the Son of God was truly God, as Orthodox teachers such as Athanasius held. O’Collins then goes on to discuss some of the pivotal references to Scripture that the Orthodox used to counter the passages found in Contra Arianos, both in Athanasius’ day and later as new Christological controversies emerged. First, let us consider the key passages used to support Arius and his followers’ claims. From the Old Testament, we have Christ foreshadowed as the Wisdom of God who says of Himself in Proverbs 8:22, ‘the Lord created/begot/possessed me at the beginning of his work’. The Hebrew is clearly somewhat ambiguous (hence the multiple English words placed as potential ways to translate ‘begot’) but if Christ is truly the Wisdom of Proverbs, and if begetting includes an act of creation, Christ would be created.

Further, the New Testament references appealed to by the Arians seemed to place Christ in the light of being created. Acts 2:36 states God “has made Jesus…both Lord and Christ”, implying that Jesus became something that He was not, when He was made Lord and Christ by God’s act. Hebrews 1:4 points out that Christ has “become so much better than the Angels”, again hearkening to words of change and growth. Colossians 1:15 echoes the idea of Christ as created by calling Him the “firstborn over all creation”. The word firstborn was used to advocate that His existence as begotten made Him not eternal, but created. The Church would ultimately convene at Nicea in 325 and at the council profess that Christ is “begotten, not made, one in essence [homoousios] with the Father”. But we have also seen that the Scriptures cited above might seem to cast doubt on this. How did the Orthodox teachers combat those Scriptures? O’Collins argues that it is largely through the full context of Scriptures not quoted by Arians.

One chief aspect of the Scriptures that points to Christ as uncreated deals with the clause in the Symbol of Faith that comes just after the famous homoousios profession, in that we state it is Christ “through whom all things were made”. The Creed codifies this from a dogmatic perspective, but the Scriptures are the foundation of the Creed and they testify to this creative aspect of Christ in passages such as 1 Corinthians 8:6 which says that all things exist through Christ, and it is through Him that we live. Of His humility which would be pointed out by Arians in passages such as John 14:28 which says that ‘The Father is greater than I’, the Orthodox teachers would point out that this was speaking of His human nature. To support their position, they would refer to Philippians 2:9-11, which says that He humbled Himself despite not considering it robbery to be equal with God. His subordination was willing, because he took the form of a bondservant. And even more importantly, Athanasius and his followers would ask the Arians to explain how it is that Christ was made equal to God multiple times in Scripture, particularly with the Gospel of John when Christ says things such as ‘I and the Father are one’ in John 10:30.

Taken together, the Orthodox position against the Arian view would see the Father and the Son as ultimately one, but that in becoming Man Christ humbled Himself in an act of self-emptying, which is the word kenosis in Greek. The Arians were stressing the passages of Scripture that spoke of kenosis in becoming Man and suffering, to the exclusion of the passages which upheld His unchanging divinity. Athanasius and his successors in the Orthodox faith embraced all of the Scriptures in professing Christ to be truly God and Man. Synthesizing these references and arguments together, we can return to the Symbol of Faith and see how eloquent it is when it speaks of Christ in His being as “One Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God the only-begotten, born of the Father before all ages. Light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in essence with the Father; through whom all things were made”.
Once the Creed was completed at the First Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381, this did not eliminate controversies over whether Christ is truly God (not to mention all of the other controversies). Arians persisted in parts of the world as a formal sect out of communion with the Orthodox Catholic Church, but of course we can turn from history to consider Arianism as it exists in the world today. First, we can consider those sects not linked through succession from Arians, but they would agree with the tenet that Christ was created and is not God, being one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Key examples of this include Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Islam, and more. It is true that particularly with the groups above which call themselves Christians, there will be much of the same Scriptural argumentation about Christ subordinating Himself to the Father, and the like. To counter them we can follow the lead of Fathers such as Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria. But are there other ways in which Arianism still exists outside the bounds of formal doctrinal disagreements? Is there such a thing as ‘functional Arianism’? I would argue that this is indeed the case.

One example of Arianism comes to us from semantic sloppiness. For example, many times I have heard Christians who may say that they believe in the Trinity but then say that the Father is God, the Son is the Son of God, and the Spirit is something or some One completely unknown to them. Calling the Father God is not the problem, it is when the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit is somewhat secondary to the divinity of the Father. How can this be dealt with? Byzantine spirituality is one key way to unsettle any notion of unintentional Arianism. Our prayers so often say things such as “May Christ, Our true God…”, or “O, Christ God, bless the food”. I even once had Roman Catholics try to ‘correct’ a blog post because I wrote “Christ God” in the context of a sentence. The principle of lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing) shines out in the light of the way that we continually emphasize Christ as God in Byzantine prayers.

Perhaps even more challenging to us is a form of Arianism that comes to us from the heart. We may sing the Symbol of Faith with gusto but there are many times that we look at the world and despair, as though nothing can be done to change the way things are. If we saw the world with eyes of faith, that would not be the case. But if we see Christ as only a man as functional Arians do, there is a sense in which we have lost the meaning of who God is. If God is not both divine and human in my own life, what hope for change is there? Again, to see Christ as God with our hearts, we need the prayer of the heart. The Jesus Prayer is one central aspect to finding our way and not losing hope. By continually invoking Him as Lord and Son of God, Jesus Christ will have mercy on us and on the whole world. This element of ‘Arianism’ is subtle and while not a formal heresy, may be the most important aspect of understanding who Christ is. We may profess what is true with our lips but if our hearts are not in harmony with our words, the beauty of Truth will not fully permeate our being. By meditating on the Arian controversy, we see the magnificence of God and His love for us as he became Man. By praying as Orthodox Christians, that glory of divinity can enter our lives. Glory to Jesus Christ!

Work Cited
O’Collins SJ, Gerald. Christology: A Biblical, Historical and Systematic Study of Jesus. Oxford University Press, 2009 pp 165-168.

St. Acacius and Love


On July 7th, one Saint commemorated in the Byzantine Christian Calendar is St. Acacius, who is mentioned in the Ladder of Divine Ascent.

The OCA website has a short but beautiful summary of his life, here is the link:


In our world there is a focus on offending others, which can be beneficial from one perspective. We do not want to hurt our neighbors, after all! But I would ask-do we hurt ourselves when we continuously find reasons for offense? Have we missed forgiveness in this sensitivity to offense? Does it make us unable to love when we are wounded? If so, we may have missed an even deeper opportunity to love than in the world where no one offends another (assuming such world would even be possible).

With St. Acacius, we may have an example to consider. We may find his life shocking. He was mistreated by his spiritual father to the point of death without complaining. He was  miraculously raised from the dead to continue to show respect to the same monk who mistreated him, saying that he could not be silent if he was called upon. And so his dead body spoke to continue a life of love, despite no love shown to him.

This led to a beautiful remorse and repentance by his spiritual father, and his life of love brought a reconciliation to all of the hurts that Acacius endured.

The persistent love and obedience in the face of such offense is scandalous. We could consider him quite masochistic for enduring this. But I think that scandal is the exact place where we see his love, which was not contingent on his surroundings. As the love of God is present even as we turn away from Him, St. Acacius continued to love regardless of how he was treated.

May we seek to revel in this love! May God grant it to us when minuscule trials come our way. So often we speak out and react to the smallest things, and yet St. Acacius’ obedient silence in life and his obedient words in death can still our worries and heal not only our own wounds, but the wounds of those who have hurt us. That may be the deepest therapeutic, far above any feelings of justice that come from retribution.


I pray that deep love of St. Acacius fill our hearts to love no matter what we face. It is, I would argue, the surest way to be kept safe from the spirit of retaliation and frustration that seems ubiquitous in our world today.


Glory to Jesus Christ!



St. Porphyrios and the Nightingale-II

Glory to Jesus Christ!

(Or, if you’re on the older calendar)

Christ is Risen!

It has been 3 months since I posted on here. Some of that can be attributed to busyness but as I look back on the postings on here, the most recent one speaks volumes to me and I had promised to let it simmer.

St. Porphyrios and his meditation on the nightingale spoke to me very deeply.

I think of our world and our words, and we can say so many things to create clouds and fogs which can hide our true hearts from ourselves, our neighbor, and Our Lord. Thinking of the simple prayer of song that emanates from a tiny bird, I hold in contrast my own life and I see so much waste. So many jokes thrown out to not look vulnerable. So much posturing to demonstrate my knowledge when I am actually feeling doubt. So much pride cast under the guise of seeking sympathy. So much strength (conversely) shown when I am wanting to admit weakness. And as those shares/words/comments/posts/likes/emojis are racked up, my real sense of life in this world is obscured. I forget who it was who opened up to me, and I forget the people to whom I am honest.


And in this sense of futility, I return to the nightingale. His song in solitude seems futile but it is anything but futile. Even if no human hears him, he knows his song and it is his true voice. This is my goal in my walk in this life. There have been so many words that are said for so many untrue reasons. It makes it so clear that if I would but focus on my own song that has come from my Creator, that even if I were to have no one hear me I would be so much more fulfilled than a world of provocations.


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a Sinner.

St. Porphyrios, a Nightingale, and Me

My heart has been very moved by a passage from Wounded by Love, the Life and Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios. It speaks to so much of my own life and the world around me that for this post I would like to invite you in to hear his wonderful story of one lone nightingale. Please let it sink deep into your heart, I know that I am trying to do the same. Holy Father Porphyrios, pray to God for us!

One morning I was walking alone in the virgin forest. Everything, freshened by the morning dew, was shining in the sunlight. I found myself in a gorge. I walked through it and sat on a rock. Cold water was running peacefully beside me and I was saying the prayer. Complete peace. Nothing could be heard. After a while the silence was broken by a sweet, intoxicating voice singing and praising the Creator. I looked. I couldn’t discern anything. Eventually, on a branch opposite me I saw a tiny bird. It was a nightingale. I listened as the nightingale trilled unstintingly, its throat puffed out to bursting in sustained song. The microscopic little bird was stretching back its wings in order to find power to emit those sweetest of tones, and puffing out its throat to produce that exquisite voice. If only I had a cup of water to give it to drink and quench its thirst!

Tears came to my eyes – the same tears of grace that flowed so effortlessly and that I had acquired from Old Dimas. It was the second time I had experienced them.

I cannot convey to you the things I felt, the things I experienced. I have, however, revealed to you the mystery. And I thought, ‘Why does this tiny nightingale produce these songs? Why does it trill like that? Why is it singing that exquisite thought? Why, why, why…why is it bursting its throat? Why, why, for what reason? Is it waiting for someone to praise it? Certainly not. No one there will do that.’ So I philosophized to myself. This sensitivity I acquired after the experience with Old Dimas. Previously I didn’t have it. What did that nightingale not tell me! And how much did I say to it in silence: ‘Little nightingale, who told you that I would pass by here? No one comes here. It’s such an out-of-the-way place. How marvelously you unceasingly carry on your duty, your prayer to God! How much you tell me, and how much you teach me, little nightingale! My God, how I am moved. With your warbling, dear nightingale, you show me how to hymn God, you teach me a thousand things beyond number…’

My poor health does not allow me to narrate all this to you as I feel it. A whole book could be written about it. I loved that nightingale very much. I loved it and it inspired me. I thought, ‘Why it and not me? Why does it hide from the world and not me?’ And the thought entered into my mind that I must leave, I must lose myself, I must cease to exist. I said to myself, ‘Why? Did it have an audience? Did it know I was there and could hear it? Who heard it as it was bursting its throat in song? Why did it go to such a hidden location? But what about of all these little nightingales in the middle of the thick forest, in the ravines, night and day, at sunset and sunrise? Who heard their throat-bursting song? Why did they go to such secret places? Why did they puff out their throats to bursting?’ The purpose was worship, to sing to their Creator, to worship God. That’s how I explained it.

I regarded all of them as angels of God, little birds that glorified God the Creator of all and no one heard them. Yes, believe me, they hid themselves so that no one would hear them. They weren’t interested in being heard; but there in solitude, in peace, in the wilderness, in silence, they longed to be heard, but by whom? None other than by the Maker of everything, the Creator of all, by Him who gave them life and breath and voice. You will ask, ‘Did they have consciousness? What am I to say?’ I don’t know if they did it consciously or not. I don’t know. These, after all, are birds. It may be, as Holy Scripture says, that today they live and tomorrow exist no more. We mustn’t think differently from what Holy Scripture says. God may present to us that all these were angels of God. We don’t know about these things. At all events they hid themselves that no one would hear their doxology.

So it is also for the monks there on the Holy Mountain; their life is unknown. You live with your elder and you love him. Prostrations and ascetic struggles are all part of daily life, but you don’t remember them, nor does anyone ask about you, ‘Who is he?’ You live in Christ; you belong to Christ. You live with everything and you live God, in whom all things live and move – in whom and through whom…you enter into the uncreated Church and live there unknown. And although you devote yourself in prayer to your fellow men, you remain unknown to all men, and perhaps they will never know you.

From Offering to the Great Entrance and Back Again


Fr. Ephrem Lash gave a riveting lecture on the Divine Liturgy entitled “Translating The Liturgy: Was there a Great Entrance at the Last Supper?” (1) In it, he points out vividly that aspects of our liturgical life of offering bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ grew organically from a background that began with the Last Supper, and he shows that this does not mean that each component of the Divine Liturgy today was present even in an embryonic sense at the Last Supper. If we consider the Byzantine liturgy, the Great Entrance is a momentous occasion, so much so that Patriarch Eutychius called for the Cherubic hymn to be sung to counterbalance any notion that the bread and wine carried in the procession were already consecrated before the Anaphora (2). And despite the fact that the Last Supper brought the Eucharist to the world for the first time, it would be anachronistic to believe that there was a Great Entrance at the Last Supper, as the rhetorical question in the lecture title drives home so poignantly. Despite not being as ancient as the Eucharist itself, we will consider the development of the Great Entrance to understand the benefits and potential pitfalls of this practice.

As the liturgy developed in the first centuries of the Church, we read that “[t]he people, both in East and west, brought the bread and wine for the Eucharist.” (3) In the East “they handed in their offerings on the way to the Church, either at a table near the door, or in a small room specially provided near the entrance.” (4) Our understanding of the Eucharist as an offering from our own lives to bring the life of Christ to the Church and the world was clearly connected to this action of the faithful providing the bread and the wine, and to a partial extent this continues to this day with the faithful who prepare Prosphora in Byzantine parishes. As practical considerations brought more specialization to the Church, the place where the bread and wine were kept for the Anaphora changed. First, there was a transition from a table or small room to the Skeuphylakion, a separate building that stored the gifts of bread and wine which would be selected by deacons for the liturgy. Despite having its own building, the liturgy in Constantinople during the time of St. John Chrysostom did not have a Great Entrance as we know it. Wybrew states that “it is reasonably clear that in Chrysostom’s time the gifts were brought in by the deacons from wherever they had been left by the people and that this transfer was effected in a simple manner…accompanied by neither chant nor ceremonial.” (5) Thus, the transfer of the gifts from the Skeuphylakion to the altar began without ceremony, despite the current hymns and rubrics for the Great Entrance.

By 392, however, Theodore of Mopsuestia recounts at length about the awe and wonder of the same basic practice of bringing the gifts to the altar (6). Meditating upon the reality of the offering of Christ, the symbolism of His suffering, death, anointing and burial became integrally part of the Great Entrance. The ceremonialism that was not present in the early 300s emerges later in the century, and became so profound that Patriarchs chided those who held that the bread and wine were already consecrated, the Cherubic hymn was instituted, and the rite of Prothesis at the side altar came to replace the Skeuphylakion (7), which would have its own solemnity and symbolism to provide a context that would make sense of how we treat the gifts as special even prior to their consecration. Taken together, the progression away from simple actions in the earliest centuries of Church History reached a pinnacle of contrast where a rite before the procession was instituted providing symbolism pointing to Christ’s birth, the rite of procession at the Great Entrance was established to consider the suffering, death and Burial of Christ as well as the angelic powers worshipping the life-creating Trinity, ultimately leading to His Resurrection from the dead at the Anaphora and vivifying His people through reception of His Body and Blood at the Holy Eucharist.

On the one hand, we can be grateful to God for this development over the centuries. Hearing the prayers of the Prothesis (if they are audible and intelligible) can provide an excellent context of what is to be celebrated before the liturgy commences. By considering the prayers from this rite that hearken to the birth of Christ, and by seeing the great company of angels and saints surrounding Christ, we are drawn into the mystical realities of heaven, where the praise of God never ceases. In adding particles to the diskos for the faithful departed, our hearts swell with hope and prayers for those we have lost. Tying this together with the same gifts that are then solemnly carried through the nave of the Church and through the Royal doors at the Great Entrance, we are swept into the drama of the Passion, and the words of the Anaphora remind us that after death there is life. And as that life comes to the faithful who partake of it (or are blessed with the words, “Save Your People, O God, and bless Your inheritance”), the reality of Resurrection and life that is beyond the grave is embossed on our souls. In many ways, this experience emphasizes the reality of the life of Christ in the drama of salvation in a way that a liturgy which is not formalized can never do.
On the other hand, the formalization that comes to us through liturgical developments suffers the possibility of missing out on the personal connection to the offering that was seen more clearly in the early practice of the Church. As mentioned above, some parishioners may serve their congregations through preparing prosphora. Nevertheless, the majority of the people do not participate in this reality, and if that is the case there are many faithful who may not connect themselves to that which is offered in the Eucharist. The modern Byzantine rite may point us to Christ, but how do the faithful connect with this reality by seeing themselves in the liturgy?

I would argue that a balanced approach of understanding what Christ did for us and understanding what we do to unite ourselves to Christ and His Church in the liturgy is the key to the most ideal perspective. We must be able to see that we are part of the offering to God, and at the same time we must grasp how Christ offers Himself through our offerings to God. In so doing, we plumb the depths of the mystery of our salvation more clearly than an either/or perspective. Instead, we will see Christ’s priestly ministry and outstretched arms that seek to save us, and at the same time we will appreciate that our own efforts are part of the synergistic movement towards life everlasting. In so doing, we grasp the fullness of salvation and see the drama of its unfolding in our day to day lives. Glory to Jesus Christ!

Works Cited
1. Lash, Fr. Ephrem
2. Wybrew, Hugh. The Orthodox Liturgy, SVS Press 1990, page 82
3. Wybrew, page 20
4. Wybrew, page 20
5. Wybrew, page 52
6. Wybrew, page 53
7. Wybrew pp. 54, 55, 84, 109, 110, 154, 155-7