A study of Fr. Dumitru Staniloae’s Experience of God: Three Directions, Three Ministries

Adult Enrichment

Fr. Andrew Louth is a scholar of the Orthodox Church in his own right. Writing the introduction to Fr. Dumitru Staniloae’s third volume on Orthodox dogmatic theology, Louth says that Staniloae “disguises an account of Christ that, though certainly deeply traditional and Orthodox, is challenging and even revolutionary in its approach.” Today we will reflect upon the Person of Christ, as Staniloae does a powerful way. We know that his given name is Jesus, a variant of Joshua. Christ, not being His last name (or middle name), is really His title. Christos in Greek expresses His being anointed, and really for the Hebrew mindset Messiah is the Anointed One who would save Israel. As the years have passed, systematic theology brought another three key titles to Jesus the Messiah. Staniloae argues that you can take everything Christ has done and continues to do as being linked to these three titles of Prophet (and Teacher), Priest (and Supreme Sacrifice), and King, who is King as a result of being our Risen Lord. At the heart of the matter is the Person of Christ to whom we are united. In His Person, we see His identity as Messiah saving as Prophet, Priest and King.

How does Staniloae lay this out for us? Let’s read just enough to see the grand view of his view of Christ as our Savior in chapter 5 and continue to the end of the volume. If we can follow this scheme, the following pages in future classes will be illuminated for us to see clearly.

First, let’s read page 85 and ask some key questions for discussion.

In the first paragraph, how do you see that Christ’s Person and His work of salvation are linked? How does the union between the divine nature and human nature which are both found in His person link us to salvation? Can His saving acts (life on earth, death on cross, resurrection) have happened if He were divine but not human? Our own path to Theosis becomes clear the more we think of humanity and divinity found in one Person.

In the second and third paragraphs, Staniloae says that the acts of Christ are not simply things that any certain person could have performed. Do you see that His work is irreplaceable? Is Christ as true God and true man accessible, or do we consider His humanity as something less than our own humanity? Are you surprised that he makes it clear that salvation is only in God and our personal relation to Him? This language of personal relation is not just terminology for Evangelical Christians! How do we relate to Him to receive the inexhaustible life?

Let’s continue and turn to the next page to read the first two paragraphs.

On page 86, Staniloae stresses that Christian dogmatics are not systems of ideas. At times we tend to make theology very abstract which is why many people may feel that dogmatics is not for everyone. It’s only for scholars, we may think. Or if we do enjoy dogmatics, we end up (as he says) finding ourselves alone with our own powers because we can be focused on abstract and scholastic debates. But we read here that Christian dogmatics is about a saving Person, not a saving Teaching. How often do we think that dogmatics is about ideas, frameworks, or our own impersonal powers? Are you surprised by his comment that no other founder of a religions is or is even called a Savior? Do you sometimes view Christ God as a legislator or teacher? Does this encourage us to see Him as Savior more in your life?

Staniloae is a profound writer, and perhaps all of these questions have been difficult to answer for us. That’s ok! As we continue to read, keep in mind that the Orthodox view of the Person of Christ is that He is perfect God and perfect Man. If his personal relation to us is unique and irreplaceable, we have to see why it’s important that He save us as a Person in terms of both His divine and His human natures. Continuing through the chapter, this is laid out with some profound philosophical reflections on the eternal God becoming man in history, vanquishing sin and giving His divinity to mankind. Importantly, he uses the phrase ‘direction’ to point out that our salvation is directed towards our own transformation and union with Himself. But there are more directions to salvation than merely our own forgiveness. He shows that Christ’s work of salvation is also directed towards Himself because in His human Person, His humanity was perfected through the Incarnation, as well as His life, death and resurrection. Thus, there is a direction towards which Christ’s salvation extends upon Himself. Lastly, in obeying His Father and glorifying us by uniting us to God through Theosis, Staniloae argues that there is a direction of salvation that extends to God the Father as well. We will skip over this section and return to these points to get to our focus for today.

At this point, we have really only reached the introduction to the introduction on how Christ saves us. Our key focus on Staniloae’s writings for tonight comes to us in the following passages which lay the groundwork for his reflections on Christ as prophet, priest and king. I would argue that if we spend enough time meditating upon these two pages of Staniloae, we would grow deeply in our faith in Christ our Savior. Let’s read the first full paragraph on page 89.

Just as we heard earlier that we do not make dogmatics abstract and focused on ideas or teachings, we are hearing here that Christ’s work of salvation is not divided. We must keep each aspect of what Christ as a Person has done for us to see our salvation in totality. When Christ sacrifices His body, He is doing what is most fundamental to a priest. He offers Himself for us. When Christ gives us teaching and examples through his deeds of service given to human beings, He is being a Prophet. He lives the truth that He speaks, just as the Old Testament prophets proclaimed the truth. Third, he shows his power through miracles, conquering death, and through us as He gives us commandments and salvation itself. Dominion and power are proper to kings, and as such, our salvation is critically linked to Christ as king. These are all one work of salvation, but perhaps we see one as more important than the other? Perhaps we neglect one aspect? Or perhaps you think only one is key? Share your thoughts on these aspects of Christ’s salvation in your life. Let’s read the next paragraph to think even more deeply.

Here Staniloae makes it clear that we are not supposed to put these three aspects of Christ as Savior into hermetically sealed boxes. Do you see that His Priestly ministry is linked to His kingly ministry when Staniloae says that “He sacrifices Himself by overcoming sin”? Do you realize that his prophetic ministry is linked to his kingly ministry when we read that “He teaches by serving”? Do you further see that He is a king as a priest when “He rules as a slain lamb”? As Staniloae makes clear, each aspect of His ministry is implied in the other two activities, but we can see the facets in clearer focus by meditating upon each quality. Christ is one person, and these activities are three and yet one reality.

Let’s read the next paragraph “On the other hand”

Again we are reminded that Christ’s work of salvation is not only three activities but Staniloae points us to three directions. If that brief summary was difficult to understand earlier, I believe this section will make things more clear, while still being quite profound. He stated that Christ’s salvation is the perfecting of His own body which saves and unites us to God, who is also glorified by Christ’s obedience and our salvation. Here he applies this to Christ’s three ministries. First, Christ’s priestly ministry is directed towards His own body because He offers His own body. His priestly ministry is directed towards God the Father because He humbly obeyed His Father in offering Himself. His priestly ministry is offered to us because He saves human beings. Staniloae says that as Prophet, when Christ lives a perfect life and performs exemplary deeds, this is a model for us, but it also a “materialized teaching” offered towards God and it also perfects His human nature. While this teaching is for us, it is offered in obedience to the Father’s will in service and praise to the Father. Lastly, we read that when Christ exerts power over nature, death, and human beings, we see that as King we are saved, Christ glorifies the power of God in the Trinity, and since He is the second Person of the Trinity, His entire Person (body included) receives this Kingly power. This imagery of direction of salvation makes it so clear that salvation is not just about our forgiveness, but is a beautiful work of salvation that glorifies Christ’s humanity, God the Father, and humanity united to the Trinity. Thus, we have the very brief sentence that ends page 89.

Christ is a prophet, priest and king towards his human nature. He is a prophet, priest and King with the Father. He is also a prophet, priest and king towards us. Do we tend to see these ministries only with regard to the “direction” of our own salvation? If so, we may miss the beauty of our salvation even if we hold to these three ministries as important. We must hold to the ministries and see the intimate connection within them as ministries, and marvel at their connection to Christ Himself, to the Father, and to humanity. You may ask, do these three “directions” and three ministries really matter as being intertwined as is laid out here? Staniloae has an answer. Let’s turn to the next paragraph at the top of page 90 to answer the first question.

By becoming incarnate as man, the Son of God raises us up to direct communion with Himself as God. But we do not only want to see that we are raised up. Christ Himself also humbles Himself as man which gives an “obeying relationship” with the Father. Further, this fills His human nature with His divinity. We need to understand that Christ’s humanity is filled, the Father is glorified, so that we can have a realized and actively promoted relationship between God and human beings. Relationships are not one way streets, after all! Instead of thinking that God “only” reaches down to us, Staniloae shows that Christ serves to make the Incarnation perfected or complete through His ministry. He also perfects or completes those whom He saves. Of course, if we are Trinitarian we need to think of Christ as Son of God. When we do, we see that the direction towards God the Father is just as important as the directions that lead to the filling up of Christ’s humanity and our own redemption. How often do we miss the love and relationship if our hearts only consider salvation as legal transactions that lead to our own forgiveness? The forgiveness or direction of salvation towards us is real, but without reflecting upon the directions within the Trinity, and the direction towards Christ’s human nature, we miss the relationship that is a mystical union between God and man, and among God Himself. Does this help us see how so often the mystery of salvation may not capture our hearts as deeply as it could? It is so much more than absolution. It is love and life itself, it is relationship! Staniloae has more to say that makes this vision even more profound. Let’s read the next paragraph.

This paragraph wondrously shows us that the three operations/qualities/ministries of Christ as Teacher (Prophet), High Priest and King are essential to save and perfect human beings. They must also be exercised by us in a pure and eminent way that comes to us through union with Christ. As Prophet, we have to live and say the truth. Willingly walking the path that leads us to God requires the enlightenment that only Christ has. Thus, only Christ is the perfect Prophet, but through Christ we can be able to participate in His life as Prophet. As Priest, we have to actively live in a state of sacrifice, which means that we must have no enmity with ourselves, our neighbors or God. To give up our pride and ego is not simply a matter of moral perfection; Staniloae shows us that this is the heart of priesthood. Any other offering or sacrifice is not a complete gift, but is limited by what is held back. Thus, only Christ can be the perfect Priest but again, through Christ we can participate in His life as Priest. As such, having a direct relationship with the Person who is able to offer a pure sacrifice that is able to destroy sin and its consequences is what is needed for our salvation. Lastly, Kingly power sustains us because the calling to live as just described is not something that our simple human power can do. All one needs to do to prove that this is the case is try to live on our human power. It becomes quite clear that we need this union. And again, this union is not about mere reception of forgiveness. It is receiving a higher (kingly) power to walk a path of a sacrificing (priestly) life that is made known through the (prophetic) all-true and all-illuminating teaching. These ministries are not simple professions of who Christ is. Staniloae expands this vision of who Christ is to include our understanding of what our life is all about. We are to be prophets, priests, and kings because we are to be united with Christ. The vision of what salvation is transcends the often individualistic or narrow view of modern Christianity, not to mention modern man. Do we see that this is what we are called to do? Do we see that personal relationship is linked to this vision of expanding Christ’s ministry to our own lives? If not, we may need to meditate more upon what Staniloae has to say. In our next class, we can do just that by continuing our reflections on what it means for Christ to be a Prophet, and how that is intimately linked to our lives.

Works Cited

Staniloae, Dumitru. The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Volume 3: The Person of Jesus Christ as God and Savior. Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2011, pp. 85-90.

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The Other Fast

Glory to Jesus Christ! As we are living during this special season of Lent I want to share with us something that we are giving up during Lent but we are perhaps not aware of. If I asked you what we give up for Lent, we usually think of two types of things. For one, there is the fasting of giving up meat, meat products, and even wine and oil in the Byzantine monastic tradition. That’s something we tend to think about particularly at the beginning. What is our Byzantine Catholic Church’s minimum? Meat and meat products on both Clean Monday and Great and Holy Friday, and then meat for Wednesdays and Fridays for the rest of Lent. That’s our minimum and it’s always good to work with our Spiritual father or mother to think if this is adequate, if we need to hold back due to considerations like health, or if we should go more deeply into fasting. This deeply intimate consideration is important and is linked to something we should think about seriously each year. That’s one type of fast.

The second fast that is commonly on our mind during this season is also deeply personal, and is more recent in Church history. Very often we tend to consider fasting from particular activities that may help us draw closer to God, particularly as this season is also a time to grow in both more prayer and more almsgiving. For example, the deep connection we can easily have to technology is something good to give up during this season. Swearing off Facebook or Instagram or what have you? That may be something good to give up. Stuck watching too much TV? That may be something good to give up. Enjoying certain candies not really covered by the tradition of no meat in fasting? Same thing, you may choose to expand fasting out of your personal desire to grow closer to God during this Lent by giving up things like sweets. It’s your choice on this matter just like how strictly we follow our food fasting tradition.

However, I want you to know if you are Byzantine Catholic and you attend liturgy only at your home parish, there is another fast that you have had no choice to take part in. It’s another very important fast that our Byzantine Catholic Church has commanded us all to have, and may also explain why our Sunday liturgies are a bit longer with us celebrating the liturgy of Saint Basil instead of the shorter liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. What is this fast, you may ask? The answer, is the divine liturgy itself. You see, in the Byzantine tradition all Mondays through Fridays of Lent are what we call days of Alleluia. While we sing Alleluia more during Lent, we do not celebrate the Divine Liturgy with the joyous Eucharistic prayers, which are the anaphoras of either Saint John Chrysostom or Saint Basil. The words that are sung speak of how our God has worked out our salvation and speaking to the words of Christ at his last supper, as well as the liturgy where we call down the Holy Spirit to make the bread and wine the body and Blood of Christ, are all so enjoyable, so life giving, so celebratory, that we are actually forbidden from celebrating them. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Our kids (and yes, even ourselves) so often ask to NOT go to church for this celebration of the Anaphora. Are we catering to our own desire to sleep in during Lent? By no means! God calls us during the weekdays of Lent to continue coming to Church, hopefully to do so even more, and we are called to celebrate in a different way. The tradition calls us instead to celebrate not the Divine Liturgy with the anaphora but to instead celebrate the special Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. Considered popularized by Pope Gregory Dialogos of Rome who is said to have learned this liturgy while he served as a deacon in Constantinople, we have our way of receiving holy communion during Wednesday’s and Fridays of Lent.

So if we don’t hear the Eucharistic prayers that we’re used to, what do we hear during the Presanctified liturgy? First, we hear what we hear during every weekday service during Lent. The more somber music, the Old Testament readings, the censer (aka Kadilo) swings but it is a censer without bells, the dark vestments are worn, and the special Lenten Chants come to us. If you are only here on a Sunday of Lent, you will miss all of this. What’s more, the Presanctified Liturgy brings us into prayer in a very different way. Like other Lenten prayers, we use the more somber melodies as I mentioned, but this service is distinct. First, it has the structure of Vespers or evening prayer in that it uses some of the same Psalms: 103 and the other evening-focused psalms called the lamp lighting Psalms and their stichera or hymns go with them. The hymn O Joyful Light which St. Basil said was so old no one knew who wrote it, is also sung like on vespers. This is an evening prayer. But there is more. The sessional psalms known as the kathismata are sung, and we kneel during those hymns. That’s right, it’s not just the Roman Catholics who kneel. The hymns from the lamp lighting psalms (Let my prayer ascend to you like incense and the lifting up of my hands like an evening sacrifice) are actually repeated another time in a beautiful back and forth with the celebrant, again including kneeling. The special Lenten prayer of Saint Ephrem is also prayed and between the phrases we prostrate ourselves (if we have the strength to do so) placing our head to the ground to humble ourselves.

But at the heart of the Presanctified liturgy is its middle portion where the name comes from. The Eucharist is still at the center, but the Body of Christ is removed from the holy tabernacle during the sessional Psalms, it is placed on the altar of preparation or prothesis, and when it is time to process with them instead of singing “let us who mystically…” we sing of the angels but in a way that respects the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We sing, “Now the powers of heaven are serving with us invisibly, for behold the King of Glory enters. They escort the mystical sacrifice already accomplished.” As these words are sung the actual Body of Christ is carried just as at the Great Entrance, with the exception being it is a Eucharistic procession that calls us to bow and/or prostrate during this procession. As the celebrant passes through the royal doors our response is fitting: “Let us draw near with faith and love that we may become partakers of life everlasting. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” To respond to God coming to us, we respond with 3 prostrations in silence. Words escape us and the silence speaks to our hearts. As the liturgy continues, we prepare to receive Christ’s body and again as it is already presanctified there is no anaphora. In its stead there is a beautiful thanksgiving for what Christ has accomplished. We then receive after some more litanies and the Lord’s Prayer, and the presanctified flows like a standard Divine Liturgy, but again the music is that Lenten and solemn tone. It is so beautiful to take our normal celebration of Christ’s passion and then see it lived out in this very fitting and Lenten way.

What can we learn from this reflection on the Presanctified? First, to repeat, I hope you can make it to a service during the week. We have the Presanctified on Fridays at 6 p.m. followed by a soup and bread meal with a reflection, please try to make it if you can. Second, think deeply on the fact that we are fasting from the beauty of this anaphora that we celebrate today on all Mondays though Fridays. However, what we have in its place is another beautiful and profound way of looking at our Byzantine Catholic faith from another angle. May it not only nourish us on our journey to Pascha but also be a deep and moving way for us to enter into the mystery of our life in Christ throughout this Lent and for the rest of our lives. Glory to Jesus Christ!

The Fall and its Impact on the Cosmos

What was the world like before sin? What is the world like in the presence of sin? What of mankind and our place in this world before and after sin? Would Adam and Eve be living in New York City if there were no fall? In many ways the real question to ask is from whence have we fallen, and where are we headed. By continuing our studies of Metropolitan John Zizioulas’ Lectures in Dogmatics, we can make some headway in understanding this overall question of the consequences of sin, and our hope of seeing those consequences overcome through communion and love. Let’s turn to section IV of chapter 3 of the Lectures in Christian Dogmatics.

To start, we can ask why the fall was possible. Wouldn’t it be better to live in paradise and bliss forever? Zizioulas helps us see this by pointing out that freedom is a unique gift to mankind. It is a gift which is greater than the potential to sin because it provides the door to love and relationship with God. We learn from Scripture that this relationship with God is itself the source of limitless life, but turning from that relationship carries the possibility for disharmony. When we make ourselves or nature our God and weaken or even lose that relationship, death enters into our life and the world. The middle paragraph on page 99 is key. Let us read it and realize that death is everywhere, inasmuch as we turn from God in so many ways. This can help us with the fact that God had said that Adam would die on the day he would eat of the fruit-He was not buried on the day of the Fall, but death truly entered on that day! More importantly for our own lives, seeing that death comes to the degree that there is a lack of relationship to God can help us understand why there is so much suffering in this world. Are we doomed?

Zizioulas continues and points us to the Gospel, which he calls “the breaching and breaking of death.” Think of our Troparia surrounding the Resurrection. From the Paschal Troparion which proclaims “by death He trampled death” to the common Sunday Troparia such as Tone 2’s confession “…You destroyed Hades by the brilliance of Your divinity…”, we always assert that death is an outrage to be destroyed, and that eternity is life itself. Because sin enters in at many points we can feel “fragmentary” in our own brokenness or this world’s brokenness. It is one brokenness that has one solution-the resurrection of Christ, His Gospel. Entering eternity is to leave this brokenness, and death is a passage through time from this world to eternity. When Zizioulas states, “The life that we know is a mixture of life and death…when our composite world breaks up into its constitutive elements we will disappear again: death is this disintegration”, what does that conjure in our minds? First, we should realize that our appreciation of life is clouded by this mixture. We can give up and feel that death is part of life, but Zizioulas reminds us that death is an outrage and there is a captivity of all creation seen in death. Why then, is there death?

On page 102 Zizioulas makes it clear why there is death. Death is not here because we have been punished for sinning. Being finite is a limitation and death comes from that limitation. And that limitation is something that we should also not link to our bodies but not our souls. All of our existence can be subsumed and saved by entering into eternity. This was our calling before the Fall, and it remains our calling after the Fall. Neither forgiveness nor the right juridical standing before God is the primary solution to death, the real need is for God to come to us by uniting the created to the uncreated. This was our original calling, and nothing has changed.

As we saw in our reflections on knowing God, so too we must focus upon personal relationship as we think of the fall and salvation. This fact has even been stressed by some Fathers such as Maximus who teach that the Incarnation would have happened even if Adam and Eve had not fallen. Union between God and Man is so central in this view of the salvation of mankind and the world. How does this differ from the idea that God sent His Son only as a response to our misdoings? Forgiveness of sins is a part of the picture, but the fuller story is seen to be one of relationship and union. It is a mediation of love that would happen regardless of sin. As man, the material can be united to the immaterial and we see union between the uncreated and the created. This is why Theosis is so prominent in our Byzantine perspective.

In addition to seeing the importance of love and relationship, we must realize that this union must be initiated by God. This is where a focus on sin and holiness has it right-God sends His Son because we are trapped in sin, and He takes the initiative to bring this relationship back. Again, He would have become Man without sin, but because of sin we see the need for the incarnation to be the spark that restores communion and relationship between fallen Mankind and God, along with the world itself.

If we start to think about what the incarnation should entail, we find some fascinating points made by Zizioulas. Yes, we see the need for initiative, relationship, union and the Incarnation. But we realize that since Mankind is trapped in a cycle of sin, Christ would need to be born of a most pure Mother to fully share in our humanity, but not in our cycle of sin. The Virgin Birth is not an accident or a miracle to prove Christ’s divine origin, it is therefore intrinsic to the plan of salvation. In Christ, we see a second Adam who lives the way that the first Adam should have lived. Indeed, Christ lives as we all should live. What do we learn about our calling through the second Adam?

Zizioulas shows us that in Christ we see that Adam should live freely, not enslaved to laws of nature or sin. His choice to come to this created life was free, and His life was lived with a focus on relationship and freedom. Note that he is teaching us the uniqueness of our Christian faith, in comparing the Incarnation of Christ to other narratives of gods coming to Earth. The free and personal consent on His part and on the part of Mary (and in turn all of mankind) emphasizes how relationship underlies Zizioulas’ perspective on Christianity. It highlights and answers our own sense of how we have fallen short, and how we aspire to live in Christ. Freedom and a loving relationship is the focus.

Further, in this freedom we can realize that the relationship sought by God and actualized by Christ as the second Adam is one where our love for God (and His for us) is primary. In sin, the world (our finite selves being a key part of the world where we can be tripped up) is the primary relationship focus. We then depend on laws of nature as opposed to freedom, love and communion. Is the earth or our bodies meaningless and to be ignored, as did some Gnostics and Neo-Platonists? No! But what Zizioulas argues, in line with St. Athanasius, is that the focus upon union with the Divine would subsume all things in right relationship. Man would be the mediator of uniting the world to God, only while maintaining the focus on communion with God. Without the fall, this would have happened by Adam living out His life. With the fall, we need God Himself to enter the world.

Chapter 3 continues with exactly how Christ’s entry into the world fulfilled the calling of Adam, and how it is that our communion with Him shows that the whole world can be reoriented towards God. The fall and its restoration is overcome not by neglecting the world or finding my own “stairway to heaven”. In Zizioulas’ framework (and arguably that of the Fathers), we see a consummation of the union between God and Man through Christ. As we are His Body and we unite the created world through offering our own bodies and the fruits of the earth in the Holy Eucharist, the plan of salvation becomes clear. The Fall’s consequences are overcome by Christ, and our participation in His life as the second Adam fulfills our common calling. Relationship and communion between God and Man saves the world, offered to God through Mankind. We will focus more on that aspect of how salvation comes to us in our next class. Glory to Jesus Christ!