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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