Whither Procrustes? The Old Testament as a Standalone Narrative

In rhetoric there is an often invoked concept of a Procrustean Bed, in which ideas are likened to a Greek myth of a character named Procrustes who showed his “wisdom” and “strength” by either lopping off limbs or stretching out limbs to make one the right size for his bed. The torturous images conjured have always spoke to me about what we can do with certain ideas or people. We can often add on to our perception of something or someone to make it seem fitting to us when it is considered deficient to some degree. Conversely, we can take away aspects of people or ideas when we find that there are unwelcome characteristics of those people or concepts and we would rather not think about those realities. In reflecting on the Old Testament, I would argue that many Christians including myself have been quick to adopt the Procrustean model in reading the Old Testament. This can be seen both with regard to people and spiritual concepts that are often stretched or selectively edited to fit our own preconceptions, particularly in the light of the New Testament. The implications of thinking this way are then drawn out from a pastoral perspective, in that we can then see ways in which we are Procrustean not only with the Old Testament but with our 21st century world. By considering the Old Testament as a standalone narrative, I would argue that the pitfalls of a limited and Procrustean mindset can be evaded, which not only helps our understanding of it as Scripture and literature, but may aid in our human formation to see each person as unique and worthy of consideration on their own.

The famous dictum attributed to Augustine that the New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament and that the Old Testament is revealed by the New Testament is worthy of consideration. The distinct authors, literary genres, cultures and ages leads one to see different perspectives on God and the world that has similarities to those in the New Testament, and at the same time those differences can arguably be seen most clearly in the stories of people such as Judith or Job. In seeing the New Testament concealed in the Old Testament, however, it is possible that the differences that come to us when we read the Old Testament as a standalone text can be lost due to our New Testament focus. The messages that are forced to fit a New Testament image may align perfectly with each other, but is this done at the expense of the message of the Old Testament itself? In our discussions of the Old Testament, we can see how the love of Christ is seen in the loving kindness seen in Ruth or the suffering of Job. This speaks precisely to St. Augustine’s phrase where Christ is concealed in books like Ruth and Job. However, this correlation is hardly a perfect one to one correspondence. When the focus on seeing the New Testament becomes all consuming, the message of the Old Testament can be lost (or at least diluted) in a Procrustean manner, and I would argue that this has implications with how we go about understanding the Scriptures and even living our daily lives.

One can be arguably Procrustean with the Old Testament in that the message and story of a particular person is one where we may omit aspects of that person’s life to make them more similar to the New Testament and ultimately to Christ. In the case of Ruth, I would argue that we are in this case of cutting off someone’s feet to make them fit the Procrustean bed. The union of the Moabite woman Ruth to become family to her mother in law Naomi, where her love makes the God of Naomi the God of Ruth speaks of the adoption of all nations into God’s plan of salvation (viz., Galatians 3:28). The loving kindness of Boaz as a kinsman redeemer has reflections of the love of Christ for His church who is His Bride (viz., Ephesians 5:25). All of these mystical allegories have been familiar to my understanding of this book of the Old Testament as I saw the Old Testament holding the New Testament concealed in its bosom. But did I really allow the story of Ruth to speak to me? In some ways, the answer to that question is no. For example, a common way of reading Ruth is to gloss over the narrative of Naomi’s counsel to go into the threshing floor and wait for Boaz. It is very clear that Ruth chapter 3:7-14 includes some affection and expression of sexuality prior to an as yet future marriage (which occurs in chapter 4) that could make moral theologians uncomfortable. Without coming to a point of reconciling the saintliness of Ruth and Boaz in light of this story, I want to emphasize here that this is an example of taking a story of salvation and union with the God of Israel and cutting out the parts that do not neatly fit into the context of this being a foretelling of the New Testament reality where all nations can be united to the God of Israel through the Church. Instead, there is a tendency to water down the text here to make the interaction in the threshing floor more familial or friendly affection in character, and yet our discussion of covering feet and the discussion of Boaz’s “cheerful heart” show that that would be an act of white washing the narrative. As such, I believe that we are being Procrustean with the story of Ruth by removing unwanted components of the story that are central to her union with Israel via both Naomi and Boaz.

One can also be Procrustean with the Old Testament in that the message and story of a particular person is one where we may add on to certain aspects of their life to make them more similar to Christ and the New Testament. I believe that this act of addition can be seen with people such as Job. In some ways his story is one where we add on or stretch him out to allow for him to fit into our theological Procrustean bed. The book of Job is a deep and sometimes puzzling account of a righteous man who suffered much and accepted much of that suffering in the presence of his wife who asked him to forsake God and his friends who tried to rationalize the whole experience. The story concludes with a dialogue between Job and God and ultimately Job is blessed greatly for enduring the suffering and the story ends relatively happily. In the Byzantine lectionary, some of the key passages of Job are placed in the spotlight during Monday through Friday of Holy Week. As we unite ourselves to Christ and the journey to the Cross during this season of the liturgical year, this important book in the Old Testament is a key point of reflection. Again, St. Augustine would praise this act of seeing the New Testament concealed in the Old Testament, and I would join him in doing so. Nevertheless, in seeing that Job suffered much as did Christ, we may miss something fundamentally different about Job as compared to Christ. In suffering, Job did not sin (Job 2:15) which speaks of the spotless lamb of God who is Christ our God (1 Peter 1:19), and it is clear that Job suffered so much more than the average person to show Satan that Job is a faithful servant no matter what befell him (Job 2:4). But the devil is in the details, as they say. Job 2:16-37 begins a section of this trial where Job and his 3 friends all talk and pray to God about the trials and tribulations that Job is facing. At times Job Himself complains and he even curses the day that he was born. The discussion considers many reasons as to why Job is suffering, from the idea that Job has sinned to the idea that suffering is just what we deserve, but these words of complaint and condemnation are silenced by the Lord Himself who begins to speak. In demonstrating the sovereignty and might of God in Job 37-41, Job speaks out in Job 42 with very stark words confessing his utter inability to truly comment or respond, closing by saying “therefore I depreciate myself, and I waste away, I regard myself as dust and ashes.” After these words we go to the story of God blessing and chapter 42 closes the book of Job, but in many ways I believe I have operated under a methodology that glosses over the starkness of Job’s words. It seems striking that Job does not have the vision of Christ who suffered and yet after dying is risen and then shows his disciples the message of resurrection and joy (e.g., Matthew 28:18-20). Job is blessed materially and his friends sins are forgiven (Job 42:10) but Job ends his religious journey in silence and hope is less clear than with Christ. As a recovering Procrustean, I believe that I took the clarity of Christ as Son of God and added that on to the narrative in Job to make the stories of Old and New Testaments more aligned.

What are the implications of having this mindset of molding Old Testament figures into perfect corollaries of a New Testament figure or Christ Himself? Two key consequences come to me as I have studied the Old Testament this year. First, with regard to the Old Testament people themselves, I have realized that in many ways I dehumanized them by adding or subtracting from their stories to make them fit my New Testament notions of the ideals. That Ruth may have done something in the area of sexual ethics that would not be counseled by some Apostles or Christ Himself for some reason is intuitively unsettling, and yet this is not done uniformly it seems. For example, the story of David and Bathsheba can be rationalized because of his strong repentance exemplified in Psalm 50. Be that as it may, the narrative of Ruth includes a story of her love that is not considered a perfect expression of love according to moral theology but that does not negate the reality of her story. Job’s lack of full understanding about God and his concluding statements on faith being focused on the silence at not understanding the mystery of God and his emphasis on repentance as opposed to restoration with clarity as is seen in resurrection may be called lacking. But it may also just be one of many rough edges wherein one can do as St. Augustine said and see the New Testament concealed in the Old, but that does not mean that the 1:1 correspondence is accurate. What might be missing in lacking the rough edges where there is a lack of 1:1 correspondence in Ruth or Job? They may be imperfections between Old and New Testament saints, but these may also simply be other manifestations of how the journey of faith may exist between two real people who are being aligned. In missing those uniquenesses, my faith experience runs the risk of being less manifold and three dimensional in its understanding of what the Scriptures can show to my eyes. If instead I am less Procrustean and allow each person’s life in Scripture an encounter with the invisible God, the visibility of these particular people will bring more dimensions to my encounter with the Scriptures.

Closer to my heart and daily life is the fact that being Procrustean is something that can be done with any person, in Scripture or otherwise. Pastorally, my ability to see Christ in my brothers and sisters will be hindered if being Procrustean is a status quo. Appreciating the overlap between the love of God and those who are transformed by it should not, I believe, be a filter that hinders my ability to see that love of God when a person is doing more or less than what I understand God’s ways to encompass. If I am Procrustean with my brethren it is possible that I would not be able to love them because I feel some sense of lack or discord between who God is and who my neighbor is. My appreciation of the Old Testament as being a standalone document and therefore not a 1:1 correspondence with the New Testament reminds me of the uniquenesses of people made in God’s image, and calls me to love even when those uniquenesses would force me to either add or take away from that person’s life to make them “just like” Christ. Realizing that I myself am also not “just like” Christ as well allows me the freedom to live without losing hope that Christ is presently in my brothers and sisters no matter if they seem to lack something Christ has or have some sin that Christ lacks. After all, salvation is a journey. Pastorally I believe that will allow for a deeper connection with all people and will provide a fertile ground for more faithful Diakonia in Christ.

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A Journey through Salvation History with St. Andrew of Crete

Glory to Jesus Christ! We are getting closer and closer to Pascha in our Lenten Journey. This week we are blessed with this Sunday commemorating St. John of the Ladder. This is a wonderful image of a long journey to Christ, and in many ways this image will become even more glorious on this Wednesday evening at our parish, where we will have the opportunity to pray the Canon of our Holy Father among the Saints Andrew of Crete. At 7 p.m. we will begin this beautiful prayer service that is a fitting testimony to the reality that Byzantine Catholics are Bible Christians. Our dedication to more Lenten services will be put to the test, but as we will see perhaps even more important will be the words of the service and their test to who we are as those who believe in the Bible as the Word of God.

The Canon of Saint Andrew is based on the service of Matins. In Matins, there are traditionally 9 odes. They were originally the 9 most beautiful scriptural canticles; that is, the songs that aren’t in the book of Psalms. Over time these canons grew to be filled with beautiful poetry that replaced those canticles, and one excellent example of this is what St. Andrew who originated this type of poetry in Matins (including the Canon of the Nativity of Christ), and also composed this service that we will sing this Wednesday night. Who was St. Andrew? He was born in the 600s and fell asleep in the Lord in the 700s. He was born in Damascus to a pious family, became a monk of the monastery of St. Sabbas and eventually was the Archbishop of Crete. His poetry was so inspiring that we use this service in the odes which include 250 troparia telling the story of salvation history. Traditionally each troparion is responded to with “Have mercy on me O God, have mercy on me” or “Holy Father Andrew, pray to God for us”, or a “Glory” at the end of each ode. Each of these responses would be followed by a prostration. 250 prostrations is quite the workout! Of course if we can’t do all of them physically our hearts may join in the asceticism, and I hope that that includes our hearts’ cry to follow Christ and know more of what we are praying.

In these 250 troparia, we dig deep into the word of God. St. Andrew calls us to consider our own sins and and how we resemble so many from the Scriptures. We consider all of our shortcomings first by comparing ourselves to the fall of Adam and Eve. We go through the falls and sins of humanity by continuing through the years and consider the following “short list” of Biblical characters in addition to Adam and Eve: Cain, Lamech, Seth, Enosh, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Ham, Japheth, Lot, Abraham, Ishmael, Hagar, Jacob, Melchizedek, Leah, Rachel, Esau, Job, Ruben, Joseph, Moses, Pharaoh, the midwives, Aaron, Jannes, Jambres, Dathan, Abiram, Ephraim, Joshua, Amalek, the Gibeonites, Manoah, Samson, Barak, Jephthah, Deborah, Jael, Gideon, Eli, the Levite from Judges, Hannah, Samuel, David, Saul, Uzziah, Absalom, Ahithophel, Solomon, Rehoboam, Ahab, Elijah, Ahaziah, Jezebel, the widow of Zarephath, Manasseh, Hezekiah, Elisha, the Shunnamite woman, Jeremiah, Jonah, and Daniel, in addition to the people who encountered our Lord in the New Testament. Let’s consider just one example from this long list above: “When a just person such as Job, who is totally beyond reproach, cannot hold off the attacks of the Evil One, what shall you do, O my soul, when misfortune falls upon you?” In meditating upon the Old Testament we are called here to ask if we can handle misfortune as well as one of our predecessors, in this case Job. He could not hold off the attacks of the evil one, so what will we do when misfortune befalls us? Job’s story is likely familiar to us and as such we can immediately go to the images put forth here by St. Andrew of Crete and realize that we need to deal with suffering better so often. But what of the whole list above? Did your ears hear any name and wonder who a given saint may be? If so, our tradition is calling you this year to be more of a Bible Christian, because if you’re a Byzantine Christian this is part of your tradition, to be a Bible Christian.

Now it should be clear that this is a very large list of saints. It can become overwhelming if very few (or even none) of these saints is familiar to us. One thought on this would be, forget it, it’s impossible. This service isn’t for me. I’m here today to say, no. Please don’t worry if you can’t understand all of the beautiful biblical references. Our faith is a very deep treasure, and the key to appreciating it is to simply know that if we are growing in our knowledge of the good, we are going in the right direction. I want to encourage all of you, and myself, to look at this service book (it’s online if you google Metropolitan Cantor Institute) and ask how you and I can become more familiar this year with just one of the characters in this text. In fact, let’s do this together right now. I’ll pick Ahithophel, because I’m sure he’s everyone’s favorite Old Testament character. He isn’t? Let’s learn more. Before we learn about Ahithophel in the Bible, let’s hear about him in the Canon. St. Andrew says this about Ahithophel in ode: “You have enslaved your dignity and your freedom to your body; and you have found in the Enemy another Ahithophel, for you have followed his counsels. But Christ has destroyed them in order to save you.” Ahithophel is a person we are told that gives us counsel to lose our dignity and to make our body our master. Christ is said to be the one who has destroyed the enemy and this slavery of Ahithophel. Who is this one who has counsels that we follow when we sin?

Now, in the Bible Ahithophel comes to us in 2 Samuel 15. We hear there that one of David’s sons, Absalom, wanted to usurp the throne of his father David. How did he do this? In part, he looked to the closest friends of King David. In chapter 15 we hear: “While Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh. The conspiracy grew in strength, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.“

But things change after David loses his counselor, he also loses his throne. In his flight we hear, David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, with his head covered and walking barefoot; and all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went. David was told that Ahithophel was among the conspirators with Absalom. And David said, ‘O Lord, I pray you, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.’”

David is in exile. Tears are shed in this exile, and repentance is sought because his counselor Ahithophel has betrayed him. Eventually, this betrayal of Ahithophel to join Absalom leads to him to give Absalom counsel instead of David. In the next chapter we hear: “Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the oracle of God; so all the counsel of Ahithophel was esteemed, both by David and by Absalom.” This is what David lost in the betrayal of Ahithophel. In many ways, he lost the guidance of God in losing this one who was considered to be an oracle of God. In the next chapter, there is a discussion-should the people of Absalom continue to follow Ahithophel who at this point is recommending a pursuit of David to kill him? Absalom sides with another advisor, and as such we read this in verse 23 of chapter 17: “When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order, and hanged himself; he died and was buried in the tomb of his father.“ What a tragic ending. A close advisor of David betrays him, he is eventually out of favor himself, and he hangs himself in desperation. The Psalms attest to this tragedy. Scholars say that there are 2 Psalms that speak to this loss. First, Psalm 40:9 states: “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.“ In Psalm 54:12-14 we hear David speak of a betrayal that he faced: “If an enemy were insulting me,I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers.” If you have ever heard this Psalm of sharing bread and being betrayed and thought of the Last Supper you are not alone. Ahithophel is the Biblical basis for that Psalm that points us to Christ. The verses from Psalm 54 are sung liturgically in the 6th hour, which is traditionally sung at noon when Christ was crucified. The son of David is a lot like King David when we think of both David and Ahithophel. The Betrayal of Christ therefore is made clearer by our better understanding of Ahithophel, who shares bread with David and ends his betrayal by hanging himself just as did Judas. Let’s re-read the Canon of St. Andrew on Ahithophel now with all of this background in our minds and hearts: “You have enslaved your dignity and your freedom to your body; and you have found in the Enemy another Ahithophel, for you have followed his counsels. But Christ has destroyed them in order to save you.” We know the betrayal of Ahithophel more clearly which helps us understand how our dignity and freedom are enslaved to the enemy, and we can then understand how foolish it is to follow our passions. We are like those who did not follow King David but went into rebellion like Ahithophel (and Judas). This is a rebellion that leads not to pleasure or life but to pain and death. I hope that by digging into the Scriptures you are thus encouraged to dig more into our Church’s liturgical life by attending services such as what we have this Wednesday evening. It is truly rich and blessed, and if we would only give it more time we would see the beauty and majesty of our salvation through Christ all the more clearly as we journey to celebrate his holy resurrection. Glory to Jesus Christ!

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.

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!

The Importance of Creation as “Ex Nihilo” in Metropolitan Zizioulas’ Writings

Christianity brought the faith of the Jewish people to the entire world, which was largely dominated by the Roman Empire in the first century AD. In contrast to the depiction of God in the Holy Scriptures, many philosophical schools understood this world to be quite different from the accounts of who God is and what the world is in those Scriptures. In his Lectures in Christian Dogmatics, Metropolitan John Zizioulas argues that God’s creation of all things out of nothing (ex nihilo in Latin) is not a mere accident of Jewish and Christian culture. Through a study of chapter three of Zizioulas’ Lectures in Dogmatics, we will see that one’s perspective on creation has many important implications that affect our faith and understanding of this world.

Gnosticism and Platonism are two strong competing perspectives to Christian Theism. First, we have the idea that evil is so abundant that God must have not created all things. This could manifest itself in views such as Manichaeism, where there was an evil force that was just as powerful as God, or it could be that God is the most powerful being but the weaker force of evil was still considered a creative aspect in the world. The problem of evil is answered by saying that God made all that is good, and everything evil is created by another force or principle in this world. We do not wrestle with the problem of evil-how a good God could allow evil, but at the same time God did not create everything in this scheme.

Another way to separate God from the rest of the world is to have God create through a plurality of logoi that become embodied in the “stuff” of a world. The matter itself not created by God, but He would be more like a sculptor infusing matter with His design. In this Platonist (or better, Neo-Platonic) perspective, fathers such as Origen and Philo would say that when a logos was embodied, the pure idea of the person or thing is made is mixed into matter that God used to create the world, and there is a sense in which this matter would thus be subpar as compared to God’s vision for that embodied logos. Like Gnosticism, in Neo-Platonism we do understand evil as being not created by God, because in this school of thought matter itself is not created by God. In both philosophical systems of Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism, we may have a soul and a body but this relationship is tenuous. The goal would be to strive to be more and more spiritual, with an inevitable disdain for the body. This explains Plato’s use of the word “tomb” for the body, and the practices of deriding sexuality and other physical aspects of life among some Gnostic and Neo-Platonic groups and figures in history.

The Church Fathers from Irenaeus to Saint Maximus (and beyond) clarified that the view of the world and God’s creation offered by Neo-Platonists and Gnostics fell short of the fullness of Biblical Revelation and the faith of the Orthodox Church. Zizioulas explains how this developed in history and certain objections which arose during this development, but for the purpose of this essay let us focus upon the questions of what and why surrounding creation ex nihilo. Creation ex nihilo teaches that God created all things, and rejects the notion that matter is eternal. In this view, matter came into existence at creation, and as such the problem of evil would have to be answered with other answers beyond the inferiority of matter or the presence of an evil force. Despite having a more complex solution to the problem of evil than competing views and despite offering a perspective on matter that was rejected scientifically until only quite recently (as we have learned through modern studies in physics), Zizioulas agrees with the Fathers that creation ex nihilo makes the most sense of what we believe about God, the world and even ourselves. How is this the case?

First, if God did not create matter and world was eternal, some thing (if not the world itself) must be bigger than and/or prior to God. But the Christian view of God as Being Himself would not allow for such a view of the world. It would seem that if something were prior to God or parallel to Him (i.e., not from Him), it may make more sense to worship that other person or thing instead of God. Of course, we could think about the fact that the world came from nonexistence into being and ask whether the world may not go out of existence. But if God did not create out of nothing and instead created an eternal world, we would be back where we started with an eternal world that is another God. More importantly, the fact that God created the world with the potential of losing existence may sound frightening, but to Zizioulas and the Fathers this is inspiring precisely because matter comes from and exists in a fragile state, linked to nothingness. It calls us to consider God’s providence and constant communion with the world.

In some views of creation, one can envision God as a divine watchmaker who stands aside to leave the world to go on its course. But as we think more about creation out of nothingness, a dependence on “constant communion” with God becomes clear to us. If we think of the world as a self-sustaining or self-originating principle, it may appear more safe and constant, but again this makes God somewhat distant and irrelevant to our lives. This is also true of the fact that as humans we are sharers in this fragility of a material, created existence, despite having an immaterial soul. This complex coexistence is not an accident due to creation only to be left off at our death, but is instead a means of uniting ourselves and the world itself to God who created us and the world. As Zizioulas writes, “Because of the bond represented by man’s body, the entire created world can come into communion with God and receive life from that communion”. Far from being an impediment to our salvation, the body of man is a necessary aspect of our salvation and the world’s union to God. The same potential to live or die was actualized in sinful man as well as in the God-Man, Christ Jesus. Thus, we see that the Christian view of creation makes sense of God as God, who is Supreme in Nature and intimately tied to this world. Creation ex nihilo also makes sense of Man as Man, who is in relationship with the material world and with the immaterial God, and who is called to unite Himself and the world to God.

Returning to the problem of evil, Zizioulas asks a similar question after considering man’s potential to die and the potential to unite himself and creation to God. If we look superficially, the problem of evil is easier to answer in another perspective such as Gnosticism or Neo-Platonism. But this simplicity is obtained at a high cost. This contingency of existence that emerges in our being created from nothing provides us with the gift of the potential to choose. We are not automata, simply compelled by the laws of a physical nature that is the “clay” that God used to create us. Instead, we are complex beings with a free will given by God, which again affords us the opportunity to have communion with God, and to bring salvation and healing to the world. We must ask at times why we fail to take this opportunity and lament that this is the case, and this is precisely what our life of prayer calls us to – a life of peace and repentance.

In closing, creation ex nihilo makes sense of the complexities of our life. It is not a view that is attributed to cultural accident. Instead, we have seen that our free will, our salvation, the providence, love and Supremacy of God all emanate from this view of creation. While raising questions about why we fail and when suffering will end, we are given a view of our utter dependence upon the love and communion with God when we affirm that He created all things visible and invisible, and that He is everywhere present and filling all things, the treasury of blessings and giver of life. May we beseech Him to come and dwell within us, cleanse of all stain and save our souls!

Knowing About God vs. Knowing God-Zizioulas Book Study

This is the first of three reflections on Lectures in Christian Dogmatics by Metropolitan John Zizioulas. It is meant as a guide to those who may want to read this theological text with some guidance. You can buy this book from Amazon at this link here.

May it benefit you in your growth in knowing God!

As we consider the Lectures in Christian Dogmatics by Metropolitan John Zizioulas in this class, let’s review what we’ve learned so far and dig deeper to understand what it means to know God. Of course we can learn about who God is through doctrine-the Church’s catechisms, liturgy, councils, and interpretation of the Scriptures can give us a picture of who God is, what He is like. Is He triune, for example? We are taught through doctrine as we learned in the last class, but what we will see tonight is that Zizioulas argues for a higher knowledge than what we encounter through doctrine. Instead, as we encounter God as persons, we truly can know Him. This is far more intimate than knowing about Him.

In pages 16-21, we meditate upon knowledge in general. Thinking deep about the philosophy of knowledge, we encounter the problem that if we know God the way that we know a table, we realize that we have done something we would not want to do. As the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom proclaims, “You are God, ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible…”, we realize that to know God the way that we know the table is to miss the immensity of His mystery. We cannot “check Him out” the way we would walk around a car to “kick the tires”. We profess that there is always more that we can learn about Him. So where does that leave us? Are we in a tail spin of knowing nothing of God because He is so limitless? As Zizioulas teaches us on page 21, the answer is an emphatic “No”. The solution to this dilemma between objectifying God and an absolute negative theology is a knowledge that is based on personal relationship.

In section 2 (entitled Knowledge Through the Son), Zizioulas takes us through Church history. From the idea of God as the Logos in Greek philosophy, to Fathers such as Dionysius, Justin, Origen, and Makarius, we realize that knowing about God or knowing God through our own senses is insufficient for a God who is so much more than a finite object that we can say that God is beyond being (hyper-ousia). What we learn is that Maximus the Confessor breaks the tension between knowing God with our minds and hearts, without losing the mystery which is at the core of our faith. How does he do this?

Maximus, we learn on page 23, emphasizes that the Logos is not a concept like a table or an automobile. No, the Logos of God is Christ, and the loving relationship between the Logos and God “actually reveals, discloses, and makes known the identity of God as this person, the Father.” This personal relationship is more than an abstract principle, and God is also more than some kind of King who is aloof. As Zizioulas summarizes, “You cannot recognize yourself in isolation from another person. You need a relationship to reflect back to you who you are…A relationship of persons, and therefore of love, reveals the truth, and makes known what could not be known in any other way.” The problem of knowing about God despite His incomprehensibility is reconciled through love. When we love one another, we see the good in the other, and we can even understand ourselves and our destiny of union and communion. We rise above a mirror that is narcissistic, and we instead become free of isolation as we love the Other.

Zizioulas helps us to understand that doctrines such as the Trinity are formulated not to be static truths; instead, we encounter God through doctrine as a stepping stone to this highest reality of personal relationship. Section 3 (Knowledge Through Personhood) really hits home with this reality. Pages 25 through the first half of page 30 make it clear that to not know God (or anyone, for that matter) as a person is to not really know them. Objectification misses the potential for truly knowing a person. This is true even when we assert something that is true about someone; e.g., when we say God is good this is not untrue, but we are objectifying Him as good if we stop at His attribute of goodness. Instead, when we profess that He is Our Father we are getting to the deepest truth of God. His goodness is manifest through personal relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, Zizioulas argues that we must always be clear that persons are not things. We are persons living in freedom, love, and self-revelation. And this is what we should seek when we say that we want to know God. We are not seeking to memorize theological or dogmatic terms. Instead, we are on a journey of love that is initiated by God’s love for us.

As Zizioulas writes on page 31, we know God through a relationship with God, and because God is the God of All, we can say (as he does) that “The knowledge of God as Father involves the re-constitution of every relationship by which we are constituted…The re-ordering of our relationships brings us finally into being, setting us definitively with the relationship to the persons of God that will secure out life without limit”. Stop and think about this concept! So often we are told that Christianity (or religion in general) is about an individual seeking salvation for his or her soul. Even when this is not individualistic and there is a call for salvation through a body such as a Church, Zizioulas would ask us to think more deeply than just asking how our sins are forgiven, whether we are in a state of grace, or any other such forensic analysis of us as individuals. In fact, Zizioulas would object to even calling a person an individual. Why? Because he is saying that our being itself is based on the proper orientation of our relationship to God and to all persons. It is not just that we are “going to heaven” if we have a good relationship with God and know Him, we only truly exist when we know Him and know one another. Section 3 closes with the final reflection on what it means to know persons. From the bottom of page 32 through the end, this is made clear. God is not a ‘thing’, but in the life of the Trinity, we know God through the Son, and are given life through the Spirit.

Where does faith come into play? The last section of this chapter brings our sacramental and creedal existence into focus. Without losing the emphasis on personal relationship, we understand that sacramental life brings us knowledge of God. Disagreeing with many in our world today, Zizioulas maintains that we do not give up real knowledge when we have faith. Nor do the holy mysteries as symbols keep us from knowledge. Taking baptism as an example, Zizioulas points out on page 35 that the ‘crisis’ of baptism is that we gain a new identity as persons. This personal relationship of union with Christ and His Church is all about love and relationships, and not solely concepts of the remission of ancestral sin or a state of grace. In taking on a new identity, we grow as persons in love and union with others. Thus, while we learn and grow in our identity through faith and the holy mysteries, we profess that while faith will pass away and love will remain, faith is a critical aspect of our growth in love and as persons.

In closing, what can we take away from these reflections? I think that a key question which we must ask ourselves is how have we sold ourselves short in making God a ‘thing’? We can offer or recite statements which may be true, but we may miss the heart of our faith and knowledge of God if we sever the importance of personal relationship from our affirmations. How do we make each other individuals and objects instead of persons? How can we get away from that thinking and seek to not just know about each other (our likes, dislikes, et cetera), but know each other? Isn’t that the deepest sort of friendship that we have as families, both physical and spiritual? How does our Byzantine Tradition emphasize that, liturgically and spiritually? For example, do we mean it when we sing, “We have seen the true light…”? Or do we struggle to make this prayer (and all of our prayers) something that is deep within? I hope that these reflections comparing knowing about God to knowing God might kindle in all of us a deeper desire to know God-to see Him as persons, to see ourselves and one another in the mirror of His holy love for mankind. Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ Our God, have mercy on us.