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!

Advertisements

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.

The Judgment and Salvation that is from God as seen in the Johannine Epistles

In surveying the three Johannine Epistles, we can ask if their tone is focused on judgment or salvation. What’s the right answer? It strikes me that in this set of writings the nature of God as being either judging or saving the world is held in a form of tension where both judgment and salvation are proclaimed. This tension is arguably one of the clearest signs that these epistles are inspired and not contrived by humans, in that many heresies are based on a too narrow view of the deeper truth where extremes are made the sole focus. Because of its embrace of both judgment and salvation, I think that the Johannine Epistles manifest this tension and testify to the deeper truth of how God works which is above our ability to fully comprehend.

Examining the three Johannine Epistles we can see that God exhibits judgment towards those not living in community and in the love of God. Chapter 1 of the first Epistle speaks to this in that the community has fellowship with Jesus Christ our life, and it has been written to bring life to us (vs. 3). Verse 6 points out that we can live in darkness and not live out the truth, and verse 8 points out denying our sin we are deceived and lack the truth. Verse 10 states that the same denial would leave us lacking his word (logos) within us. Without this word I would say that we would therefore be in judgment. Chapter 2 of 1 John shows us another criterion where the truth is not in a person who is not following the commandment of Christ. In addition to being the logos of God, Christ is also the truth (John 14:6). While one could extrapolate and wonder if the commandment of Christ is the command to love one another akin to John 13:34, chapter 2 continues and verses 9 and 11 state explicitly that those who do not love their brothers and sisters are in darkness as opposed to light. Again, the Gospel shows us that the light is Christ (John 1:4-9) and as such a lack of love judges someone to be in darkness. The third judgment from the Epistles of John speak of another cause of judgment. In verses 15-17 of chapter 2 we learn that loving the world (defined as the lust of flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life) makes one unable to love the Father. We are judged when we have that love for the world. The next section speaks of another denial, and is most clear in verses 22 and 23. In verse 18 we learned of antichrists, who are clearly defined as holding to the lie denying Christ the Son, which then leads to denying the Father and Son and living in a lie.

Moving to chapter 3, we see strong judgment again around sin. Here we are not judged for denying sin, but for persisting in sin (1 John 3:5-6), and doing so is such that one is judged as being of the devil (verse 8), and not simply allied with him but the judgment goes to the point of calling them children of the devil (verse 10). This sounds to me like a crescendo of the stakes of what is wrong, and again hearkens to the Gospel when Christ spoke very similar words to some of those who did not believe in him (John 8:44). The second half of 1 John 3 reiterates the judgement on those who fail to love their brother or sister by pointing us to the Old Testament, in which we consider Cain and Abel, and it is argued that hating our brother or sister makes us murderers (1 John 3:15). Applying this even more abstractly, in verse 17 we see that even denying the material needs of our brother or sister is a judgment such that the love of God is not in us when we deny those needs of others.

1 John 4 returns to the idea of antichrist, and here it makes it clear that judgment comes to those with the spirit of antichrist, which denies that Jesus is from God in verse 3. Verse 6 personalizes this denial by stating that this spirit of the world and antichrist can be seen by those who do not listen to “us”. The Johannine message is not only abstract, it is linked to fellowship with John just as was mentioned in chapter 1 verse 3. The second half of chapter 4 elevates the judgment on those who do not love God by linking our darkness to a lack of love for God. Not only is one in the darkness or in sin, this process of not loving others is a denial of God because it states that God is love (1 John 4:8). The denial is not merely murder or a denial of a virtue, it is a denial of the Most High God. Conversely, our confidence at the day of judgment is shown in verse 17 to be based on our living in love. To emphasize that this cannot be fulfilled by only loving God, it is clearly judging those who say that they love God who they have not seen but hate their neighbor who they have seen. They are judged and called liars in verse 20.

The first twelve verses of chapter 5 of 1 John reiterate the need to have and believe the Son, again showing that love and belief in God is our basis for life. In the absence of this we are liars, as verse 10 reiterates. The last half of chapter 5 embarks on a new angle of judgment, in that verses 16 and 17 point out that there is sin that leads to death and is judged to be so heinous that we are told to not even pray for that person. This sounds very judgmental, and again leads to another axiomatic proclamation in verse 8 that we will not continue to sin if we are born of God, hearkening to the Gospel of John in the third chapter. This birth is contrasted in judgment to those of the word, which is under the sway of the evil one.

Turning to the next Johannine epistle, 2 John reiterates that those who deny that Christ came in the flesh are deceivers and antichrists (verse 7) and as such do not have God (verse 9), and then judges in a new way by telling the faithful that those people are not to be welcomed in the next verse. This is perhaps not surprising, but it is clear that the judgment really expands by saying that this commandment to not welcome is so serious that one who welcomes these deceivers is not only guilty of welcoming, they are judged in verse 11 to be just as involved in their wickedness by welcoming them. This is another very serious judgment to consider.

Lastly, to see judgment in the Johannine Epistles we turn to 3 John. In a way 2 John 11 returns in this text because 3 John 9-11 turns the welcome of wicked teachers on its head. There we read that a man named Diotrephes has not welcomed them and the brethren. We read that this lack of welcoming will be called out once the addressee is visited. This is then contrasted with those who do evil, and that those who do so have not seen God. With all of these passages under our consideration and focused on, it would seem as though the Johannine Epistles have set up an us/them dichotomy with no salvation of the world. Of course it judges the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, but what of all of those lost sheep that Christ came to save (John 10:11)?

Moving to looking at vision of the Johannine Epistles as they are linked to the salvation of the world, it could be surprising after all of these verses surrounding dichotomy and judgment that we can see salvation offered to all in the same Epistles that we just reviewed. In 1 John 2:2 we find one of my least favorite verses from my former life as a Calvinist. We read there that Christ “is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” The same Epistle that condemns the love of the world is the Epistle that here sees Christ as the expiation of the sins of the whole world. The world is under the sway of the evil one as we saw, but at the same time the evil one is said to have been overcome in 2:13-14. Chapter 3 of 1 John is arguably likewise a source of seeing a love that transcends our failures as humans. Verse 20 states that if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts. This interpretation may be disputed as being linked to the world because the context speaks of those who are obedient. I would answer that regardless of the reason for condemnation, does that not factor in the greatness of God? If that’s the case, we must contemplate God’s goodness in his plan of salvation and seek mercy despite our shortcomings. 1 John 4:18 speaks beautifully of the divine plan of salvation in that it professes that there is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear. Fear is related to punishment but this is gone with love. The love of our God who is love itself (1 John 4:8) needs to be factored in and I would argue that if we do so we will see love extending to the whole of creation. In chapter 5 of 1 John verse 20 does speak of the world that is under the sway of the evil one, and yet just as in 2:13-14, 1 John 5:5 says that even one person’s faith can overcome the world. The vision of salvation is one of victory when we think of these verses in 1 John.

If we extend our read on the salvation of the world to 2 John, verse 2 is very important to think of the broad extent of salvation. There we hear that the truth will abide with us forever. Though deception is very common, it does not last as does the truth that abides forever. That shows that even when there is strong deception, the stronger truth is just that: the truth who is Christ our God, who is love. Similarly, in 3 John verse 4, we hear from John that the greatest joy is seen in his children abiding in the truth. What is foremost in the perspective of the Johannine community is faithfulness and obedience to the truth.

Taken together, the message of the Johannine Epistles is one where the conflict between love and hate, selfishness and self-giving, and the Church and the World is one where the Good triumphs. In a way this triumph is so strong that one can speak of the salvation of the world, despite professing that there are fundamental problems with the world in that it does not keep the commandments to love God and neighbor. In reading the Johannine Epistles we are confronted with the portrayal where our life in Christ is one that transcends our weaknesses and brings salvation to the whole world. As the first half of this reflection showed however, this salvation comes to us through the very tangible means of Christ and by extension, his body the Church. This provides a balance between an apathy where the unsaved are without hope of salvation, and also keeps us from an apathy where the world is saved apart from Christ. Instead, justice and mercy come to us united in the Johannine Epistles in Christ who is our life.

Theology of the Body Broken-The Solution

We have reflected on the brokenness of the body in sickness and death and seen the challenges to understand these problems in a balanced manner. In these reflections we have seen an image of theology that can understand that while God provides healing and answers to prayer with our desire to be granted relief from our affliction, a simultaneous acceptance of our sufferings can still be part of the will of God for us particularly when our prayers for physical healing are not answered with that healing that is requested. With that in mind, how can we look more clearly at our sin apart from simplistic statements such as “this is God’s will”? Perhaps there is a solution that comes when we see our body broken as a theological vision.

To first understand our brokenness, we can look to our liturgical traditions that reflect on the healings from Scripture that we discussed in part one. As one example of this, it is important to note the hymns from our Byzantine tradition that are proper to some of the Sundays of Pascha. In the Sundays of the Paralytic and the Man Born Blind, we do not shy from the ugliness of sin and disease. Instead, we see them as portals into heaven, whereby we reflect upon our own spiritual weaknesses. On the Sunday of the Man Born Blind, we sing this: “With eyes that are spiritually blind, I come to You O Christ; and like the man who was blind since birth, I cry out to You with repentance: You are a light shining to those in Darkness”. Kontakion for the Sunday of the Man Born Blind

Here we see that our spiritual blindness is something that is common to all of us. We may be stricken with a broken body that is unable to physically see, but when we approach this Sunday in our liturgical calendar we all challenge ourselves to ask where we may be blind on the spiritual plane. What spiritual truths of goodness or even sin are something that we fail to see? What aspects of reality are we seeing as something that they are not, or perhaps in our spiritual myopia things afar off are hard to discern? Do we have spiritual far-sightedness and are some aspects of our spiritual vision most difficult to see clearly when they come close to us? Do we think that something is good but it is really bad for us, or vice versa? In seeking our spiritual healing from Christ the physician of souls and bodies we can grow by realizing the many ways that we can be blind on a spiritual level.

Similarly, on the Sunday of the Paralytic who was healed we pray: “O Lord, with your divine authority, as You once raised the paralytic, now raise my soul, paralyzed dreadfully with all kinds of sin and disgraceful deeds, that, being saved, I may cry out to You: Glory to Your merciful power: O merciful Christ.” Kontakion for the Sunday of the Paralytic.

Again as was the case with spiritual blindness, we may not be physically unable to walk as was the paralytic, or this may be exactly our physical condition. Spiritually, our theology of the body broken calls us to realize that we all have forms of spiritual paralysis regardless of our physical condition. We can therefore ask ourselves mystical questions such as: What movement should we be making that we are not making? What are we trying to accomplish that does not seem to happen despite our efforts? Here we can see a spiritual paralysis that needs healing from the same Divine Physician.

In speaking of the word body, it is also important that we think about another understanding of the body beyond our own personal bodies. After all, many times we as the Church are called the Body of Christ, with Christ being the head of the Church (e.g., Colossians 1:18). If the theology of the body broken helps us understand our own afflictions, does it also apply to the corporate body of our own parishes, particular Churches, and the entire Catholic Church?

Without entering the realm of a specific judgment or other forms of criticism, we can also apply the theology of the body broken to communities as well as to persons by asking some important questions. After all, if we are spiritually blind as a parish, we may all miss the importance of something that we fail to do or something that we see in an unclear manner. This may be liturgical, moral, or even a basic human element such as our ability to show hospitality. Are we spiritually blind when we as a whole group miss some spiritual truths? Are we spiritually paralyzed as a broader particular Church when we often fail to move throughout our communities as messengers of the Gospel? Does the broadest level of the Catholic Church manifest spiritual illnesses that need healing? Expanding beyond those two Sundays on our liturgical calendar, the theology of the body broken is a wide project which can extend to all of our brokenness, where each affliction or disease that manifests itself physically beyond blindness and paralysis is something that when understood rightly has a spiritual message to our personal or corporate state of affairs. Ultimately we may come to a point in the theology of the body broken where we understand what spiritual cancer is, as would be the case with spiritual arthritis, and beyond. This will not only expand our understanding of spiritual illnesses, it will also benefit how we evaluate ourselves in the journey to union with Christ. Instead of looking at our shortcomings as crimes, when we view them as illnesses we have at least two benefits. First, we can feel less ashamed, guilty or hopeless when we see our weaknesses as illnesses as opposed to treasonous transgressions. Our own suffering factors in to the equation, alongside our true sense of culpability. Second (and more importantly), our personal and corporate failings are things that do not need judgment or programs to fix a guilty or fallen down structure. We instead return once again to that beautiful image of Christ as our Divine Physician of Souls and Bodies.

There is one important qualification to our meditations on the theology of the body broken that is important for us to repeat at this juncture. We should not conclude that a person who is physically blind or paralyzed is somehow more spiritually blind or paralyzed than those who are not physically suffering with that condition. This also does not mean that if you suffer from these physical ailments or any others that you are some kind of example that must be placed in front of the eyes of all. Explaining exactly why sicknesses occur is asking too much of the mystery of life, which goes back to our scriptural studies in the first reflection. We instead see sickness as a mystery that must again be held in the dynamic of something that we seek and ask for healing as we simultaneously understand that the spiritual healing is what matters most. Nevertheless, when we read these hymns and think along this angle of the theology of the body broken, this is not a perspective that shies away from the imperfections of this world by only thinking on the spiritual plane. No, this is a perspective that sees the flaws and sadness brought about by our sin to be an occasion of eye-opening embrace of our fallenness, with the hope of moving beyond that fallenness. The paradox of understanding our weakness, God’s open arms that embrace us, and yet our admission that God is able to take us and mold us as clay in His merciful power that shines as a light in our Darkness answers our longing to be made both whole and loved at the same time. While not denigrating the importance of our flaws, there is something to this idea of acknowledging our own blindness, our own inability to walk, and our own position of illness. It is hope for the today when I am not all put together. We have such a long way to go in our journey to union with Christ, but even in our broken state of affairs, we can see a beautiful story that is being created after that ideal likeness that came to this earth to save us all. Thus, the theology of the body broken is a powerful vision to view our physical and spiritual weaknesses on the path where we are today and where we hope to be tomorrow.

Lastly, let us consider the end of our lives on a personal level, and ask if we are understanding death as linked to sin with the fullness of our tradition. At times we may read passages like Romans 6:23 and feel that death is merely a punishment from our God who is just and free from sin. There is truth to this image, but like all images of the divine we should be wary of missing the fullness of an image. In our Eastern Christian tradition our holy Father Gregory of Nyssa is among many who taught that we should not simply death as simply a punishment. In his Great Catechism he wrote: “Nevertheless one who regards only the dissolution of the body is greatly disturbed, and makes it a hardship that this life of ours should be dissolved by death; it is, he says, the extremity of evil that our being should be quenched by this condition of mortality. Let him, then, observe through this gloomy prospect the excess of the Divine benevolence.“ (The Great Catechism, VIII) The end of this quote is key to understand it fully. In considering our mortality, we see that our evil itself is quenched when we die. Yes, there is the dissolution of our body, but here we are not thinking of death as a destruction in a solely negative sense. Instead, we see here that our mortality is a way to quench and destroy our own evil. Thus, while sin is often considered a sickness, death is conversely a source of life in that our sinfulness can finally cease when we are united to Christ and we are freed from the sinful aspects of our bodily existence. This may sound paradoxical, but perhaps this paradox is precisely the solution. Perhaps we need to again consider our body broken in the light of who we are as the Body of Christ.

As mentioned in our reflection on the problem of suffering and death, our last scriptural example of someone who prayed and did not receive deliverance from death was Christ Himself. Being members of His body, understanding His own lack of deliverance is important, but even more important is to understand Christ’s death in its full context and significance. At the Mystical Supper, Christ proclaimed “this is my body which is broken for you”. (1 Corinthians 11:24) In our Byzantine Tradition, the Paschal Troparion triumphantly proclaims, “Christ is risen from the dead! By death he trampled death, and to those in the tombs He granted life!” Our understanding is that Christ’s death is life-giving precisely in its being a death. If we understand the theology of the body broken, there is an opportunity to see that our own deaths are likewise life giving.

From a very basic human level, a Christian death of the likes of which we pray for in the Divine Liturgy is one where our death can bring friends and family closer together. Many times the opposite may be the case, due (for example) to inheritance squabbles or discussions of how the funeral should be held. While the negative examples can be multiplied ad nauseum, we also can understand that if Christ’s body was broken to bring life, we can understand that our own ultimate breaking of our bodies can be life giving. The Christian example of one who is at peace with prayers being answered by God bringing spiritual but not physical healing may be an example that helps the skepticism in the hearts of others. The forgiveness that is extended in the midst of real pain and suffering can bring one to the foot of the cross where like Christ we can cry out, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Our own death can be a cause of thanksgiving (the root of the word for Eucharist is thanksgiving, after all) because in offering our lives we can show in the most radical way possible that God is worthy of all thanksgiving and praise at even the seemingly darkest moments of our lives. In the theology of the body broken, the most radical form of brokenness can be the most radical form of praise to God, when rightly understood. We have sought to navigate the pitfalls of simplistically analyzing sickness and death for the precise reason of seeing the good that can come in some of the most painful moments. Pitfalls of being overly simplistic about why we are suffering can very easily obscure the vision of our union with Christ in our lives. In contrast, when we can understand the theology of the body broken, we do not cease to pray for healing but we assent to the more mysterious and ultimately triumphant will of God. We see that our union with Christ is such that if He was not spared the cup of offering our lives, then we are called to do the same offering our bodies as a living sacrifice that is wholly acceptable to God, as the letter to the Romans states (Romans 12:1-2).

In conclusion, the theology of the body as understood by St. John Paul II had a very clear focus on the sacramentality of the body in marriage. But if we think of our bodies more broadly as he himself did in his last general audience which was quoted at the outset of these reflections, the problems of suffering and death open up another vista whereby we can understand the spiritual and physical significance of suffering and death. We have seen a balance of accepting our plight in life and imploring the Divine Physician for healing. We have navigated the spiritual significance of suffering of death without making those most directly involved mere signs, but instead real human figures on their journey to healing. The journey to healing is seen as most fundamentally culminating in union with Christ who Himself sought healing and was denied the physical healing of the sake of bringing out the life of the world. Our Byzantine Christine life of prayer resonated completely with this understanding on many levels. Therefore, on a very fundamental level, as Byzantine Christians who have reflected on the theology of the body broken, we are offered a life of prayer which sees God in all things, including our own very broken bodies. We revel in the magnificence of Christ, singing hymns of His victorious resurrection. And yet at the same time, we can look to our flaws and find God in those very flaws as well. It is our prayer that the theology of the body broken as explained here might be the start of a discussion on how the various physical afflictions speak to spiritual realities to understand sin and healing better. More importantly, our prayer is that the theology of the body broken be a vision that accompanies us all to our common destiny of losing our sinful nature and putting on the beautiful vision of divine union with Christ, who Himself was broken that we might have life and healing. Glory to Jesus Christ!

The Theology of the Body Broken I: The Problem

How should we think about the problem of sickness and death? As Byzantine Christians, we pray about this in different ways in the Divine Liturgy. For example, one of our litanies looks to healing when we ask, “that we may be delivered from all affliction, wrath and need…”, and yet another prays “for a Christian, painless, unashamed, peaceful end of our life…” which also acknowledges quite honestly that one day our life will end. With these mixtures of petitions, our tradition offers us the chance to have a balance of hope for healing of our broken bodies, and the acceptance of the reality of our mortality. Still the problems of suffering, sickness and death remain. We may ask ourselves questions about our illnesses like, “Why has this sickness come to me?” Is there a divine meaning to my affliction? If so, what is it?” Or we may ask questions about our attempts to get well such as, “Why does this medicine work for me and not others? Why does this medicine not work for me? Why did God answer my prayers and give me healing? Why did prayers not bring me any healing?” As we will see, our Byzantine Tradition can guide us to understand this problem and its solution, if we meditate upon the theology of the body broken.

When we hear the term “theology of the body”, the writings of St. John Paul II are likely what come to mind. And yet those writings likely do not stir up images about sickness and death, as the bulk of the material written by St. John Paul II (and those who comment on his work) is focused instead upon how we understand gender and sexuality as Christians, in the context of marriage and celibacy. What then is the theology of the body broken? As we will see, it is another look at who we are as people who are both body and souls, and the open admission that often our bodies are often broken in sickness and in death. But it is also a vision to help us understand that illness and death have real questions that need answering, and they have meaning that can be seen on a spiritual level. At the heart, the image of our union with Christ who is our Divine Physician will guide our understanding of the theology of the body broken.

One question may arise in thinking about the theology of the body broken: is the theology of the body broken something new with no link to the writings of St. John Paul II or our Byzantine Christian Theology? We must answer clearly and say “No.” While the general audiences on the theology of the body are quoted by many scholars and popular theologians at particular places in the addresses more than others, it is important that we familiarize ourselves with part of his very last general audience where he concluded his reflections. There St. John Paul II said the following: “The catechesis of the first and second parts repeatedly used the term ‘theology of the body.’ In a certain sense, this is a ‘working’ term. The introduction of the term and the concept of the theology of the body was necessary to establish the theme, ‘The redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage,’ on a wider base. We must immediately note that the term ‘theology of the body’ goes far beyond the content of the reflections that were made. These reflections do not include multiple problems which, with regard to their object, belong to the theology of the body (as, for example, the problem of suffering and death, so important in the biblical message). We must state this clearly.”1 In this last reflection we see very clearly that the project of the theology of the body is called to extend beyond its main focus to the problems of suffering and death, where the body is in many ways broken. This is where the theology of the body broken comes into focus. It helps us to consider the problems and the solution to suffering and death. What does our Tradition have to say about this problem of suffering and death?

First, it is important to understand the Scriptural view of death and sickness. As mentioned, many times we confront sickness and ask ourselves why we have been afflicted. Very often some people claim that being sick is a sign that God does not favor us, perhaps due to some sin in our lives. Many non-Catholic communities particularly claim that this is the case, and they teach their followers that if one simply prays enough (or perhaps donate enough money to a given ministry) they will receive healing. What do the Scriptures say about this? It is clear that at times some people are afflicted due to sin or disbelief. Take the drama of the Passover and we can read of the plagues in Exodus that God worked to convince the Egyptians that the Israelites should worship. Thus, on the one hand those “faith healers” may seem to have a point. But is that the whole of the testimony of the Scriptures?

There are many reasons to avoid attributing personal sin to all sickness and death. First we have Christ in Luke 13:3-5, describing the death of 18 people who died because a tower fell on them. He makes it clear that those people were not more sinful, and that instead we are all called to repentance. Perhaps even more poignantly, Christ heals a man born blind and His words there are even more telling. In John 9:1-3 we read the following: “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.’” Thus we can see that there is sickness not linked to one’s personal sin.

The testimony that Christ healed the man born blind could lead some to believe that while sickness and death may not be our fault, it may be that we have a recourse to pray that is a sure fire way for us to get better. After all, if the man born blind’s healing is a sign to help us believe, why would that not be the case with us as well when we are sick? Again, turning to the Scriptures is helpful for us to see more clearly. Here we can consider one of the preeminent apostles. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us a very intimate story about his prayer for healing. He tells us: “Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9) What is key for us to realize is that while healing does come to some, St. Paul makes it clear that he not only asked for healing from his thorn in the flesh, he was also denied of this petition that he made three times. We read that the Lord explains why Paul was not healed. His experience shows that there are times when we do not receive healing at all and that there is a call to rely upon the grace of God who shows his own strength and glory in our weakness. Our last example of a prayer that was not answered comes from Christ our God Himself. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the sickness of rage and murder was surrounding Him as He approached His own death. At that moment we know Christ’s famous prayer was to say “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) We know how the story goes, for it is the story of the cross. Christ’s prayer is very important to not pass over due to our familiarity with it. His prayer had a very specific clause, that if it were possible he made the request that the cup of suffering be taken away. It was not possible, and of course that was because Christ conquered death by his own suffering and death. Our own sickness, suffering and death are at times not possible to be taken from our lives. Taken together, we can see very clearly that we are not personally to blame for our sickness. It can be healed, but when we do not experience this healing we can see that there is an opportunity for the glory of God to shine in our sickness and even our death.

In our spiritual lives and perspectives on the body broken, it is also possible that we could go in the opposite direction of the “faith healers” who assume we will always be healed and simply accept whatever illnesses come our way as part of the divine mission to be just like Jesus who died for us. After all, one could argue, isn’t that what Paul did? More importantly, couldn’t we ask if that was the message of Christ and His passion. Many times we hear the phrase that we should “offer it up” in times of suffering, which is particularly so among our brothers and sisters of the Latin “lung” of the Church. While there is truth to the idea of offering ourselves, we need to also balance this reality with the fact that both Paul and Christ prayed for healing. Perhaps more importantly, we must also consider the fact that in our Church the holy mystery of the anointing of the sick is offered to us. This is not merely a pious custom but again can be linked to the Holy Scriptures. In the Universal Epistle of Saint James we read: Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (James 5:14-16) Again, we can look to our Byzantine Tradition and see this in the mystery of the anointing. Let us consider one prayer from the service: “Master, Lord our God, physician of souls and bodies, You relieve lingering ailments and heal all manner of disease and infirmity among the people. You desire that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. You do not will the death of the sinner, but rather that he should repent and live…Thus emboldened by Your faithful promises, good and loving Lord, we pray and beseech You at this hour: Hear our prayer, accept it as incense offered up to You, and visit Your servants; and if they have trespassed in word or deed or thought, by night or by day, remit, forgive and pardon them, O God, overlooking their iniquities and transgressions, witting or unwitting…For there is no one living who does not sin, You alone are sinless; Your righteousness is to everlasting and Your word is truth…Moreover, You did not create us to be lost, but to keep Your commandments and to inherit eternal life; and to You we send up glory, together with Your Father Who is from everlasting, and Your all-holy, good and lifegiving Spirit, now and forevermore. Amen.”2 We see here as in other parts of the liturgical life that we have as Byzantine Christians that Christ is the Physician of souls and bodies. Our theology of the body broken includes a journey of healing, and we seek this healing in the mystery of anointing of the sick which puts us in touch with Christ who is our Divine Physician. Note however that the prayer beseeches God for healing and life, just as did Paul and Christ, and yet the ending of the prayer closes with a request for forgiveness, which can also be seen in the epistle of Saint James. Christ is the physician of bodies but he is also (and perhaps most importantly) the physician of souls. When our prayers are not answered to provide us physical healing, our theology of the body broken must include the broader understanding that even if we die we can have a healing of our souls.

Speaking of dying, there is one last aspect of suffering and death which we have not yet addressed. As mentioned above, we are usually not personally to blame for a given sickness as though it were linked to our own sin. Nevertheless, the scriptural testimony is clear that when sickness leads to death, there is indeed a link between sin and death. If we venture back to Genesis, we are reminded that Adam and Eve were warned to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, lest they die. More poignantly, Paul makes it very clear how the sin of Adam is fundamentally linked to all of humanity. In one section of Romans we read: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.“ (Romans 6:23) This notion of ancestral sin (known as original sin in Western Christian theology) is a problem that we cannot overlook. While all of our discussion on sickness and healing is important, the inevitability of death is important to consider. Again, we can reflect on how we as Byzantine Christians celebrate someone’s birthday and realize that there is nothing wrong to pray that God grant someone many years, in health and happiness, even if they are very frail and seemingly on death’s door. But how do we understand when we are in the position of Paul or even Christ and this is not granted to us? What reflections can come to us beyond saying, “Well, this prayer was only answered in the healing of my soul, and not my body?” There is more to see when we consider the theology of the body broken. As we move forward to consider our own weaknesses and our own eventual redemption that comes through union with Christ in our own death, the solution will be seen in that His body which was broken for us is the foundation and basis for our ongoing love, vision and hope for a future which transcends our own bodies’ brokenness and mortality. In our union with Christ, our own brokenness can become Eucharistic and offered for the life of the world.

1. Pope John Paul II, Conclusion to the Series on the Redemption of the Body and Sacramentality of Marriage, General Audience of 28 November 1984

2. Kezios, Rev. Spencer T. Sacraments and Services: The Sacraments Narthex Press 1995

The trouble with my orarion

It has been nearly two weeks since I have received a wonderful gift, the blessing to serve the Church as a subdeacon. In some ways, nothing has changed. After all, our practical reality is that people who are not tonsured or ordained to minor orders very often serve in the capacity of epistle readers or altar servers.

But there is something to be said about that moment of bowing one’s head, having one’s hair cut, being prayed over by one’s bishop. That sense of being ordered towards something is an image that should be true of all of our lives whether this rite of ordination literally happens to us or not; it is an image that what we do in this life is what we are supposed to be doing. So often we feel like we may be going in the wrong direction, or perhaps in no direction at all due to wandering aimlessly.

The imagery above is not my focus du jour, however. Perhaps those thoughts on tonsuring and ordination per se are worthy of another blog post. It goes back to the title of this blog post, and that is the trouble that I have with my orarion. First off, I don’t want to presume that we’re all on the same page and we all know this word. In the Christian West, clergy wear this vestment, though it is more commonly known as a stole. In the Christian East, that word is fine as well but we more often read that a subdeacon or deacon wears an orarion while a priest wears an epitrachelion. They are both essentially stoles, but differ in terms of how they are worn and how they are used. Epitrachelion literally means that which goes on top of (“epi”, think of epidermis as the top layer of skin) one’s neck (“trache”, think of trachea).

This garment is worn around the neck extending downwards towards the front of a priest’s body. It is not held up during the Divine Liturgy, but it is extended in moments such as when a priest places it on the head of the penitent who has come to receive the holy mystery of forgiveness (aka penance, confession). In the prayers of vesting which are normally said privately by the priest while he vests, we hear this prayer: “Blessed be God who pours out his grace upon his priests, like precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, running down upon Aaron’s beard to the hem of his garment.” There is beautiful imagery of grace and blessing that pours down and in that sense the way that a priest wears the epitrachelion is an image of God’s goodness coming to earth, to us, to meet us and bring us to Himself.

The orarion of a subdeacon or deacon is not worn in the same manner. It is the same basic architecture of a stole, though it is not connected between the halves as is seen in an epitrachelion. To its etymological significance there is more debate, it may either be linked to a handkerchief that was waved to show one’s approval of something or it may be linked to the Latin word for prayer. See this link for more discussion on these two vestments as well as the Bishop’s omophorion.

Regardless of the exact origin of the word orarion, when worn by a deacon when he is leading the congregation in prayer, the orarion is held up as he intones a litany. In shorthand, whenever a Byzantine liturgy has the congregation praying Lord have mercy, a deacon will be intoning something just before and this orarion is raised. It is a call to focus our hearts upon his words and also to focus our hearts so that our response given may be genuine.

However, when a deacon is going to help prepare the holy gifts of the divine Eucharist to be received, or when he is preparing to consume the gifts which remain after the divine Eucharist has been received, the deacon changes the orientation of the orarion to the subdeacon’s. Here you can see a subdeacon vested, where the orarion is now in the form of a cross.

Personally, this reminds me of the words of the Gospels, where we read in John 13:3-5 that Jesus removed his outer garments and girded himself with a towel to be able to wash his disciples’ feet. The word deacon means servant in the original Greek, and if we remember what was just said, deacons wear the orarion in this cross manner while serving to give or receive the Eucharist. This scriptural link may or may not be something quoted by various Fathers or Mothers of the Church, but regardless it is true that this is what occurs functionally. It would be too unwieldy for a deacon to prepare and give communion, or to consume the gifts after others have received with his orarion in the position that is helpful to call others to prayer. It is also helpful for the subdeacon to serve at the altar or to do things like wash his bishop’s hands with the orarion in the form of a cross. Thus the link between service and this cross form should be something we all see.

Now, returning once again to this blog post’s title, we can finally all be on the same page and ask, “What’s the trouble with your orarion?”

Here’s my answer.

First, it impresses deeply upon me the call and need for service in the Church, and the entire world. It images directly that I need to lay down my own life and serve you and everyone who comes in my path. That has been an image that I knew was coming, but to have it there before my eyes has been a profound meditation. It is a strong call, which of course is what the word vocation means.

Second, from a very pragmatic angle, I have observed in wearing it now for 4 Divine Liturgies at this point (plus one Vespers-I know, I’m basically a pro 🙂 ) that this orarion can cause a lot of basic physical trouble. You can cinch it into a perfect X, where the 7 crosses along the vestment are nicely parallel where they are paired with each other. Take a few steps, however, and the symmetry can be lost. The evenness of the middle cross can sway to the left or right. At first I thought about being a bit OCD about it (who, me?).

But then this trouble of my orarion became an even deeper reflection, in a sense. Just as I have argued that the theology of the body from St. John Paul II can extend into the brokenness of the body, I looked at this trouble and realized that this is part of reality. We never cease striving for perfection, but we will fall short. My desire to serve should not be quenched by my shortcomings. Rather, each day can be a step towards having fewer troubles with my orarion, and each day can be a step towards serving with fewer troubles. To what extent am I not symmetrical with my love for my neighbors? To what extent am I crooked with my passion to help this particular person? How am I straightening out my relationships, just as I straighten out this orarion?

My trouble with the orarion has been a beautiful image of the ongoing journey to perfection, and I know that though it has only just begun, it is a journey that I will take with God’s grace, and through the prayers of my brethren.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Liturgy as an Irreplaceable Treasure

“Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God, broken yet not divided, ever eaten yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake thereof”-Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Some say that you never know what you have until it’s gone. From my personal experience, I know what I have in terms of the liturgy because it was gone for so much of my life. I grew up in a family of two religions which were never really practiced (Protestantism and Islam), and as such I had no sense of what I should believe about God. When I met some devout Evangelical Christians, I heard the stories of Christ and salvation which brought me a sense of coherence and meaning to life on earth and into the great beyond. Nevertheless, there were many strong moments of cognitive dissonance which left me feeling incomplete. While being taught that the sacrifice of Christ was so complete that my own contribution to salvation did not exist, I began to hear that message as incomplete with regard to my own existence living out my faith, and with regard to the testimony of Scripture. By thinking about a faith that lacked liturgy, I realized the importance of why we have the liturgy even prior to celebrating it.

Being an argumentative person, after professing my faith in Christ in an Evangelical context, I set out to write an apologia pro vita sua. Defending the simplicity of faith in Christ alone, I wrote an attack on praying the Lord’s Prayer. Seeing tradition as the antithesis of sincere faith, praying anything not queued by conscience alone was considered contrived and inauthentic. The whole Catholic/Orthodox schema of uniting one’s self to something greater than one’s self through the liturgy in particular seemed inimical to the practice of doing something because it was what I wanted to do, as well as being in contrast to the finished work of Christ. The idea that sacrificing one’s self to God seemed to displace Christ from the supremacy of His own sacrifice on the Cross. As such, the start of my life of believing in God included much that was more about denying certain practices, as opposed to embracing a faith life tradition.

This tension between Evangelical Christianity and Apostolic Christianity comes to a headway when we reflect upon the prayer quoted at the start of this essay, which comes from the Divine Liturgy as the Priest divides the Eucharistic lamb into four pieces. What we see is that liturgically there is an appreciation of the paradox of Eucharistic life. God is seen as one who is broken and yet not divided, ever eaten yet never consumed. The limitlessness of the divine is juxtaposed with the limit-bound mortal reality where we need to be further sanctified is undeniable when we consider human experience. However, what is denied by Evangelical Christianity is the idea that our limitations are connected to our salvation. By exalting the salvation of our God, Evangelicalism places us in a world where we are afraid to see God as ever eaten. More strikingly, we are afraid to see ourselves as in need of being constantly sanctified by ever partaking the Body of Christ. How is this the case?

First, the notion of the “finished work of Christ” hinges upon an idea that we are not saved as a process. Salvation is a one time event of “accepting the Lord”. Returning to my initial attack upon the Lord’s Prayer, there was actually a school of thought which found that asking God to forgive us our trespasses (or debts) was not at the heart of our life in Christ. Our forgiveness was instead tied to simply saying “thank you” to God for having forgiven us. As Watchman Nee wrote in the Normal Christian Life, “The work is done. There is no need to pray but only to praise. God has put us all in Christ, so that when Christ was crucified we were crucified also…Your sins were dealt with by His Blood, and you were dealt with by His Cross. It is an accomplished fact. All that is left for you to do is to praise the Lord that when Christ died you died also; you died in Him. Praise Him for it and live in the light of it.” (1)

I tried to be faithful to the writings of Watchman Nee, as they reflected the sermons from my pastor who taught that liturgy and tradition got in the way of the Cross. I would even pray with the structure of the Lord’s Prayer by emphasizing Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication, (the ACTS mnemonic that can be seen in the Lord’s Prayer itself) and reflecting on my sins would often correct myself by saying something to the effect of, “No Lord, I don’t ask that you forgive me for this sin. Instead, I thank you that you have already forgiven me of this sin through the Cross.” Try as I may have, I saw the huge gap between the biblical reality of the Lord’s Prayer as a concept (even if I mocked using the exact words of Christ), and the words of a theology of salvation that would not even use the concepts undergirding it. My prayer life was wounded by the theology of a liturgy-less existence. I wanted to cry out, “Lord have mercy.”

Furthermore, my life of understanding salvation became challenged by my emphasis on devotion to the Holy Scriptures. There were passages such as Ephesians 2:8 that expressed that we have been saved, in a sense. The past tense of our salvation could be seen which would seem to undergird a theology where we did not ask for forgiveness or make offerings to God. And yet the words of our Lord which warned us that we would not be forgiven if we did not forgive others (Matthew 6:15) showed the truth that is expressed so clearly in the letter to the Hebrews, where it states quite clearly that we are being consecrated (Heb 2:11), and that we are his house “if only we hold fast our confidence and pride in hope” (Heb 3:6). We “have become partakers of Christ, if only we hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end.” (Heb 3:14) The fact that I continued to sin at times cried out with passages such as these, testifying to the view that salvation is a process of reaching out to God continually for His merciful hand to save me. And that is where we return to the idea of the grass being greener.

Becoming an Apostolic Christian affirmed my existential and Biblical understanding of salvation as a journey to union with Christ. Instead of holding to salvation as only in the past and not connected to crying out for mercy constantly, the life-creating acts of Christ to save His people came to the forefront of my heart. Through the liturgy, the precious gift of the Eucharist came into my view, helping me understand that in the midst of my failures, the success and love of Christ permeated my being continually. Liturgy has shown me my deep need for prayer that reflects where I am at currently, and where I hope God will take me through His grace.

Works Cited

1) Nee, Watchman. The Normal Christian Life http://www.ccel.org/ccel/nee/normal.txt