Русская Православная Церковь

Богословский комментарий на некоторые современные
непростые вопросы вероучения.

«Никогда, о человек, то, что относится к Церкви,
не исправляется через компромиссы:
нет ничего среднего между истиной и ложью.»

Свт. Марк Эфесский

Интернет-содружество преподавателей и студентов православных духовных учебных заведений, монашествующих и мирян, ищущих чистоты православной веры.

Карта сайта

Разделы сайта

Православный журнал «Благодатный Огонь»

Preparing for Pastoral Care in the 21st century

Подготовка к пастырскому служению в 21 столетии

Пресвященнейший митрополит Навпактский Иерофей (Влахос)


THE GREEK ORTHODOX THEOLOGICAL REVIEW Volume 44 Spring - Winter 1999 Numbers 1-4 Published by Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology Hellenic College

First, I would like to thank the president and the professors, as well as the students of this School of Theology, for inviting me here from Greece to have this spiritual meeting. Above all I would like to express my warmest thanks to His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon of America, who is responsible for this School, for giving me his blessing to visit the School and address the students.

I consider this to be a very flattering invitation, because in America, this great and important country, many developments occur which affect the whole of humanity in different ways. And also because in this Theological School, both professors and students perceive the messages of our times, as they encounter its various ideological, philosophical, social and ecclesiological currents and try to confront them with responsibility, discretion and theological sensitivity.

The great importance of this School is attested by the fact that it prepares clergymen and future clergymen to serve contemporary man who is recipient of the current mentality of secularization or alienation, and also finds himself engaged in the search for that perfection which will give him inner fullness. This is the greatest spiritual arsenal of America. Besides, Greek Orthodox theology, with its calm and discerning message, has a great mission to accomplish in today's world, especially here in the New World. For all these reasons again I feel the need to thank you, to express my feelings of gratitude and to assure you that I feel very honored to be here.

The subject given to me for my presentation is quite serious and contemporary. It has many aspects and one can underline several points. Perhaps it could be addressed within the perspective of the science of futurology, which studies and tries to predict, on the basis of scientific data, the conditions that will prevail in the world, and more particularly in each country, a few years from now. There are several such analyses according to which social conditions will change and social relationships will be disturbed, people's loneliness will increase, ecological problems will be magnified, fatalism and demon-worship will dominate. In general, problems will increase even more, namely the various
problems relating to "existential emptiness and existential anguish, to nuclear family, to emotional divorce between spouses, to ecological shrinkage, etc. Of course, the question is what will the position of the Church be on all these? I will leave aside, however, dealing
with this issue through such a perspective and proceed to focus on other parameters which are, in my view and my pastoral experience, more important.

1. Preparation For the Next Century!

Certainly, the Church should prepare to face the coming millen-nium and the 21st Century. We should not overlook, however, the fact that its main role is to prepare man not only for some coming century, be it the 21st or any other, but also for the future century or the age to come, i.e. his entry into future bliss. Centuries specify the time of the so-called biological life, while the future century, the age to come, specifics
the time connected with a different dimension. When a Church is not concerned with this major issue of man's participation in the future life, the Kingdom of God, but just leaves man to follow only temporal and local events, this Church is considered to be secularized and unable to satisfy man's deeper existential hunger and thirst. 

In the Bible, especially in the New Testament, there is a widespread and intense expectation of the great and illustrious Day of the Lord. Let me mention some of the relevant passages. "When Christ, who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col. 3: 4). The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing  (Phil. 4:5-6).  In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel' (Rom. 2: 16). The night is far spent, the Day is at hand' (Rom. 13: 12). Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that you may be blameless in the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1: 8). ... That his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 5: 5).  … That we are your boast, even as you also are ours in the Day of the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 1: 14).  That you may be sincere and without offense till the Day of Christ" (Phil. 1: 1 0). "For yourselves know peifectly that the Day of the Lord so comes as a thiefin the night" (1 Thess. 5: 2). "Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20). The whole text of the Revelation of St. John the Divine is permeated with this intense nostalgia. The new heaven and the new earth, the city of God, the glorification of the Church triumphant in heaven, the glory of the Lamb of the Revelation, which defeats the beast, and so many other examples, demonstrate this Christian hopeful expectation for the arrival of the Kingdom of God. It was within this perspective that the Holy Apostles guided the first Christians: "Little children, it is the last hour" (1 Jn. 2: 18). "And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 Jn. 2: 17). There are many such passages in the Bible that could be mentioned in this context. Preparation, however, for the future century and the coming of the glorious and illustrious Day of the Lord, is connected with several realities, which I would like to remind you of in what follows.

First. The preparation for the future century is related to man's basic ontology, i.e. how and for what he was created and how he lives in the era after his fall. More specifically: Man was created in God's image and likeness. The image is an actuality and is connected with the faculties of the nous and free will, while the likeness is a potentiality. Thus, according to the teaching of St. Basil the Great, "the image is potentially the likeness and the likeness is the enactment of the image.» [1]

Of course, with the fall man lost the likeness but not the image. However, since the image is potentially the likeness, man has the urge within himself to meet God and enter into communion with him. This is seen even in this life after the fall, and not only in the Religion of the Old Testament but also in other Religions. Man is "summoned to be a god" and this is his deepest ontology. He has to meet very high standards, to use a modem term.

St. Gregory the Theologian uses a fascinating passage in his sermons, which illustrates this reality. In giving his definition of man he says that man is "a living creature, accommodated here and then moved elsewhere; and to complete the mystery, deified by its inclination to God." [2]

Man lives and is accommodated here, with both material goods and education, but his aim and destination is to move on elsewhere. Of course when he says "elsewhere" he does not mean moving from the 20th to the 21st century, but moving from this present biological life to the other life which is connected with the mystery of man's union with God, whereby man becomes deified.

Thus, in the depths of his existence man has a tremendous ability and drive, which was given to him by God since the day of his creation, a divine capacity which cannot be satisfied with anything that is merely human and material. His prognosis is high, eternal and divine. His hunger and thirst are spiritual. If you wiIl aIlow me the phrase, there is a hungry beast hidden in the depths of his existence that seeks existential satisfaction. This is its intrinsic actuality, like the walnut which has the potential within itself to become a walnut-tree, like the infant which has the capability and potentiality to become a complete human being, like DNA, the complete genetic material which determines
the development of man's bodily organism. In a similar way, in the depths of man's existence there is a spiritual DNA, which strives to guide man to his deification, to bring him to the point of being god by grace.

At the same time, though, along with this tremendous divine drive, there is another great urge within man's existence and this is his fallen condition. Man sees the rule of death within his being, he sees a force leading him more to what is here, what is in this place, and does not aIlow him to satisfy this inner hunger and thirst of his. In another section we will look at this force of death within our being. What I would like to underscore here, however, is that after the FaIl man has two mighty powers within his being, the power to become god by grace, i.e. to be deified, and the power to halt this course and limit himself only to what is here in this world.

Second. Preparation for the future century is also closely related to the arrival of that future century, or age to come, or Kingdom of God, even now in this century or present age. For us Christians the Kingdom of God is not merely an eschatological expectation, i.e. an event to be experienced in the future age, but a present reality which is experienced like a betrothal, awaiting for its fulfiIIment in the future century or age to come.

The Gospel states that the Kingdom of God is coming: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3: 2). Or that it has come: "The Kingdom of God is within you" (Lk. 17: 2 I). Or that it will come "when the Son of man comes in His glory..." (Matt. 25: 31). Participation in the Kingdom of God, is the vision of the God's Uncreated Light, deification. Therefore, a person who is deified in this way experience the blessings of the future century already in this life like in a betrothal. At this point we may recall to memory St. Symeon the New Theologian who wonderfully describes this experience as lived by the deified saints.

We realize, therefore, that even if they live in a specific century, or age, or era, human beings may also live in different times, i.e. different centuries, or ages, or eras. That is, although we are all preparing for the 21st Century AD, some of us may live as if Christ had not yet become flesh, i.e. in the age before the coming of Christ, the age of idolatry and the time of the Old Testament. Others, however, especially those who experience deification, have advanced beyond biological life, beyond the Third Millennium, because they see God's Un created Light and thereby spiritually experience that age in which time movement is no more. It is clear, then, that the Church prepares man, through the entire sacramental life and its prerequisites of participation, for entering into that century when time is no more, although he may continue to live in this biological life, measuring the events of his biological life with objectified time.

Third. The above demonstrates that the Church does not simply stay in the present century, but looks for the age to come, without, of course, overlooking the present century and world. Clearly, there is a relationship and connection between the present and the future, but the blessings of the future are certainly preferable, whereas the present life is viewed simply as a preparation for and experience of things to come. Thus, the way in which people live, shows the extent to which they satisfy their deepest ontological prospects.  St. Paul says in a passage characteristically: "For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city which is to come" (Heb.13: 14). Christians live here with the vision of heavenly citizenship and the heavenly city. They do not limit their existence to the present city but rather extend it to the city which is coming: "For our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20).

All those who reached deification, and have lived and experienced the Kingdom of God, move within this perspective while stiIl existing this very moment in the present one. We may turn to some of their writings in order to ascertain their way of thinking and how they would have faced the arrival of the Third Millennium and the 21st century if they had lived today.

St. Basil the Great writes somewhere: "This (present age) is the age of repentance, that (future age) will be the age of reward. This one is the age of patience, that one will be the age of comfort." [3]

The Christian does not see the present century as absolute, for he does not expect rewards and comfort here, not even from the joys that are offered by his citizenship here.  This age of corruption and death requires patience and repentance, whereas the future age brings about lasting comfort and pleasure.

St. Gregory the Theologian moves within the same perspective and expresses himself within the same framework, because he had the same life-style as St. Basil and the rest of the saints. In one of his sermons he writes: "The present is for labor, the future for reward." This labor is related to our attempt to get orientated in our life towards the future age and to overlook the pleasures of the present age, to direct our existence to our true ontological and iconic construction. He recommends: "Let us flee from worldly desires, let us flee from the delusive world and its ruler, let us become purely of the Creator, honor the image, revering the calling, pursuing life."

The world and its ruler, the devil, refer to this age, be it the fourth or the twenty-first century. They are described as seductive because they lead man astray and limit him to things perceptible only to the senses and to worldly desires. A Christian must honor the image he has received from God, respect the calling he has been granted, become god by grace and transfer his biological life to the other life for which he was created.

Elsewhere the same saint recommends: "Soon the world will be gone and the tabernacle destroyed. We spend our time here with things that do not endure, but we must rather buy what remain." [5]

The saints continuously live here in a state of homelessness, of dissolution of present things and acquisition of future things that are to remain. They philosophize wisely, from within the state of corruption and mortality, about the world and their biological existence.
The present age is only good for the acquisition of future and enduring things.  The things of the present do not have stability and permanence.

St. John Chrysostom considers things of the present to be dreams. "For the present things are nothing better than dreams, whether they be useful, or whether they cause sadness." [6] Not only sad things, but also useful and pleasant things pass away. The whole of life on both the human and the global level is too short.

St. Symeon the New Theologian is no different as to this expectation of future things and the true worth of the things of this present life. He first emphasizes that the present time is the time for work while the future time is the time of crowning, and that Christ the Master offers at this time the betrothal and seal of the future life. He, then, goes on to make this plea: "Light here the candle of your soul, before it gets dark and the gates of labor are closed." [7]

This candle is the arrival of God's grace in the human nous, whereby this nous becomes translucent - an experience, of course, which is related to the prayer of the heart or prayer of the nous and entails the unceasing remembrance of God. The prayer of the nous is the basis of spiritual life, because it involves the purification of the heart from passions and its entry into the vision of God in his glory, which is the living experience of the age to come.

St. Symeon is like all the saints inasmuch as, like them, he does not speak sentimentally or intellectually, nor does he refer to these matters using symbolic concepts, but rather speaks from the overflow of his own personal experience. Thus, in one of his Homilies he explains how a Christian should participate in the celebration of the immaculate mysteries and partake therefrom. He, then, says that when this is done properly man's entire life "is like a feast, and not just a feast but a cause for a feast and a Pascha!" We separate, of course, the Feasts of the Lord and distribute them to different days throughout the year, so that we can experience them better, because of our corruption. In the state of theoria, however, i.e. in the state of the vision of God in his glory and of partaking of God's grace everything is unified. On Christmas Day one also experiences the Grace of the Resurrection. Furthermore, in every celebration of the Divine Liturgy one experiences all the events of the Divine Incarnation in a unified manner. Indeed, we will celebrate the milestone of 2000 years since Christ's Birth, but this is very relative, both because this date has already passed, due to an error in calculating the year Christ was born, and because in spiritual life we consider things differently. We say this because Christmas, Pascha, and even eternal life are all experienced by the deified Saints in a unified way in the Divine Liturgy. In point of fact, again according to St. Symeon the New Theologian, Pascha is "the shift and transition from the visible to the intelligible." St. Symeon the New Theologian clearly says that, compared to the eternal Pascha, all feasts, even those earthly ones, are shadows and symbols which will cease and that, "being cleansed, we will enjoy eternally in a purified manner the most pure victim in God the Father and consubstantial with the Spirit, seeing Christ forever and being seen by him, being with Christ, reigning with Christ, of which nothing is greater in the kingdom of heaven." [8]

St. John of Sinai urges the monks to strive to enter the palatial bridal chamber. Naturally here, the word bridal chamber means the state of partaking of the Uncreated Light, the living experience of Christ: "Let us run, brethren, let us enter the bridal chamber of this palace!" He who did not enter that heavenly bridal chamber until the end of his life "will lie outside, in a desert of demons and passions." [9]

St. Thalassios speaks about man's fixation on anticipated blessings, since only then does he manage to forget about the present ones. "The expectation of blessings held in store ties the nous with what it expects." And if the nous gets used to them, then it "forgets the things of this world." [10]  The person who has tasted eternal blessings rejects all present things and "all his longing will be spent on what he hopes for." [11]  Indeed, when man forgets all present things and broadens his knowledge of future things, this is a sign "that his nous does dwell among the blessings for which it hopes." [12]  This is an important point, because, as St.Isaac the Syrian says, the man who considers the present life to be desirable reveals that he lives an impure life. [13]  St. Gregory Palamas makes some God-inspired obscrvations and comments, when, in analyzing one of St. Paul's passages, he says: "But this I say brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those that have wives should be as though they had none, and those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice, those who buy, as though they did not possess, and those who use this world, as not at all using it. For the form of this world is passing away." (1 Cor. 7:29-31). We should look at this more closely.

Explaining the phrase "the time is short," he says that "life is short, that death is near, that this world is corrupt, that the eternally enduring is everything." One age is corrupt, the other incorrupt, one is short, the other eternal. Therefore, contempt for this world and preparation for the world to come, living, as much as possible, according to the citizenship of that (future) life, and avoiding the harmful things of this present life "directs us to safety." Indeed, he uses an example from the frequent enemy raids of the cities of that time. On such occasions, citizens avoid leaving the cities but live in them for safety, behaving as if they had no fields. When, however, the enemy withdraws for a while, they get out for a short walk but remain cautious. This is exactly what Christians should also do with the blessings of the present life.

Explaining further the word of the Apostle "For the form of this world is passing away," St Gregory Palamas says that the things of the present do not exist in substance but are just a form. All things of the present world are like the shadow of a barren cloud, which passes by quickly under the impact of the wind. If someone desires and wants to possess the things of the present, he discovers that "they are not attainable." In other words, he cannot possess them for two reasons: because, on the one hand, this world is passing away, and, on the other, because each one of us who uses this world passes away before the worldly things which are at his disposal also pass away. There is, in other words, an end to the world that exists and also an end to each one of us, which may come before the end of the world. Here St Gregory uses this example to illustrate his point. It is as if a man is walking along a street, yet the street also moves and passes him by. So two things may happen. Either the street catches up with him and consequently he can no longer possess what he possessed before, or he runs faster than the street and so he is not able to possess anything. This occurs because, being a mortal man, he is tied to the changing things of present life and is unable to enjoy them. Indeed this happens either because man is tied to the changing things of the present life,
such as wealth brilliance, cheerfulness, etc., or because he is changed by them and loses them. It also happens because with his death man brings about his own decline and departs from the present world naked, deserting all earthly blessings and the hopes he had placed on them. This is why, "It will always be a flight for this world when the end approaches, departing this world naked and having left behind all its concerns." [14]

It is clear from all that we have mentioned in this section that the Church prepares its members, for to experience of the future age, the Kingdom of God, as a betrothal in this present life and as a marriage in the life to come. It does not make the present time absolute and does not disengage man from his earthly existence. It views the present world within the perspective of the struggle for the enjoyment of future life. According to the well known phrase of the Epistle to Diognetus, the Christians "though they are residents in their own countries, their manner of life is more like that of people in transit. They take their full part as citizens, but they also submit to anything and everything as if they were aliens. They spend their days on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven above." [15]

They live on the earth and not in some imaginary world, but in reality they conduct themselves according to the life of their heavenly citizenship. Not only do they handle their passage through the earth differently but, while living this life, they also get themselves orientated towards the desire for the Kingdom of Heaven.

2. Problems of the Present Age, of Deception

We should not deduce from all the above that a Christian lives the present life in a "monophysite manner" feeling contempt for it. What happens is that he does not consider it absolute or autonomous. He loves the world, which is God's creation and he loves all mankind. The saints in particular are quite sensitive towards the whole of creation, the animals, the birds, the green fields, but they view them all from within another perspective. Throughout the whole of creation they perceive the reasons pertaining to existing beings, i.e. the uncreated essence-giving, life-giving, wisdom-giving energies of God. Nor should we deduce that a Christian does not have to face problems in his life but overcomes all problems from within the outlook of eternity. St. Paul writes: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken, cast down but not destroyed" (2 Cor. 4:8-9). We see this in the lives of all the holy Prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, fathers, saints, ascetics. We also see it in Church history, namely, that, despite being the
Body of Christ, the Church has encountered many problems and faced various trials, sometimes from philosophy and agnosticism, sometimes from persecution, sometimes from heresies, secularization, etc.

We will also face many problems upon entering the new millennium and the 21st Century. Obviously we are not prophets to foretell what is going to happen, but looking at the present conditions we are able to figure out some of the problems that will arise. In what follows I would like to refer very briefly to four groups of problems, which will increase in the new millennium.

First, there will be an increase in man's existential problems. As attachment to this present age increases, or as science, art and worldly knowledge are deified to the detriment of man's inner spiritual needs, man's existential emptiness and inner existential anguish will also increase. I think that this problem will be particularly manifested in the relationship between pleasure and pain.  The experience of pleasure, be it sensual, psychological, intellectual or imaginary, will increase pain. Then, when man will no longer be able to confront pain effectively
- as described in the Orthodox Tradition - he will turn to new sensual and camel-like pleasures which will result in yet greater pain. Thus a vicious circle will ensue.

Second, there will be a group of problems that concerns family and social issues. This is to be expected, because the greatest family and social problem will be connected with persons who have unsolved inner existential problems. As a matter of fact, a sick man spreads sickness to all social conventions. How can an unsatisfied person coexist with others? How can he love? Rather, by loving others he will seek to satisfy his inner existential vacuum. Since, however, this will not satisfy him, because satisfaction comes from a different dimension, he will live in uncertainty, dissatisfaction, and consequently, love will be quashed and transformed into either sensual pleasure or hatred. The presence
of another person causes horror, fear and hysteria to the unsatisfied man, because he views the presence of the other as a threat to his own existence.

Third, there will be a group of problems in the Church, which will be associated with the growing independence of science, art and technology. It is known those things relating to science and art are connected with the so-called "tunics of skin." These are, on the one hand the result of Adam and Eve's fall, and on the other, of God's blessing, so that human beings can live the time of their corrupt and mortal life in a bearable way. The saints use science and art, but do not reach the point making them absolute. Their absolute hope and expectation is the Kingdom of God. When man does not have this orientation, he falls into despondency and occupies himself with science and art without restraint and, as a result, the science's increasing independence becomes a temptation for man, similar to Adam and Eve's temptation.

We find in the teaching of the Holy Fathers of the Church the truth that it is not possible for science and theology to clash, because the role and purpose of each one of these are different. Science concerns itself with this world, while theology concerns itself with God. Science studies created reality and helps people to improve the conditions of their biological life, while theology prepares people for the living experience of God. Science cures the mortal body, while theology cures man's spiritual illnesses and thus, leads man, via purification, illumination of the nous and deification, not just to the condition before the Fall, but also gives him the abundance of life, uniting him with God in the Person of Jesus Christ. The Church will certainly face various problems due to the advance of technology, and will  confront them with seriousness and responsibility, from within the standpoint and potential of its tradition.

Fourth, there will be a group of problems, which will be connected with the so-called ecclesiological issues. We do have such issues already today, but they will become greater. One can look at the ecclesiological traps from the following four viewpoints:

One is the legalism of spiritual life. The law was given to cure man and lead him to a life where there is no need for law, but rather for personal discourse with God. When the law is made absolute then spiritual life becomes legalistic.  Another issue has to do with the secularization of church life, i.e. when the Church identifies itself with worldly conditions or exhausts itself with the present and loses its orientation, as we described above.

Instead of being a place of healing, it becomes a kind of court or a worldly organization, and instead of being a family-place, it becomes a faceless religious organization. The transformation of the Church into a religion constitutes its secularization.

The next problematic issue may be described by the term syncretism. This occurs when the Church, or rather the members of the Church, lose their self-consciousness, and come to believe that the members of all religions and dogmas worship the same God, have the same faith, and end up with the same result. It also occurs when the ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, health from sickness, is lost. What certainly results from this is a loss of ecclesial identity. Man reaches this point when he has lost the method of knowing God and confuses this
Orthodox method with other methods, i.e. replaces purification, illumination and deification with sentimentalities and intellectual reflections.

Fifth and final, there will be a group of ecclesiological problems that are related to nationalism. When the Church identifies itself with nationalism and loses its supra-national role, then it loses its identity. The Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of 1872 declared that phyletism (i.e. nationalism based on race) is an ecclesiological heresy. Here we need to point out that the union of Hellenism with Orthodoxy could not be considered as racism, because both Hellenism and Orthodoxy, as concepts and as practices, are universal. The Roman Empire of Byzantium was a multi-ethnic state with a single faith and cultural tradition. This is continued today by the successor of Byzantium, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which expresses this universal spirit of the Orthodox Church.

Thus, all these problems, existential, family-social, scientific-technological and ecclesiological will become greater for 21st Century Christians. The way to overcome these problems, however, is also available and has to do with the genuine life of the Church. Each century had had its own problems, the 2nd Century,the 3rd Century, the 4th Century, the 5th Century, the 8th Century, the 14th Century, etc. The Holy Fathers who lived in those times can help us find the way we should use today to overcome all such difficulties. This means just living of the authentic knowledge of God, which is the result of the Orthodox method of therapy, i.e. the method of purification, illumination and deification.  When a man distinguishes his nous (mind) from his logos (reason), so that the confusion between created and uncreated, between God and the world ceases to exist, then he will easily confront all problems that arise. Consequently, our preparation for the 21st Century cannot be detached from the ascetic and sacramental life, from the struggle to transcend death, which is in our being, and live the rebirth of our existence by grace.

3. The Great Anthropological Problem and How to Face It

It should have become clear by now that the fundamental problems of humanity are not just social-temporal but first and foremost anthropological. The greatest problem is man himself.  When speaking about the anthropological problem we mean that it is mostly a
theological problem. That is to say, the loss of man’s true relationship with God has created unspeakable pain, which is magnified by the existence of death.

Man's fall should not be viewed in legal terms, but from the standpoint of the loss of a relationship. Thus, man's resurrection should be connected with re-establishing once again a relationship of man with God, with fellow man and with the whole of creation. In what follows we will briefly examine the great anthropological problem of death and its transcendence as described by St. Paul the Apostle.

In chapters 5-8 of his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul discusses the relationship between the law and death a great deal, as weIl as the relationship between the law and God's grace. He vividly presents man's condition without God's grace, in the erebus and the dark prison of death, but also man's resurrection in Jesus Christ. It is not easy for us to examine fully the issues described by St. Paul in this important Epistle, but we will make some basic observations here in order to show that death is not simply the final event of our earthly life simply the moment of separation of soul from body - but a state closely linked with inherited corruption and mortality from birth. Moreover, we will attempt to show that re-birth (re-generation) is actually the transcendence of death, already appearing in this biological life.

In his wonderful theological analysis of this issue, St. Paul describes the desperate condition lived by him before Christ's appearance to him, as well as his liberation from the state of death, which occurred with his rebirth or regeneration in Jesus Christ. This is seen from the fact that, describing the condition of death and subjugation to it, he uses verbal expressions in the past tense, while for his rebirth he uses the present tense. So he says: "I would not have known sin, but through the law" (Rom. 7:7), "and the commandment, which was to bring life, [ found to bring death" (Rom. 7:10). He also speaks in the past tense about his liberation in Christ, although he implies that he is still experiencing a certain condition: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom 8: 2). But let us take a closer look at how St. Paul, in this very important Epistle, describes these issues. We would again stress, however, that our objective is not to undertake a full and complete analysis of the theological position of St. Paul, but to present his basic principles in the context of the teachings of the Church Fathers.

St. Paul's first basic position is that with the loss of the grace of God man became and was called carnal (Rom. 7: 14). This is what the Apostle himself felt before Christ was revealed to him. He felt that sin dwelt within him (Rom. 7: 17 - 20). This sin dwelling within him he called law, actually the other law, which stood against the law of the spirit (Rom. 7:23). The latter law is the law of the nous, i.e. the image and the illumination of the nous, and the former law is the law of death (Rom. 7:22-24). We inherit this mortality and corruption of the law of death with our birth. This is exactly what we inherited from the first Adam, corruption and mortality and not guilt - as some erroneously believe -, whereas through Christ we have overcome the dominion of death (Rom. 5:12-14). Adam's sin became the cause for the introduction of man to death and, in turn, the very existence of death and especially of the mortality of the body which became the cause of many sins. Thus, death is both a result of sin and – for fallen man - a source of sin. This can be interpreted in the following way:

The corruption and mortality we have inherited is realized from the first moment of our conception and especially from our birth. It is very closely connected with changes in the body, with illnesses, pain, the growth and decline of our limbs and the energy of the body, and also with the feeling of death. We see death throughout the natural world. We see it in our beloved ones that depart from this life and make us face the pain of separation. We also see it in the limits of our existence by means of recollection and sometimes of the direct experience of its imminent coming to us too.

The certainty and strength of the feeling of death, manifested, as we have pointed out, in pain, illnesses, etc. cause great anxiety and uncertainty. Man becomes selfish in such a condition and out of selfishness, which is the source of every sin, other passions of course are born and grow, such as love of sensual pleasure, ambition, avarice, etc. In view of the approach of death, which is also experienced by the presence of illnesses, man accumulates a lot of earthly goods in order to cope with these unfamiliar moments of his life. Avarice is also a result of the fear of death existing inside us. The same is true of lust and ambition by which man tries to overcome the problem he is facing, namely death. Hence, this other law, the body of death, the law of death, becomes a source of great inner and social aberration. As a matter of fact, each sin is not simply a personal event, but also a social one, because it has tremendous social consequences.

This is why modem man repeats, in various senses, St. Paul's saying "For the good that I will to do, I do not do, but the evil which I will not to do that I practice." (Rom. 7:19). And he cries: "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Rom. 7:24).

St. Paul's second theological position is that the law of the Old Testament was unable to deliver man from the law of sin, precisely because sin has no moral meaning, it is associated with mortality and corruption which creates terrible situations, given that it becomes a cause of sin. Not only is the law unable to deliver man from sin and death, it activates it further. St. Paul examines this theological position extensively.

St. Paul exactly describes this tragedy, where man is forced to do what he does not love and what he does not want (Rom. 7:19-24). Only the righteous, the Prophets of the Old Testament, were able to be delivered from sin, but they achieved this through deification and the power of the mystery of the Cross. Despite their deification, however, they were unable to be freed from death. Mortality and corruption remained within them, but the state of deification they experienced did not allow this mortality to become a source of sin, that is, it did not
allow the other law of selfishness, ambition, pleasure and avarice to operate.

Although the law exposed both what is contrary and what is according to nature, it could not help man to get freed from mortality and corruption, from death itself, which had taken roots in his very body and were the cause of many passions of both soul and body. The law would curtail some external actions, would function in a moral way, but could not help man ontologically, i.e. in the great problem of his existence. Thus, man lived in a tragic state, as so eloquently described by St. Paul. Something else was required to deliver man from the rule of death. This came to pass with the Person of Christ. The Word of God assumed mortal and passible flesh, defeated sin and death in his own mortal flesh, and has now the right to give man the possibility to defeat the other law, the body of death, with His own power, the power of Christ.

Thus we come to St. Paul's third theological position which is related to man's restoration and regeneration which takes place in Jesus Christ. The experience of the life of Christ gives us another law, the law of the spirit, which liberates us from the law of sin and death. What the law of the Old Testament was unable to accomplish has been done by the law of the spirit (Rom. 8:2). Thus, one who is joined to Christ lives in the spirit and not in the flesh (Rom. 8:9). Therefore, man lives his rebirth in Jesus Christ, and acquires not only the condition humanity had before Adam's Fall, but also rises to a higher degree, because he unites himself with Christ and lives the blissful and blessed state of deification.

Man's rebirth is first experienced in the sacrament of Baptism, through which we enter into the life of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. Through Baptism in the font, i.e. participation in Christ's Cross and Resurrection, "our old man is crucified with him [Christ], that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin" (Rom. 6:6). Thus, it is now possible for us, through the energy of Divine Grace and our own synergy, i.e. through Baptism and union with Christ, not to let sin to rule in our mortal body.

Just as he most wonderfully and insightfully described the state of men in the Old Testament, under the rule of death and sin, St. Paul also describes, with spiritual and godly lucidity, the state of man's restoration and rebirth in Jesus Christ. Here is a key text, which we wish to cite and then attempt to do a brief analysis: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God and if children, then heirs - heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together" (Rom.8:14-17).

In contrast with the spirit of bondage, Christians, by their Holy Baptism and Christian life in general, receive the Spirit of adoption and become sons of God. The law of death and sin is thereby defeated and the life of God reigns within them. Adoption is the characteristic feature of God's regenerate children. This adoption, however, is confirmed not by human certificates or written external confirmations, but with the witnessing of our spirit, that is, the law of our nous, which exists in the depths of our being. The law of nous, that is the nous itself, is freed from the law of death and sin, and being in a state of illumination it prays unceasingly to God the Father, and also to Christ whom he considers Father, because of the rebirth "by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father’ ", (Rom. 8:15). This inner cry bears witness to the adoption (Rom. 8:16). Then man, certainly, becomes an heir of God and a joint-heir of Christ.

Inner prayer of the heart is a clear indication of adoption by Christ. This is why St. Paul's phrase is clear: "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Rom. 8:9). A man who does not have the Spirit of Christ inside him, praying unceasingly to God, is not a son of God. He does not belong to Christ, precisely because if he does not live the life in Christ, he has not been freed from the rule of death and thus lives in the time of the Old Testament. The fact that he does not have the Spirit of God inside him implies that the law of death and sin reigns there with all the consequences we have seen before.

St. Paul's fourth theological position refers to the results of man's rebirth, his liberation from the other law, the law of death, through living according to the law of the spirit. As we said before, sin no longer reigns in man's mortal body (Rom. 6:12). The transcendence of death takes place within the confines of our own personal life. Man's bond with Christ is so powerful that nothing can separate them, neither tribulation, nor distress, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor danger, nor sword, nor death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
powers, things present, things to come, height, depth, or any other created thing (Rom. 8:35-39). In such a context not only death does not reign in man's being, but also there is no fear of death either. Then man, following Christ's model, wants to suffer for the others, too. He lacks fear of death, not only within the confines of his own personal life, because death does not rule in him, but also in the context of his life with others where he sacrifices himself for the others.

The tragedy of man's fall had consequences for all of nature, because, through man, the law of death spread to all nature. This is why creation "groans and labors with birth pangs together until now" (Rom. 8:22). From within its sighing condition Creation awaits its liberation which will come through the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom. 8: 19). This is why St. Paul affirms that "the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God» (Rom. 8:21). Nevertheless, despite of the transcendence of death through the sacramental life and God's revelation, death still exists; that is, mortality still remains, for the death of sin and the transfiguration of all the faculties of the soul. What occurred in Christ and was given to us freely in the sacrament of Baptism has also to be achieved with our own personal struggle.

The final point of death's defeat is the hope for the resurrection of the bodies as well (Rom. 8:11). The Spirit of God who dwells in our body, is the One who will enliven our mortal bodies both from sin in the present life and from death in the future second coming of Christ.

In our present analysis of the Epistle to the Romans it is clear that the law of death and sin, which came in with the fall, have created several problems, existential, personal and social. The Law of Moses could not deliver man from the law of death, but prepared him for the coming of Christ, and this is why it is called "our tutor to bring us to Christ" (Gal. 3:23). Only Christ's incarnation and the partaking of the blessings of the incarnation have delivered man from death and have led him to the freedom of the children of God.


We have approached our subject - man's pastoral diakonia during the 21st Century - by explaining that this ministry is not independent of man's deliverance from death, nor is it different from the ministry that took place in previous centuries. Of course there is some differentiation in the way in which death is expressed in each era, but in reality death is an unavoidable and ontological event. All philosophers have been dealing with this mystery since antiquity and this problem has concerned all people from generation to generation.

Man, throughout his whole life, beginning with the day of his birth goes through successive mortal crises. He experiences death when he is sick and when he grows older. The infant that is separated from the womb and cries, the baby that feels the pain of his growing body, the child who at some point in growth is shaken by the discovery that death is an irreversible event, the adolescents with their existential questions about death and the meaning of life, the middle aged with the feeling that life passes by quickly, those of old age who feel like being in death's waiting room, all these show the great personal and social problem of humanity. Furthermore, the feeling of loneliness, the pursuit of sensual pleasure as an attempt to sustain existence, the search for drugs in order to avoid inner existential bereavement and so many other things, are consequences of the existence of death within us. In addition, imbalances or disturbances within families are also related to the unanswered question of death.

The Church of Christ, therefore, in preparing to face the problems that will arise in the 21st Century, cannot overlook this reality. Death is a hungry "beast" within man's being. No matter how long he searches for external happy moments to alleviate his pain, if he does not mortify this "beast" man will be always miserable. He may travel, he may have fun, he may develop science, he may acquire friends, but this hungry "beast" will want nourishment, will howl from within his being. If man tries to tame it with human activity,
this death will stay in his guts, and then neurosis and psychological problems, which are in essence existential, will arise.

The Church may look at man's social-economic problems, which are a function of each age, but can never forget that the deeper problem is death. This is why pastoral service, diakonia, must turn in this direction and operate within the framework provided by St. Paul, the holy Apostles and, in general, the holy Fathers, who truly comforted man, because they dealt with his actual problem which is death. Man's deeper problem is anthropological and theological. Any other kind of pastoral service is secularized. It may create illusions of salvation,
but in the end will leave man in solitude and despair.

The futility of the present life, the transcendence of death already in this life, the hope for the liberation of this creation from corruption and the preparation for eternal life, are what can help us prepare for the arrival not only of the 21st Century but also of all the centuries that may follow. Even if the 21st Century never begins or even if it never ends because of the coming of the great Day of the Lord, a person who lives his resurrection in Christ Jesus and the transcendence of death has nothing to fear, because he is already a citizen of the Kingdom of God and of the heavenly citizenship.


[1] Olympia Papadopoulou-Tsanana, The Anthropology of Basil the Great (Antropologia tou Megalou Basileiou), Patriarchal Foundation for Patristic Studies, Thessaloniki 1970 p. 4s

[2] St. Gregory the Theologian, Second Homily on Pascha, PG 36.234, 632.

[3] St. Basil the Great, Works, Prologue to the Great Ascetic Rule, PG 31.892.

[4] St. Gregory the Theologian, Ad Julianum tributorum exquaetorum, PG 35.1049.

[5] Ibid., Homily 17, To the Citizens of Nazianzus, PG 35 977.

[6] St. John Chrysostom, 10th Homily on the Gospel of Matthew, PG 57.190.

[7] St. Symeon the New Theologian, Sources Chretiennes 174, p.68.

[8] Ibid. 129, p. 422.

[9] St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, Massachusetts 1979, Step 29, p. 223.

[10] The Philokalia: The Complete Text, trans. Palmer, Sherrard, Ware, 1981. vol. II, p. 329 (66).

[11] Ibid. 67.

[12] Ibid. 69.

[13] Abba Isaac the Syrian, Asketika, Rigopoulos Publications, pp. 7-9.

[14] St. Gregory Palamas, Works, Ellenes Pateres tes Ekklesias, Thessaloniki, pp. 566-572.

[15] Found in Early Christian Writings, trans. M. Staniforth, edit. Andrew Louth, Penguin publications 1987, pp. 144-5.


Подписка на новости

Последние обновления