Holiness through the Jesus Prayer as Depicted in The Way of a Pilgrim (Early Draft)

For my latest class on "Ascent to Holiness" I was given the task to choose an essay on an aspect of holiness. I chose the following broad topic: "Examine in detail a work of art or of literature, a drama, film or musical etc. that seems to you an exposition of holiness and explain why."

Methodological approach. I decided to choose the text The Way of a Pilgrim. I read, re-read, and carefully listened to the audio version. Line by line I took "relevant quotations" from the book that pointed to holiness. Having listened to course lectures delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov, Dr. George Bebawi, the late Archimandrite Ephrem Lash and numerous others, I looked for quotes that would 'fulfil' class definitions provided. What you read below is my first attempt at connecting notions of holiness with actual text from The Way of a Pilgrim. As I was analysing the "text", I also used Leximancer to identify the major thematic concepts of the book. The word "holy" appears 39 times and appears in the top 20 concepts of the book. I also analysed each of the "four tales" in like manner. Provided at the end of this paper are also pages of references I sought through to come to a clearer understanding of what holiness means. My next steps is to severely prune this essay back to explicit quotations that describe holiness and support them with direct references/sources on the advice of my tutor Fr. Alexander Tefft.

Note: What is holiness? Holiness is not doing "good works" or being "virtuous". Holiness is something that God possesses and we acquire from God as we are made in His image. How do we acquire this? By "abiding in Him", by calling on Him more and more to reside in our hearts. We love our enemies because we see God in them, we love His creations because He made them. 

Disclaimer: the below essay is an early draft of my first attempt. Note: all errors are my own. I am studying towards a Certificate.

 

Holiness through the Jesus Prayer as Depicted in The Way of a Pilgrim

Katina Michael

This paper uses the book titled The Way of a Pilgrim to describe the path to holiness through prayer. In this 19th-century work, first published in Kazan with the title “Candid Narratives of a Pilgrim to His Spiritual Father” found in an Athonite monastery, the narrator takes the reader on a pilgrim’s journey across Russia while practising the Jesus Prayer. It is not known whether the book is a literal or fictional account of one pilgrim’s journey but the book demonstrates the power of invoking the name of Jesus through the biblically-based prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). The authorship of The Way of a Pilgrim is unknown although the four tales seem to be based on the original work of Archimandrite Mikhail Kozlov (1826-1884), entitled The Seeker of Unceasing Prayer. The exhortation by Saint Paul the Apostle in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray constantly” is a call toward unceasing prayer. In effect, it is a call to God to reside within our heart at all times through the Holy Spirit in a synergistic manner. For it is said by Saint Paul the Apostle: “we are God’s fellow workers” [i.e., Gk <<συνεργοί>>]. And again the Apostle states in James 4:8, if we “draw near to God”, He will draw near to us. Such is the striving toward a state of holiness, where we can open the door to God to reside within us, given we are made in His image. The Way of a Pilgrim demonstrates the importance of interior silence through the recitation of the Jesus Prayer guided by a spiritual father with the aim of uniting one’s mind and heart. The more we pray, the more God is able to work through us to effect change in our own hearts and that of those around us. The ultimate aim of unceasing prayer, as demonstrated in The Way of a Pilgrim, whether living a celibate or married life, is union with God, that is, theosis.

The Path to Holiness is Prayer

Holiness is not a state in which we can reach on our own accord, no matter how hard we try, no matter how many good works we do. Holiness is a mystery and it cannot simply be attained by the “learning of the schools”. It has unspeakable depths. The pilgrim is clear in stating, that “we must pray more often to God to teach us to pray without ceasing”. When our mind and heart is “continually yearning” and we have an “unappeasable desire” toward God, then it cannot be in a state of sin. It is “the testing of the harmony of your own will with the voice of God”. The misconception of many Christians lies in the belief that “good actions and all sorts of preliminary measures render us capable of prayer” when in fact the reverse is true, “prayer [is that] which bears fruit in good works and all the virtues”. Furthermore, we are told in The Way of a Pilgrim that while the Christian is compelled to perform good works, that without prayer these cannot be accomplished. “Without prayer he cannot find the way to the Lord, he cannot understand the truth, he cannot crucify the flesh with its passions and lusts, his heart cannot be enlightened with the light of Christ, he cannot be savingly united to God. None of those things can be effected unless they are preceded by constant prayer.”

A wise staretz (spiritual elder), tells the pilgrim that "the continuous interior prayer of Jesus is a constant uninterrupted calling upon the divine name of Jesus with the lips, in the spirit, in the heart, while forming a mental picture of His constant presence, and imploring His grace, during every occupation, at all times, in all places, even during sleep.” The prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” interlinks a person with God, and after some time, he/she “can no longer live without it”. The prayer takes root in the heart on its own accord, casting “all other thoughts aside”. The admonition is to “repeat the prayer of Jesus as often as possible”. Of course, at one level, The Way of a Pilgrim, sets conditions for the hesychast “to cut off from everything else” through the Jesus Prayer, and yet on another level the book also describes how all forms of prayer (e.g. the Lord’s Prayer) can also be recited within a family context. God calls all of His children to holiness, not just those predisposed to monasticism. And this of course is demonstrated in the sanctification of Saints who chose either the path of marriage or virginity. Our goal should be to be with God as often as possible, “to cleanse the soul from all sensuality”. But it is a constant striving, once the prayer has manifested in one’s heart, like a well-oiled machine it must be cared for and nurtured, if it will go on “working still longer”. The directive is to be awake in “prayer as often as you wish and as often as you can… without counting the number of times.” It is to “seek after God in the simplicity of a loving heart” and to allow Him to “lead you into the right path."

The effect of recollecting our Lord Jesus Christ so often is a feeling of unutterable peace within the soul. The pilgrim describes his feelings thus: “I felt absolute peace in my soul. During sleep I often dreamed that I was saying the prayer. And during the day if I happened to meet anyone, all men without exception were as dear to me as if they had been my nearest relations… All my ideas were quite calmed of their own accord… my heart began of itself to feel at times a certain warmth and pleasure. If I happened to go to church, the lengthy service of the monastery seemed short to me and no longer wearied me as it had in time past. My lonely hut seemed like a splendid palace…” The pilgrim emphasises the importance of the instruction of a staretz in the recitation of prayer. He describes his joyful prayer as a “slight pain” in his heart as he imagines himself in God’s merciful embrace: “I pictured myself, if only I could see Him, throwing myself at His feet and not letting them go from my embrace, kissing them tenderly, and thanking Him with tears for having of His love and grace allowed me to find so great a consolation in His Name, me, His unworthy and sinful creature!” The pilgrim, recognising his sinful nature as a fallen human, is given the grace by God to feel His presence within his heart. The pilgrim endures a transformative process uniting with God through the Holy Spirit while invoking the name of Jesus. We are reminded by Saint Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:19-20): “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Union with God

The two books that the pilgrim carries with him throughout his journey are the Holy Bible and The Philokalia. The pilgrim is shocked by the amount of knowledge he gains from The Philokalia, supported also by the prayer of Jesus which the holy Fathers said was “a summary of the Gospels”. He noted, that his heart was kindled with a “desire for union with God by means of interior prayer”. In Psalm 82:6, we are told, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.” What greater glory could a human attain than this theosis? The pilgrim writes: “I began to see the meaning of such sayings as "the inner secret man of the heart," "true prayer worships in the spirit," "the kingdom is within us," "the intercession of the Holy Spirit with groanings that cannot be uttered," "abide in me," "give me thy heart," "to put on Christ," "the betrothal of the Spirit to our hearts," the cry from the depths of the heart, "Abba, Father," and so on”. It was in this way that the pilgrim observed all natural things around him as “delightful” and “marvellous” singing praise to God constantly: “[t]he trees, the grass, the birds, the earth, the air, the light”. And yet at the same time, all of these creations equally “witnessed to the love of God for man.” We see here deeply the mystery of God’s love which is revolving. God does not want us to do good works from the “fear of hell”, but from “love for Him and zeal for His service; He wants us to find our happiness in uniting ourselves with Him in a saving union of mind and heart.” In walking with name of Christ on our lips, in our thoughts, and our heart, ceaseless prayer helps maintain our path to holiness, bringing us closer to the meaning of the Cross and Resurrection, and the eschata (that is the last things).

Holiness

The pilgrim describes feeling “overwhelmed with bliss” on the calling upon the name of Jesus. As he recites the prayer day and night, month after month in solitude, he becomes acutely aware of the meaning of the passage "[t]he kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). The pilgrim states at this point, “[m]y soul was always giving thanks to God and my heart melted away with unceasing happiness.” Indeed, holiness is to allow the heart to “melt away”, doing away with negative recollections that weigh heavy on the heart. It is to love one’s enemy, to love all people as if members of the one family. The pilgrim writes that the rosary (i.e. prayer rope) can bring one to sanctity: “[w]hen the soul is made holy the body becomes holy also”. He explains, “[e]veryone has his own gift from God… [and that] [e]veryone does what he can, as he sees his own path, with the thought that God Himself shows him the way of his salvation”. The pilgrim cites St. Gregory of Thessalonika in conversation, in his love for others and his want to reveal to them to power of the invocation of the name of Jesus: “we are bound to reveal it and teach it to others, to everyone in general, religious and secular, learned and simple, men, women, and children, and to inspire them all with zeal for prayer without ceasing”. Over and over again, throughout The Way of a Pilgrim, the message is conveyed as to the sweetness of the boundless love for Jesus Christ one attains when they are praying constantly. The Jesus prayer we are told by the pilgrim is a “comfort”, makes his “heart bubble”, is “delightful”, is “consoling”, provides “tears of joy”, and such “gladness of heart” that he cannot find the words to express his feelings. To be united to God so closely through prayer must give such peace and innocence that is indescribable.

Some way through the Russian spiritual classic, we learn the reason why the pilgrim has chosen to live a wanderer’s life. The pilgrim recounts many a story that demonstrate his path to holiness. He is not mad at his brother for causing a malady in one of his arms so that he cannot work rendering him a “cripple”. He is not mad at his brother for burning down the home he and his wife shared. He is not mad at God for taking the “worthy and sensible” girl he had married prematurely. He is not mad with the townsfolk whom he helped so much but later accused him of wrongdoing with a young girl who was betrothed to another man. He is not mad with the men who robbed and struck him, even taking his knapsack, Holy Bible, copy of the Philokalia, and dry bread. In his interactions with others he showed great love, did not sin against them, and though he felt pained at times beyond what could be written for his treatment, he continued to love. To the men who had struck him “senseless” he gave 1 ruble and told them: “Repent and pray! Jesus Christ loves men; he will not forsake you.” In essence, the pilgrim becomes “Christ-like” and fulfils the highest aspects of love that lead one to holiness. He reflected in his narrative: “If thine enemy hunger, feed him," and Jesus Christ himself said, "Love your enemies," "And if any man will take away thy coat let him have thy cloak also." He not only believed in these New Testament commandments, but lived by them whole-heartedly.

While the narrator paints a picture of a solitary life (i.e., monastic life) that is underpinned by prayer and fasting for Jesus and complete preoccupation with Him and the Saints, the narrator by no means takes away from the propensity for holiness in a family setting. When he encounters two children on his way, they insist that the pilgrim must meet their mother, and later the mother insists the pilgrim must meet her husband who is a magistrate. She tells the pilgrim: “He [the magistrate] reverences every pilgrim as a messenger of God. If you go away he will be really grieved not to have seen you. Besides that, tomorrow is Sunday, and you will pray with us at the liturgy, and at the dinner table take your share with us in what God has sent.” The family lives by the Gospel and fulfils Matthew 25:34-39:

34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? 38 And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? 39 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’

The pilgrim writes "I was astonished as I listened to what she said, and I asked myself whether I was talking with a human being or with a ghost of some sort.” The reader, likewise, is left feeling deep love and hope that there are people who actually exist like this. Indeed, the whole scene is reminiscent of Paradise. The pilgrim continues: “The more I saw and heard of all this, the more surprised I was, and I thanked God for letting me see these devout people.” The mother is symbolic of the Virgin Mary as she proclaims to the pilgrim that she does not rest. Holiness in this case is defined as being “fond of beggars, and brothers in Christ, and pilgrims.” Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov adds only “enemies” to this list under the instruction of Fr. Sophrony Sakharov who believed being Orthodox was plainly described as “loving your enemies”.

The mother in this scene recounts her mother’s blessing: “as her last will and testament she urged us to live as good Christians, to say our prayers fervently, and above all try to fulfill the greatest of God's commandments, that is, the love of one's neighbor, to feed and help our poor brothers in Christ in simplicity and humility, to bring up our children in the fear of the Lord, and to treat our serfs as our brothers. And that is how we have been living here by ourselves for the last ten years now, trying as best we could to carry out mother's last wishes. We have a guesthouse for beggars, and at the present moment there are living in it more than ten crippled and sick people.” Later, the pilgrim proclaims: “'You are in God's own paradise here… Here is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and His most holy mother, and the blessed saints! And there… are the divine, living, and everlasting words of their teaching.” It is reaffirmed by the pilgrim that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness, and that neither the monastic path or the married path is easy, but that God grants what is needed to each accordingly. He says to the family:

“Of course, for hermits they give special and higher methods, but for those who live in the world their writings show ways which truly lead to interior prayer.” And returning to the Jesus Prayer, he conveys to the family: “One must learn to call upon the name of God, more even than breathing—at all times, in all places, in every kind of occupation. The Apostle says, 'Pray without ceasing.' That is, he teaches men to have the remembrance of God in all times and places and circumstances. If you are making something, you must call to mind the Creator of all things; if you see the light, remember the Giver of it; if you see the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, wonder and praise the Maker of them. If you put on your clothes, recall Whose gift they are and thank Him Who provides for your life. In short, let every action be a cause of your remembering and praising God, and lo! you will be praying without ceasing and therein your soul will always rejoice." There, you see, this way of ceaseless prayer is simple and easy and within the reach of everybody so long as he has some amount of human feeling.'”

 

The pilgrim continues to say that interior prayer has shed more light on the mystery of God than anything else and that it can be “done by anyone”. That “[i]t costs nothing but the effort to sink down in silence into the depths of one's heart and call more and more upon the radiant name of Jesus.” In a critical passage, the pilgrim comes close to defining and explaining what holiness is- a deep relationship with God. It is worth quoting this passage in full:

“Everyone who does that [interior prayer] feels at once the inward light, everything becomes understandable to him, he even catches sight in this light of some of the mysteries of the kingdom of God. And what depth and light there is in the mystery of a man coming to know that he has this power to plumb the depths of his own being, to see himself from within, to find delight in self- knowledge, to take pity on himself and shed tears of gladness over his fall and his spoiled will! To show good sense in dealing with things and to talk with people is no hard matter and lies within anyone's power, for the mind and the heart were there before learning and human wisdom… The trouble is that we live far from ourselves and have but little wish to get any nearer to ourselves. Indeed we are running away all the time to avoid coming face to face with our real selves, and we barter the truth for trifles. We think, "I would very gladly take an interest in spiritual things, and in prayer, but I have no time, the fuss and cares of life give no chance for such a thing."

The pilgrim cites the saying of Saint Nicetas Stethatus in The Philokalia who wrote: “The nature of things is judged by the inward disposition of the soul,' that is, a man gets his ideas about his neighbors from what he himself is. And he goes on to say, 'He who has attained to true prayer and love has no sense of the differences between things: he does not distinguish the righteous man from the sinner, but loves them all equally and judges no man, as God causes His sun to shine and His rain to fall on the just and the unjust.'” In like manner, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia in The Orthodox Way pointed to holiness as the “calling out of an individual from their sinfulness, into the true selves that God intends for them to be as they participate fully in their eschatological destination: God’s own self” (Kangas 2014). Dying to the world through the prayer of the heart, the pilgrim doubts that there would be a “happier person on earth” and whether there “could be greater and fuller happiness in the kingdom of heaven.” The state of holiness he has attained, not only provides light for his own soul but for “the whole outside world” as well. He felt, “[e]verything drew me to love and thank God: people, trees, plants, and animals. I saw them all as my kinsfolk; I found on all of them the magic of the name of Jesus… Sometimes I felt as joyful as if I had been made czar.”

The pilgrim places great emphasis on holy prayers aided by the Holy Spirit that are pleasing to God. The pilgrim recollects throughout his journey the words of Christ: “Abide in Me, and I in you” (John 15:4). He writes that:

“every intention, every impulse, even every thought which is directed to His glory and our own salvation is of value in His sight. For all these the boundless loving kindness of God gives bountiful rewards. The love of God gives grace a thousand fold more than human actions deserve. If you give Him the merest mite, He will pay you back with gold. If you but purpose to go to the Father, He will come out to meet you. You say but a word, short and unfeeling— 'Receive me, have mercy on me'—and He falls on your neck and kisses you. That is what the love of the heavenly Father is like toward us, unworthy as we are. And simply because of this love He rejoices in every gesture we make toward salvation, however small. It looks like this to you: What glory is there for God, what advantage for you, if you pray a little and then your thoughts wander again, or if you do some small good deed, such as reading a prayer, making five or ten acts of reverence, or giving a heartfelt sigh and calling upon the name of Jesus, or attending to some good thought, or setting yourself to some spiritual reading, or abstaining from some food, or bearing an affront in silence—all that seems to you not enough for your full salvation and a fruitless thing to do. No! None of these small acts is in vain; it will be taken into account by the all-seeing eye of God and receive a hundredfold reward, not only in eternity, but in this life.”

Furthermore the pilgrim continues:

"Truly boundless is the love of God for us sinners. Is it not marvelous that so small an action—yes, just taking his rosary out of his pocket and carrying it in his hand and calling once upon the name of God—should give a man his life, and that in the scales of judgment upon men one short moment of calling upon Jesus Christ should outweigh many hours of sloth? In truth, here is the repayment of the tiny mite with gold. Do you see, brother, how powerful prayer is and how mighty the name of Jesus when we call upon it?”

Conclusion

The Way of a Pilgrim urges the reader to be united to God through prayer. It is the calling especially to unceasing prayer that asks God to light up our hearts and to warm them toward a path to holiness which encompasses love not only for God Himself, but all of His creations. The more we pray, through the recitation of prayer, whether it be the Jesus Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer, under the instruction of our spiritual father, the more we will ignite the fulfilment of God’s commandments as delivered in the New Testament. God promises that if we “come” to Him and “follow Him”, we will receive “treasures in Heaven” (Luke 18:22). We can follow Him through our interior prayer, whether we are celibate or married, whether we recite the prayer of the heart with our lips or inwardly, whatever the means, we should seek to be with Him as often as possible. While it is paradoxical to ask the source of love and life, God, to grant in us a prayerful heart, because He becomes both the power and source of love and its preoccupation, it is He who gives life to all other actions: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:3). Indeed, I can pray more when I ask Christ to have mercy on me, and He will give me the strength to love my enemies, love my neighbour, and love myself. This revolving action becomes a constant pursuit of love- God toward His creation, a person toward God and his fellow neighbour. Prayer becomes self-actuating and self-propelling, it is co-working in synergy toward holiness. Holiness in man does not mean perfection, but attests to the constant striving toward the love of God through the Holy Spirit, the minimization of sin, toward transformation to living a divine life in Christ.

Leximancer

Thematic Concept Map 1. The Way of a Pilgrim (all four tales)

Thematic Concept Map 1. The Way of a Pilgrim (all four tales)

Thematic Concept Map Tale 1 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 1 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 2 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 2 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 3 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 3 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 4 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 4 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Ranked Concept List

Name-Like

GOD

Philokalia

Jesus

Bible

God’s

Word-Like

prayer

heart

read

time

man

day

down

mind

asked

saying

told

gave

book

things

long

soul

felt

whole

house

spiritual

take

holy

life

old

words

reading

night

answered

starets

love

heard

pray

thought

people

teaching

prayers

village

church

name

left

living

bread

CF105 - Ascent to Holiness Topics

Topic 1 - Holiness in the Old and New Testaments by Revd. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov

Elder Sophrony of Essex: We Shall See Him As He Is (Chapter 13)

Archimandrite Zacharias Christ Our Way and Our Life (Chapt. 1)

Achimandrite Zacharias The Hidden Man of the Heart (Chapter 6)

Panagiotis Nellas Why did God Became Man?

Professor Georgios Mantzarides The Deification of Man (Chapter 1)

Lossky The Theological Notion of the Human Person

Archimandrite George of St Gregoriou Monastery, Mt Athos, on Theosis

Fr George Florovsky The Ascetic Ideal and New Testament

Rev. John Chrysavgis: Obedience and Authority: Dimensions of a Hierarchical Church

Topic 2 - On Discernment by Dr George Bebawi

Dr-George-Bebawi-Discernment

Dr George Bebawi- On Discernment (the paper from his Lecture)

St John of Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Step 26: On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues; on expert discernment)

Archbishop Sergius The Spiritual Life in the World

Pope St. Gregory the Great (+605), Menstruation and Holy Communion

Topic 3 - True and False Holiness by Revd Dr Fraser Watts

The Essence of Prayer- God and Man (Chapter 4) by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Fr Demetrios Constantelos- The Human Being- A mask or a person?

J. Moran- Orthodoxy and Modern Depth Psychology- Chapter 8 in Walker and Carras, eds., Living Orthodoxy (St Vladimir's Press, 1999)

Topic 4 - The Holy Man in Late Antiquity by Revd Professor Andrew Louth

Peter Brown The Rise and Function of Holy Man in Late Antiquity

Stofferahn The Power, the Body, the Holy

Paul Ferderer Uncertain Transformation

Prof. Fr Andrew Louth: The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology in Christensen and Wittung: Partakers of the Divine Nature (pp. 32-44)

St Jerome: The Life of Paulus the First Hermit

St Pafnoutios: St Onnoprhios the Anchorite

Palladius: The Lausiac History (a compilation from the life of the early anchorite and other desert fathers)

Zosimus: Concerning the Life of the Blessed

Topic 5 - Holiness in East and West by Dr George Bebawi

Transcript of Dr George Bebawi's Lecture on Holiness in East and West

St Gregory Palamas: One Hundred and Fifty Texts (from the Philokalia in English translation, Vol. 4)

Dr George Bebawi's Handout 1: Cyril and the Cappadocians on Holiness

Dr George Bebawi's Handout 2: Chrestos Yannaras on Uncreated Energies

St Gregory Palamas, Triads (English translation with an introduction by J. Meyendorf) Paulist Press, 1983 (Google Books, read esp. pp. 32-40)

Professor Panagiotis Chrestou: Double Knowledge according to St Gregory Palamas

Deacon Professor Matthew Steenberg, Knowledge, Prayer and Vision in St Gregory Palamas

Philip Sherrard From Theology to Philosophy in the Latin West

Professor Chrestos Yannaras The Historical and Social Dimensions of the Church's Ethos

Professor Chrestos Yannaras Orthodoxy and the West

St Mark the Ascetic On Those who Think They Are Made Righteous by Works

Metropolitan Ierotheos of Nafpaktos Orthodox Spirituality

Topic 6 - Holiness in Song: St Ephrem the Syrian’ by Dr Sebastian Brock

St Ephrem the Syrian- Hymns (Google Books)

Sebastian Brock- St Ephraem- Hymns on Paradise (Google Books)

Topic 7 - Holiness in Eastern Religion: an Orthodox Perspective by Dr Christine Mangala

Dr Christine-Mangala Frost: List of Differences between New Age religions and Christianity

Dr. Christine Frost- Visual Aids for her Lecture

Dr Christine-Mangala Frost Interview at Ancient Faith Radio on whether Yoga and Orthodox Christianity are compatible

Elder Sophrony of Essex Jesus Prayer

Fr Basil Sakkas Do we have the same God that Non-Christians Have? from Fr. Seraphim Rose's Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future

St John of Karpathos For the encouragement of the monks in India

Dionysios Farasiotes: The Jesus Prayer and the Hindu Mantra

Topic 8 - Experiencing Holiness: St Macarius by Dr Marcus Plested

Dr Marcus Plested- The Macarian Legacy (Google Books) pp. 31-35, 38-41

A Testimony to Christianity as Transfiguration: The Macarian Homilies and Orthodox Spirituality by Alexander Golitzin

Andrei Orlov and Alexander Golitzin: "Many Lamps are Lightened from the One": Paradigms of the Transformational Vision in Macarian Homilies"

Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Macarius the Egyptian

Macarius, Homilies 1-5

Selections from Evergetinos (with stories from the Desert Fathers and Makarios)

Topic 9 - Professor David Frost: Shakespeare and Nous: Holy Fools in King Lear

Prof. David Frost- The text from his Lecture

Bishop Alexander - On Saints

St Diadochos of Photiki- Gnostic Chapters

Topic 10 - What is a Saint? by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Excerpts from the Orthodox Way by Metropolitan Kallistos

Metropolitan Kallistos on St John of Kronstadt

Metropolitan Kallistos on the Passions

Metropolitan Kallistos: Through Creation to the Creator

Professor Stanley Harakas Orthodox Christian Beliefs (On Saints)

P. Evdokimov: Holiness in the Orthodox tradition- in Man's Concern with Holiness (ed. by M. Chavchavadze)

Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky: The Glorification of Saints

Coniaris What we believe about the Saints

Fr George Florovsky On the Veneration of Saints

The Life of St Mary of Egypt

Topic 11 - Sober Drunkenness: Holiness in the Liturgy’ by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash

Fr. A. Schmemann Theology and Eucharist

St Nicholaos Cabasilas A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy (esp. pp. 96-108)

Fr Pavlos Koumarianos Symbol and Reality in Divine Liturgy

Topic 12

Summer Course on the Ascent to Holiness: A Critical Perspective by Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft

Topic 14 - Optional Resources

Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex on St Silouan the Athonite

Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex: Movement of the Prayer in the Heart and Monasticism as the Gift of the Holy Spirit

Archimandrite Symeon of Essex on The Mystery of the Human Person

Dcn Prof. Matthew Steenberg: Monasticism and Saints of Holy Mount Athos

Sister Nona- Beginnings of Monasticism in the Greek World

Dr Mary Cunningham- Monasticism in the Byzantine World- Theodore Stoudite

Hieromonk Justin- The Life in Christ is a Mystery- Monasticism in Mt Sinai

St Nicholaos Cabasilas: The Life in Christ (Google Books)

St Gregory Palamas: The Triads (Google Books)

John Meyendorff: St Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality (Google Books)

Staniloae et al.: The Experience of God (Google Books)

Metropolitan John of Pergamon (Zizioulas): Being as Communion (esp. Chapter 3- Google Books)

Christensen and Wittung: Partakers of the Divine Nature (Google Books)

St John of Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Google Books)

Mamalakis on Marriage as a Path to Holliness (Ancient Faith Radio recording)

St Gregory of Nyssa: The Making of Man

St Gregory Palamas: Calling Everything Near Him

St Nicholaos Cabasilas: The Old and the New Adam

St Maximus the Confessor: The Spirit is in Everything

St Cyril of Alexandria: Becoming Temples of God

The Power of Repentance: A collection of sayings from the Church Fathers

Monastery of St Gregorios, Mt Athos: Key Orthodox Theology Terms in English and Greek

Archimandrite Ephrem- The works of St Theodore the Stoudite

Archimandrite Ephrem- The works of St Ephrem the Syrian

Professor Panagiotis Chrestou- Double Knowledge

Professor Panagiotis Chrestou- On St. Maximus- Infinity of Man

Peter Chopelas- The Uncreated Energies

St Gregory Palamas- Homily on the Holy Transfiguration

Metropolitan Paul- Monasticism in St Gregory Palamas

Professor Tselengides- St Gregory Palamas- Hysechasm- Life in the Holy Spirit

Collection of translated works of St Ephrem the Syrian into English at St Pachomius Library

Bishop Alexander: On the Virtue of Humility

The Life of our Holy Mother Mary of Egypt

Bishop Alexander: Lives of the Saints

Bishop Alexander: Elder Paisios of Mt Athos; Life and Teachings

St John of Klimacus: On Vainglory (from the Ladder of Divine Ascent)

Fr John Romanides- The Sickness of Religion and Its Cure

Archmindrite Georgios of St Gregoriou Monastery, Mt Athos: The Neptic and Hesychastic Character of Athonite Monasticism

Fr John Romanides- Original Sin according to St Paul

Fr John Romanides- Christ, the Life of the World

Fr John Romanides- Yaweh of Glory- Augustine and Barlaam

St Seraphim of Sarov- On Acquisition of the Holy Spirit

Kallistos Katafygiotis- On the Union with God

Professor Coniaris- What is a Saint?

Veniamin- Theosis in Sophrony of Essex

Prof. Georgios Mantzarides on Monasticism (from the book: Images of Athos by Monk Chariton)

Professor David Bradshaw Drawing the Mind to the Heart

Paul Evdokimov Holiness, in In the World of the Church: A Paul Evdokimov Reader (Google Books)

Fr George Metallinos Heaven and Hell

R. Pevear: Dostoyevsky's View of Evil

Fr John Breck The Role of Conscience

Mother Maria Rule Saints and Spirit-Bearers

CF104 - Personal Learning Statement

What do you think you have gained from the course?

CF104 on the Mysteries of Life and Death was an excellent module. I learnt so much about things I did not know and always had an interest in learning about further. The module initially took me back to my 14 years where we covered a whole term on the '7 Sacraments' in high school. Of course, as Fr Ian Graham pointed out, there are more than seven sacraments, and depending on which Holy Father we cite the list can be quite long.

Fr Ephrem Lash's discussion on baptism was an eye opener. I very much appreciated the opening lectures that catapulted me back to the first baptisms and what they might have looked like/entailed in the Orthodox Church. Fr Ephrem sharply contrasted today's baptisms with those of the Early Church. We need to get out of our comfort zone today- a baptism is not an excuse for a 'gathering' or 'party' etc. His strong statements have repeated in my thoughts many a time during this course. I also liked again the reminder that baptism is a 'seal of God'.

Dr Marcus Plested's lectures on St Cyril and St Ambrose of Milan provided much in terms of mystagogy, a term I had never heard of before. I particularly liked his lecture on St Ambrose of Milan.

I found myself reflecting much on being baptised as an infant, on the Book of Needs and all contained therein, on the funeral service, on the question of what happens to us when we die (funeral service, burial, prayers for the departed, and judgement).

The lecture on the importance of prayers during illness, the need to visit the sick, and the service of the anointing rang home personally. The discussion on exorcisms was also interesting.

Without a doubt my favourite lecture was the last one on Christian Ethics in daily life by Professor David Frost. There were statements in that lecture that brought comfort to me personally and would have hoped to listen to when I was in my teens. I would have to say that Professor Frost is one of the most honest lecturers I have ever come across, but that should not surprise me given his topic of discussion. I listened to his talks many a time, and still appreciate revisiting them when I feel the need. Classic Frost. What a blessing to our Orthodox community!

Please comment on any unanticipated outcomes of the course

CF104 on the Mysteries of Life and Death was personally confronting. We have been so loved by God that we have been given a life to live. The gift of life is so precious.

In the very last week of this module my Aunt Eleftheria slept in the Lord. The lectures reaffirmed to me the promises of God, and that things do not end in this life with death. I was comforted especially during the first days of mourning her loss.

In completing the readings for this Course I came across the incredible contributions by H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr at Rice University in the Philosophy Department http://philosophy.rice.edu/content.aspx?id=90 Amazingly, I have come across Engelhardt's work in my general research work in the field of technology and ethics but I had never made the connection between Engelhardt being an Orthodox Christian. I will have to get in touch with him now that the module is completed. What a beautiful discovery this was for me!

Did the course change your view of the topic and, if so, in what way?

Previously, I would not have tied the Sacraments to a topic on the Mysteries of Life and Death. I took a few days to reconcile this integration of ideas as one valuable learning. What is our life if not Sacramental?

The topic I learnt most about during this course was suicide. It is what I completed my essay on. For the first time I actually understood deeply what happens when a request is made for a funeral service on behalf of someone who has taken their own life.

My views were changed on the urgency of responding to suicide in a pastoral way within the Orthodox Church. I learnt intimately about the current state of suicide in the world today. I was heart-broken to read that 800,000 people take their life annually according to WHO. And that suicide is the second highest reason for deaths worldwide of 15-29 year olds. And that for every suicide there are about 25 attempts in America. The world loses an individual once every 40 seconds to suicide. My view is that there is a pressing need for intervention strategies to reduce the number of lives lost to this phenomenon. It should be a high priority on social policy strategies for all governments.

Please use this space if you wish to comment further on the academic experience of your course

Unfortunately this session I was unable to make most of the weekly tutorials due to my absence with my work, first to Montreal, Canada and then to Arizona, USA with multiple interstate trips to Canberra, ACT and Melbourne, Victoria. The session also fell during Holy Easter, which I did not mind personally.

After listening to the online material many times over, I spent much time reflecting on lectures in quietude. I began my essay in the first weeks of the course gaining permission fromFr. Alexander Tefft for my topic. I revisited my progress in the middle of the course, and requested an extension in the last week to complete it.

The lectures were of excellent quality and delivered with much passion. Every one of our four lecturers had a different style and delivery, and were extremely detailed and entertaining in their own way.

Eastern Orthodox Perspective on Members of Its Church who Suicide

What is the Eastern Orthodox Perspective on Members of Its Church Who are Depressed and Suicide?

Katina Michael

In this paper I argue that the Eastern Orthodox Church has increasingly become sensitive to members of its Church who suicide due to clinical depression, offering them in some cases through economy (oikonomia [Gk]), full burial rites akin to those who have died due to natural causes (e.g. advanced age), physical illness (e.g. cancer) or accident (e.g. road fatality). Suicide is defined as the deliberate act of taking one’s own life, in actuality it is self-murder breaking with God’s sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13) and causing an immediate separation from the Holy Spirit, (1 Corinthians 6:19). Clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder (MDD) is a form of mental illness (Hall-Flavin, May 13, 2017). It is more than just occasionally feeling down and having the “blues”, or suffering immense sadness, for example, at the death of a close relative. Clinical depression is marked by an ongoing depressed mood most of the day, disallowing the sufferer from engaging in normal activities and relationships for a contiguous period of time, lasting anywhere from a few weeks to a lifetime. Examples of depression subtypes include major depression, chronic depression (dysthymia), seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and bipolar disorder (manic depression) (WebMD, 2017).

One of the major difficulties for clergy of the Orthodox Church in determining how a suicide of a depressed person should be considered, may include the lack of available evidence towards the clinical assessment of the sufferer. A simple letter of support, written by the deceased’s mental health professional (e.g. psychiatrist), can be used to provide evidence of his/her ongoing condition (S. S. Harakas, 1987, p. 324). Additional complexities may include the identification of the range of spectrum of depression suffered by one who has taken their life. For example, what happens to one who has remitted from their severe state of depression for some years and then relapses and subsequently suicides? Or one who has never been diagnosed with a specific depressive disorder but has been assessed on the mood disorder (affective) spectrum? One could posit that anyone at the point of taking their own life has suffered so much mental anguish and torment that they must be severely depressed to kill themselves through self-inflicted injury, poisoning or suffocation. But this is not always the case if we are to regard suicide notes left behind by the deceased, as providing insights into the motivation for their suicide. People have taken their life for varied non-medical reasons such as the committing of a heinous crime, an onset of a terminal illness, falling pregnant out of wedlock (and especially after an abortion), unemployment and financial crisis, revenge toward a person for a wrongdoing, and even a philosophical desire to know “what’s on the other side”. These latter reasons for suicide are considered separately from one who has taken their life due to mental illness, and on the whole are seen as an individual not valuing the “gift of life” (Breck, 1998) given to us by God Himself.

Although major inroads have been made into understanding major depression and other forms of mental illness (e.g. schizophrenia), psychological instability remains a taboo in communities in many parts of the world (S. Harakas, 1990). Families dealing with a child or parent who is suffering from mental illness may hide or deny that their loved one requires medical attention and pastoral help (Hopko, March 24, 2010). Thus, it is possible that a sufferer’s condition can go undetected by the most discerning of priests, despite the illness often manifests itself outwardly in some visible behavioural traits (e.g. obsessive compulsive disorder). One reason for this difficulty could be that the parishioner with the major depression may be an infrequent participant to weekly Church Services and parish activities in general, or may have never sought medical treatment due to feelings of shame or perceived judgement. This is a dilemma for the serving priest, especially in the event of a sudden and “unexpected suicide”. Additionally, men who perceive themselves as self-reliant and reject seeking medical help from a general practitioner for their suicidality may also take their life suddenly. In fact, men are on average 3 to 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women (Lester, Gunn, & Quinnett, 2014). None of this is straightforward to address for a priest when there are grieving family members seeking answers to “why” a loved one has taken their life, what will happen with funeral preparations for the deceased, and what will happen to their loved one’s soul eternally. The due process is for the parish priest to present evidence to his hierarch, usually a Bishop, on behalf of the deceased’s family, and then await a decision on how to proceed toward funeral preparations (Theodosius, 1998). The parish priest’s care is also for the surviving family members who have to learn to go on without their loved one, and not to lose hope in God’s eternal promises. According to Archbishop Theodosius of Washington (1998) the “act of suicide is a profound tragedy affecting a parish. It necessitates prayers for forgiveness for the sake of the departed and exhorts the members of the parish community to repentance and sorrow”.

Raising Awareness of Suicide and its Effects in the Orthodox Church and Beyond

While the Eastern Orthodox Church plainly acknowledges that suicide is among the gravest sins against God, it also leaves the ultimate judgement to God who is all-knowing and intimately discerns human hearts in their fullness. It is clear that a severely mentally ill person is not morally culpable for their actions when they commit suicide (H. T. Engelhardt, Jr, 2004, p. 25; S. S. Harakas, 1987, p. 134; Nicodemus & Agapius, 1983, p. 746). Moreover, we could argue, that a person in the process of committing suicide, if they have their full faculties and sensibilities about them, could repent even at their last breath, even while in the process of dying after reaching the point of no return. God knows. It is not for us to ponder (Hopko, March 24, 2010). Today, the Church is not only asking itself what is the canonical response to suicide (for that has been spelled out through Ecumenical Councils and the collection brought together on Orthodox Canon Law, titled The Rudder (1983)), but also what should the pastoral response to suicide be (McCray, November 9, 2016). I believe this emphasis in thinking has occurred over the last two decades in particular, as the Church and its members, and indeed more broadly the discipline of medical science, have grown in awareness of mental health issues and the direct relationship between suicide and depression (SCOBA, May 23, 2007).

The number of suicides worldwide have steadily continued to increase over the last 20 years. About 800,000 people die every year (i.e. one person every forty seconds) by committing suicide in the world (1.4% of all deaths), and for every suicide there are an estimated 25 attempts (i.e. that is about 20 million attempts in total per annum) (AFSP, 2015; WHO, 2017). Of particular concern is that for 15-29 year olds, suicide is the second leading cause of death globally (WHO, 2017). Some have argued it has reached pandemic proportions, as it knows no barriers to geography, gender, demographic, religion, or income levels. Suicide not only affects the deceased who have chosen to take their life, but also many more millions of people who experience bereavement annually through the abrupt loss of their loved one (SCOBA, May 23, 2007). If this is not enough, we have also seen the introduction of laws in a small number of countries (e.g. The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada) allowing individuals to seek euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide for varying contexts, including old age, terminal illness, and depression (Breck, 1995; H. Engelhardt, Tristram, Jr. & Iltis, 2005; S. S. Harakas, March 6, 1997).

Of particular concern today is the manner in which suicide has become an acceptable option within our secularised society (G. Morelli, January 13, 2009). In a commentary on Emile Durkheim’s book titled Le suicide (1897), Robert Alun Jones (1986) writes that Durkheim insisted that “[t]he pathological increase in suicides [wa]s… a result of the "moral poverty" of our age”. If that statement was made in 1897, then what could be said 120 years on about the moral poverty of our age? Recent films like “Me Before You” that glorify euthanasia, are a fine example of the seed sown in individuals who may be disabled, terminally ill, or suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (e.g. war veterans) who are unassumingly lured into thought experiments about the possibility of taking their life in order to prevent their prolonged suffering. Astoundingly a visit to the official website confronts the viewer with a splash page of the film, with the words scrolling across, “live boldly, live well, just live” (Sharrock, 2016), despite the movie is about euthanasia and cutting one’s life short. The message is, “there is a way out”, instead of living with the pain and suffering patiently until one’s end of life. As Fr. John Breck (2003, p. 183) notes, it is a message that proclaims, “die with dignity”, and yet an Orthodox Christian’s petitions during the Divine Liturgy are about completing “…the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance” and asking God for a “Christian end to our life, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and for a good defense before the awesome judgment seat of Christ” (Chrysostom, 2017). Secular society is promoting that one can “die before they have to die”, and yet the Orthodox Christian Paschal Troparion emphasises that Christ has already trampled down death by death, and thus as believers we have hope no matter how dark the circumstances are. Very disturbingly, a new Netflix series graphically depicting youth suicide titled 13 Reasons Why (Yorkey, 2017), has been met with public outcry by psychologists, educators and parents in the United States for its potential to glamourise suicide. Backed by Hollywood celebrities and stars, the influence among youth will be significant no doubt encouraging copycat acts (Devitt, May 8, 2017). Work on a second season has already begun for 2018. It is no wonder that that the primary cause of death by injury in the United States today is now suicide, then followed by vehicular road accident (Rockett et al., 2012).

The Orthodox Church’s Canonical Response to Suicide

The Orthodox Church has held fast to its canonical position that suicide is unacceptable under any circumstance, indeed even for sufferers of mental illness. This position has never been negotiable and has remained unchanged since the formation of the Church. Holy Scripture records nine unambiguous suicides (Meredith, 1980, p. 143f; Murray, 2000). We have the examples of Abimelek (Judges 9:54), Samson (Judges 16:30), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), Saul’s armour-bearer (1 Samuel 31:5), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), Ptolemy Macron (II Maccabees. 10:13) and Razias (II Maccabees 14:43-6) in the Old Testament and Judas Iscariot in the New Testament (Matthew 27:5). While we do not see a pronounced moral condemnation of the acts of the deceased by at least the narrators of these suicide events in Holy Scripture (which is in line with how sordid events are usually recorded in the Bible), we can at least deduce in the case of Judas Iscariot that the taking of his own life by hanging, was out of a deep sense of despair for how he had betrayed our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Judas, we are told in Matthew 27:3-4, “repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood’.” While we can point again to the Scriptures, “no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of him who shed it” (Numbers 35:33), Judas contended with a dual crime, not only betraying Christ but also taking his own life, instead of believing that Christ could forgive all things. We can say therefore, that the condemnation of suicide, in the singular case recorded in the New Testament, is thus inferential. Whereas in the other suicides recorded in the Old Testament, for the greater part neutral language prevails. For example, Samson calls to the Lord God to “remember” him and beckons “I pray thee”, to allow him to grasp the two middle pillars of the pagan Philistine house and to let it topple on the Philistines and on him (Judges 16: 28-29). We are told reassuringly: “So the dead whom he [Samson] slew at his death were more than those whom he had slain during his life” (Judges 16:30). God seems to have answered Samson’s wishes giving him the strength to commit this act.

We can also reflect on the martyrs, both Early Church martyrs and neomartyrs, who willingly gave their life for Christ. Were these suicides? No, they were not. The Synaxarion (1998) includes saints whose lives came to an abrupt end when they refused to give up their Christian beliefs. For example, female Orthodox Saints of the first four centuries willingly:

- walked into fires on seeing their brethren thrown into flames (e.g. St Agathonike according to Eusebius’s account, and separately St. Apollonia who endured terrible sufferings to the point of having her teeth extracted);

- threw themselves from rooftops at the risk of rape (e.g. St Pelagia of Antioch); and

- threw themselves into rivers to drown, fearing impending rape by drunken soldiers (e.g. St. Domnina and her two daughters Berenice and Prosdoce).

Yet, the intent of the female martyrs had naught to do with suicide. Constantelos (2004) writes of the martyrs in his excellent paper: “[t]he usual motive for defying death was their steadfastness to their religious faith and moral principles.” These were men and women of faith who when faced with an imminent threat to their lives, acted in the glory of God. They did not go out actively seeking death or torture. The Church Fathers, in particular Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Augustine of Hippo, are often juxtaposed by western commentators as having diametrically opposing thoughts on the subject of premature death which is incorrect. Saint John Chrysostom gave full support to female saints who leapt to their deaths instead of allowing themselves to be raped and being defiled. Saint Ambrose of Milan also showed sensitivity toward these exceptional cases (e.g. recounting the death of 12 year old St. Agnes, Concerning Virginity I.2.5-9), as did Saint Jerome (e.g. writing to St Paula about the martyrdom of Saint Blæsilla in Letters 39.3). While on the other hand, Saint Augustine was adamant that no one should kill themselves, no matter the magnitude of their desperation, but was circumspect in the context of martyrdom. It is worth quoting him in full:

“But, they say, during the time of persecution certain holy women plunged into the water with the intention of being swept away by the waves and drowned, and thus preserve their threatened chastity. Although they quitted life in this wise, nevertheless they receive high honour as martyrs in the Catholic Church and their feasts are observed with great ceremony. This is a matter on which I dare not pass judgment lightly. For I know not but that the Church was divinely authorized through trustworthy revelations to honour thus the memory of these Christians” (City of God 1.26).

Saint Augustine sharply condemns the practice of suicide, emphasising, “that no man ought to inflict on himself voluntary death” (City of God 1.27). Likewise, Saint John Chrysostom also condemns suicide: “Whereas God punished such men [those who commit suicide] more than murderers, and we all regard them with horror, and justly; for if it is base to destroy others, much more is it to destroy one’s self” (Commentary of St. John Chrysostom on Galatians 1.4). Engelhardt (2009, p. 79) adds to these, the author of The Shepherd of Hermes (written between AD 90-150), Saint Justin Martyr (AD ca. 100-ca 160), Saint Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-220), and Lucuius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (AD ca. 260-330). For instance, Saint Clement of Alexandria writes, “He who presents himself before the judgment-seat becomes guilty of his own death. And such is also the case with him who does not avoid persecution, but out of daring presents himself for capture. Such a person…becomes an accomplice in the crime of the persecutor” (The Stromata, or Miscellanies IV.10). And Lactantius (The Divine Institutes III.18) writes: “If homicide is wicked because it is the destroyer of a man, he who kills himself is fettered by the same guilt because he kills a man.” The Fathers used very strong language to describe their beliefs about suicide for good reason (i.e. the highly public and influential deaths of philosophers by suicide was seen as acceptable in the Roman and Greek pagan worlds). However, as Engelhardt (2009, p. 79) so importantly reflects, “[a]t about the time St. John Chrysostom wrote [his] remarks [on Galatians], the Orthodox Church issued its first canon bearing on suicide, underscoring that those who committed suicide while insane should be given a Christian burial”.

Engelhardt (2009, p. 79) stresses that outside this context of insanity, “[a]ll that we have historically concerning the church’s life is incompatible with the praxis of suicide.” Thus, we know by the Orthodox Church’s canon law that 1) a person who willingly commits suicide and is not insane endures a separation from God and should not receive a funeral rite (1 John 3.15), and 2) one who commits suicide in the condition of insanity, is able, through economy under the Bishop’s authority, to receive a funeral rite. We have much to gain also in the distinction of the voluntary and involuntary murder as legislated in the canons 22 and 23 in the Synod of Ancyra in 314. Fr. Stanley Harakas reflects that independent of whether a murder was voluntary or involuntary, a period of repentance had to be fulfilled before the one who had committed the crime could partake in sacraments again. But the difference with a suicide was that no repentance for the act of self-murder could take place because the one who takes their life is instantaneously cut off from the ability to request forgiveness of their sins (S. S. Harakas, March 6, 1997, p. 25f). One reason the Church Fathers applied such strict definitions around suicide from the outset of the Church’s formation was because “the Greco-Roman world tended both to disparage the body and to endorse suicide in circumstances of severe hardship. The Cynics, Epicureans, Stoics, and Gnostics, for example, all endorsed voluntary death for reasons consistent with each group’s broader ethical vision” (SCOBA, May 23, 2007).

Ways Forward: An Integrated Canonical and Pastoral Response to Suicide

It is true that in some cases like in parts of rural Orthodox Russia, those who suicided were not buried in cemeteries as recently as the 1880s. According to Paperno (1997, p. 55), the custom was to bury suicides by a road, at a crossroads, at the edge of a field or in the woods, swamp, or ravine. But those who were considered as “insane suicides” committing the act “in a state of delirium, illness, or melancholia, were to be buried in a “special place” (that is, beyond the cemetery)…” (Paperno, 1997, p. 55f). Much has changed since that time, not in the Orthodox Church’s position on suicide, but in the primary importance of pastoral care and outreach. For the departed person who has suicided under mental duress, we are seeing that the funeral service which belongs to the “special liturgical rites of the People of God” is a practice in which the faithful can request forgiveness on behalf of the departed, and also come together to console the family, and bind the faithful in hope in God’s mercy. Farley (2017) who reflects on the vital 2007 pastoral letter to Orthodox Christians by the bishops at the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA, May 23, 2007), states that “motivation is everything” when it comes to suicide. Since the early 2000s in particular, we have witnessed discussions within the Church on how we might be able to better respond as a community of the faithful in dealing with those in our parishes who are faced with mental illness (F. G. Morelli, September 23, 2009). For the Orthodox Church there is a fine line that cannot be crossed when making proclamations about suicide, before it opens the floodgates to the slippery slope argument (Smith, September 9, 2015). Yet, canonically, the Church has always known where it stands regarding suicide and the Fathers when consulted accurately have had one voice on the matter. What we are witnessing at present are significant pastoral responses that seek to communicate clearly that the Church is here for those who need it and that God will “wipe away every tear” (Revelation 21:4), no matter if one is struggling with mental illness, physical unwellness, very difficult life situations, or even atheism.

Last year, Kate McCray (November 9, 2016), a Canadian PhD candidate who spoke at the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology, and Religion (OCAMPR 2016) Conference with the theme “On Pain and Suffering” cited Fr. John Breck, suggesting the possibility that a specific funeral service for those who have suicided be devised. The idea of such a service would be to plainly acknowledge before God, that the “Servant of God who has taken their life be forgiven for their sins etc.” This would be more than is presently conducted in the Trisagion Service alone prior to burial (Constandinides, 1994). The precedence for this, according to Fr. John Breck could be argued in the existence in the altered wedding service of a divorced person who has decided to remarry. The Order of the Second or Third Marriage carries a certain penitential character about it, and can only be performed through economy and the local Bishop’s authority. Thus that too is an exception to the “rule” (OCA, June 5, 2017). By other clergy, it has been suggested that the current funeral service could be somewhat “tweaked”, blessed by the Church’s bishops, with the “prayers normally used at Christian burials expressing the ambiguous and tragic nature of the situation and accentuating the mercy of God” (Farley, 2017). Furthermore, Fr Lawrence Farley (2017) suggests “…that clergy should be allowed to preside at such funerals, and to offer the comfort of the Church’s intercession for the dead”. The awareness now, reached by many clergy of the Orthodox Church, as more and more suicides take place, and in the direct pastoral communications with the family of the departed, is that all suffer in a parish, and a single loss of life can send reverberations throughout the whole church (Cuceu & Pontikes, 2016; OCA, 2017). The pressing issue for us all perhaps, is not whether or not a person who has suicided will receive the prayers of a funeral service (albeit how important this is according to Church canon), but how over time the Church will play a major role in stifling and reducing the number of suicides of its parishioners. There is evidence to suggest, that religiosity plays an important role in keeping people alive. Sisask et al. (2010) found that: “individual-level associations between different dimensions of religiosity and attempting suicide exist”, and that “subjective religiosity… serve[s] as a protective factor against non-fatal suicidal behaviours”. There is thus a great deal that Christians can do to ensure that less of our young people, less men, and less depressed persons in particular, find themselves in a situation of vulnerability where suicide becomes an irrational option (Vlachos, 2005). Fr. George Morelli from the Antiochian Orthodox Church, who is also a clinical psychologist, has an excellent 12 part series available on Ancient Faith Ministries on the topic of suicide, and partly about the role of Church communities to be there for mentally ill persons (and brethren in general), to assist them with dealing with depression through the application of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), mindfulness strategies and more (G. Morelli, Fr., 2008-2009).

Conclusion

As we move away from the classical point of view to be found in literature during the time of antiquity that says someone who has taken their own life might have done so in a rational manner, towards the point of view that denotes that a person who would self-life take is either insane or near the point of insanity, we are faced with the need to develop the way in which we as individuals, extended families, and a Church community respond to suicide. Plainly mental health issues substantially reduce one’s capacity to act rationally. Clergy and laity in the Orthodox Church, particularly over the last two decades have demonstrated a heightened pastoral awareness to suicide in general and have increased their outward facing communications on such vital matters, not in conflict with the Church’s canonical laws. The Orthodox Church is growing and learning about suicide at a pace akin to the medical science community. And with these new findings come pressing educational requirements, especially to graduate more clergy with backgrounds in mental health, psychology, social work, and even specialisations in psychiatry. But even more emphatic is the individual responsibility we all have toward the mentally ill, and to each other as parishioners and a co-suffering community. The emphasis today has to be on the pastoral outreach and response to suicide, as the number of suicides are reaching pandemic proportions. How can the Orthodox Church reach out those in need?

References

AFSP. (2015). Suicide Statistics. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  Retrieved from https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

Breck, J. (1995). Euthanasia and the Quality of Life Debate. Christian Bioethics, 1(3), 322-337.

Breck, J. (1998). The Sacred Gift of Life: Orthodox Christianity and Bioethics. Crestwood: New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Breck, J. (2003). God With Us: Critical Issues in Christian Life and Faith. Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir's Press.

Chrysostom, J., St. (2017). The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom.   Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-divine-liturgy-of-saint-john-chrysostom

Constandinides, F. E. (1994). Funeral (Service Book). Merrillville, Indiana: Constandinides Pubs.

Constantelos, D. J. (2004). Altruistic suicide or altruistic martyrdom? Christian Greek Orthodox neomartyrs: a case study. Arch Suicide Res., 8(1), 57-71.

Cuceu, M., & Pontikes, T. (2016). The Physician and Community of Faithful in the Integrated Care of the Mentally Ill: An Orthodox Christian Discussion of the Physician’s Moral and Professional Obligations. Christian Bioethics, 22(3), 301-314.

Devitt, P. (May 8, 2017). 13 Reasons Why and Suicide Contagion. Scientific American.  Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/13-reasons-why-and-suicide-contagion1/

Engelhardt, H., Tristram, Jr., & Iltis, A. S. (2005). End-of-life: the traditional Christian view. Lancet, 366, 1045-1049.

Engelhardt, H. T., Jr. (2004). Orthodox Christian Bioethics: Medical Morality in the Mind of the Fathers. In J. F. Peppin, M. J. Cherry, & A. Iltis (Eds.), Religious Perspectives in Bioethics (pp. 21-30). London: Taylor and Francis.Farley, L., Fr. (2017). What's Wrong with Suicide? Orthodox Church of America.  Retrieved from https://oca.org/reflections/fr.-lawrence-farley/whats-wrong-with-suicide

Engelhardt, H. Tristram, Jnr. (2009). Physician-assisted Suicide: An Orthodox Perspective. In M. F. Carr (Ed.), Physician-assisted Suicide: Religious Perspectives on Death with Dignity. Tucson, Arizona: Wheatmark, Center for Christian Bioethics, Loma Linda University.

Hall-Flavin, D. K. (May 13, 2017). Depression (major depressive disorder). Mayo Clinic.  Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/clinical-depression/faq-20057770

Harakas, S. (1990). Health and medicine in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. New York: Crossroad.

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Hopko, T. (March 24, 2010). Suicide. Ancient Faith.  Retrieved from https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/suicide

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Lester, D., Gunn, J. F., & Quinnett, P. (Eds.). (2014). Suicide in Men: How Men Differ from Women in Expressing their Distress. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.

Makarios, H., of Simonos Petra. (1998). Orthodox Eastern Church. Greece: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady.

McCray, K. (November 9, 2016). A Co-Suffering Community: Orthodox Reflections on Bipolar Disorder, Suicide, and Support. Ancient Faith Ministries.  Retrieved from https://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/ocampr_2016_on_pain_and_suffering/a_co_suffering_community

Meredith, J. L. (1980). Meredith's Big Book of Bible Lists. New York: Inspirational Press.

Morelli, F. G. (September 23, 2009). Suicide: Christ, His Church, and Modern Scientific Medicine - Part 8. Ancient Faith Ministries.  Retrieved from http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/morelli/suicide_christ_his_church_and_modern_scientific_medicine_-_part_8

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OCA. (June 5, 2017). Divorce and Marriage. Orthodox Church in America.  Retrieved from https://oca.org/questions/sacramentmarriage/divorce-and-remarriage1

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SCOBA. (May 23, 2007). Pastoral Letter on Suicide.   Retrieved from http://www.pravmir.com/orthodoxy-suicide/

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Sisask, M., Värnik, A., K[otilde]lves, K., Bertolote, J. M., Bolhari, J., Botega, N. J., . . . Wasserman, D. (2010). Is Religiosity a Protective Factor Against Attempted Suicide: A Cross-Cultural Case-Control Study. Archives of Suicide Research, 14(1), 44-55.

Smith, W. J. (September 9, 2015). Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. Ancient Faith Ministries.  Retrieved from http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/humanexceptionalism/euthanasia_and_assisted_suicide

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CF104 Mysteries of Life and Death Lectures and Tutorials

Part I of the Module on Baptism and Chrismation

Topic 1: The spine-chilling Mysteries and their setting. An introduction to Christian initiation.

Topic 2: Baptism in the New Testament and Early Church

Topic 3: Orthodox Initiation in the contemporary situation: Pastoral and Theological issues.

Topic 4: Case Study 1: St Cyril of Jerusalem

Topic 5: St Ambrose of Milan

Part II: Sanctifying Life and Death

Topic 6: The Occasional Services of the Book of Needs

Topic 7: Prayers during illness, visitation of the sick, and the Euchelaion (service of anointing)

Topic 8: The funeral and memorial services of the Orthodox Church

Topic 9: Issues of Life and Death

John Breck: The Sacred Gift of Life: Orthodox Christianity and Bioethics

CF104 Mysteries of Life and Death Selected Bibliography

Selected bibliography for Part 1:

Of Water and the Spirit, A Liturgical Study of Baptism, Alexander Schmemann. Originally published in 1976. Paperback— 170 pages (31 December, 1989) St Vladimir's Seminary Press; - (probably the best and most accessible commentary on the current Orthodox rite, written from Fr Alexander’s distinctive theological standpoint. It contains a very useful bibliography.)

Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy, E. C. Whitaker, SPCK (1970). Out of print, but can be found second hand, both hardback and paperback.- (an extremely useful collection of translations of many of the principal texts on Baptism from the first millennium from both east and west.)

The Awe-Inspiring Rites of Initiation, Edward Yarnold, St Paul Publications (1971). This has now been reissued by The Liturgical Press: Paperback (1994) The Liturgical Press; - (Sub-titled “Baptismal Homilies of the Fourth Century”, this contains translations of some the baptismal homilies of four of the Fathers of the late fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem (for these see also the version from SVSP below), Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia, together with the parts of the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus concerning Baptism. It includes an excellent introduction of some sixty pages and a good bibliography.)

The Church at Prayer. Volume 3: The Sacraments, ed A.G.Martimort, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville. Paperback — 331 pages (January 1988) - (this translation of the latest edition of the French Roman Catholic L’Eglise en Prière contains a good up to date summary of the evidence from the first six centuries with good bibliographies - mainly of French material - and notes.)

On the Christian Sacraments, St Cyril of Jerusalem. A translation of his five Mystagogical Instructions to the newly baptized (see above Fr Yarnold’s book). St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

The Life in Christ, St Nikolas Cabasilas, (translated by Carmino J. Decatanzaro). Paperback — 229 pages (1 March, 1997) St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Selected bibliography for Part 2:

(1) The most extensive collection of services (according to Russian usage) is given in the "Great Book of Needs" (4 volumes) published by St Tikhon's Seminary Press. The translation is often less than satisfactory, and the usefulness is diminished by the inclusion of numerous explanations of the rubrics.

(2) A limited selection of services (again following Russian usage) is found in the Hapgood "Service Book". Again the translation often leaves something to be desired.

(3) A different selection can be found at http://www.anastasis.org.uk/eucholog.htm These excellent translations are made from the Greek and are beautifully accurate, if sometimes rather literal.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (various editions)

Philip Sherrard, Christianity: The Lineaments of the Sacred Tradition (esp. Chapter Eight)

Jospeh Allen, The Ministry of the Church (SVS)

Fr Alexander Elchaninov, Diary of a Russian Priest

C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (various editions)

Jessica Rose, Sharing Spaces (DLT 2002)

David Melling, ‘Suffering and Sanctification in Christianity’ in P. Kegan, Religion, Health and Suffering (London 1999)

A Calivas, ‘The Eucholigion: A Brief History’ in Agape and Diakonia (Holy Cross 1998)

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Life after Death (Levadi, Greece, 1996)

Sergei Hackel, Pearl Of Great Price (SVS)

Constance Babington-Smith, Iulia de Beausobre (DLT 1983)

Iulia de Beausobre, Creative Suffering

 

Other contemporary general studies (not specifically Orthodox)

Harold Baumann, Living through Grief, 1999

Paul Binski, Medieval Death, 1996

John Bowker, The Meanings of Death (esp. Part I), CUP 1991

Martha Whitmore Hickman, Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief, 1994

Henri J. M. Nouwen, Beyond the Mirror: Reflections on Death and Life, 2001

Henri J. M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, 2002

Colin Murray Parkes, Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life, 1998

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, 1973

William Worden, Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy, 1991

 

Further reading on ‘issues of life and death’

John Breck, The sacred gift of life : Orthodox Christianity and Bioethics (SVS)

God with us: Critical Issues in Christian Life and Faith (SVS)

Tristam Engelhardt, The Foundations of Christian Bioethics. (Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger, 2000

On abortion, the debate is usefully summarized in: Paul Watson and David Attwood, Researching Embryonic Values - A Debate, E83 (Grove Books: Cambridge, 1991), 25pp. Michael Banner, who is Professor of Moral and Social Theology at King’s College, London, has a chapter inclining to the ‘hardline’ view which offers serious criticism of ‘gradualist’ positions: it is entitled ‘The practice of abortion: a critique’ in Michael Banner, Christian Ethics and Contemporary Moral Problems (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1999), pp. 86 - 135. 

Rick Simpson, Abortion: Choosing Who Lives, E126 (Grove Books: Cambridge, 2002), is particularly good on describing how the availability of abortion on demand in Britain has corrupted public attitudes.

Though it is a pro-abortion tract, the booklet Abortion in Law, History & Religion (Childbirth by Choice Trust: Toronto, Canada, revised 1995), 62 pp. is a useful and reasonably accurate guide to the history, law, and practice of abortion around the world.

On euthanasia, an outstandingly helpful booklet is: Margaret Whipp, Euthanasia - a Good Death? E117 (Grove Books: Cambridge, 2000), 24pp. See also its bibliography.

CF104 Mysteries of Life and Death Summary

Part 1: Baptism and Chrismation

Lecturers: Archimandrite Ephrem Lash, Dr Marcus Plested

Aims of the Module:

  1. To introduce students to the text of the Eastern Orthodox rites of Baptism and Chrismation.
  2. To explore with students the nature and practice of Christian initiation in the New Testament Early Church.
  3. To introduce and discuss the pastoral and theological dimensions of the rites of Baptism and Chrismation in Eastern Orthodox tradition.

Course description:

Session 1: 'The spine-chilling Mysteries and their setting'. An introduction to Christian initiation. (Fr Ephrem)

Session 2: 'Baptism in the New Testament and Early Church' (Fr Ephrem)

Session 3: 'Orthodox Initiation in the contemporary situation: Pastoral and Theological issues. (Fr Ephrem)

Session 4: Case study I: St Cyril of Jerusalem (Dr. Marcus Plested)

Session 5: Case study II: St Ambrose of Milan (Dr. Marcus Plested)

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of the module, students should be able to:

  1. Understand the basic structure of the Orthodox rites of Baptism and Chrismation.
  2. Articulate the principal theological themes of the Orthodox rites of Baptism and Chrismation.
  3. Grasp the lineaments of the practice of Christian initiation in the New Testament and Early Church.
  4. Have an informed appreciation of pastoral issues surrounding the use of Baptism in contemporary Orthodox practice.

 

Part 2: Sanctifying Life and Death

Lecturers: Fr Ian Graham, Professor David Frost

Aims of the Module:

To introduce students to the treatment of life and death in the liturgical tradition and pastoral practice of the Orthodox Church.

Course description:

Session 1: Sanctifying Life 1: The Occasional Services of the Book of Needs

Session 2: Sanctifying Life 2: Prayers during illness, visitation of the sick, and the Euchelaion (service of anointing)

Session 3: Sanctifying Death: the funeral and memorial services of the Orthodox Church

Session 4: Issues of Life and Death (I)

Session 5: Issues of Life and Death (II)

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of the module, students should be able to:

  1. Appreciate the way in which the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church sanctifies both life and death.
  2. Have an insight into the pastoral practice of the Orthodox Church when dealing with sickness, death and bereavement
  3. Grasp the lineaments of the Orthodox theological understanding of life and death
  4. Articulate an Orthodox response to selected bio-ethical questions.

Personal Learning Statement - CF103 Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology I

1. What do you think you have gained from the course?

This is the first opportunity I have had to do any detailed reading on Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology. I gained so very much from this course, especially understanding how heresy (point of view/ school of thought), was introduced into the early Christian community, leading some astray into believing that Christ was only God, or that Christ was only man (that is the denial of one of the natures of Christ, in effect believing in a single 'physis'). I learnt that Christ's two natures were in perfect harmony; but that there were not "two separate Sons" or "two separate Christs", or multiple "prosopa" but rather a "hypostatic union" in Him, the God-man. So finely balanced is the doctrine of Christology, that any particular denial of a given nature, would completely disrupt the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Additionally, if Christ was not God, and just a man, our salvation could not come from a mere creature, and we would be forever enslaved by our sins.

2. Please comment on any unanticipated outcomes of the course.

More broadly, and beyond my assessment I felt entirely blessed to hear the lectures of Associate Professor Marcus Plested of Marquette University and Hon. Associate Professor Mary Cunningham of the University of Nottingham so many times over. I learnt so much by listening to their deliveries, their depth of learning, and their love of the Apostolic Fathers. Both lecturers were able to share stories that took me back to a time 2000 years ago. Who were these brilliant men (and women) who drew so near to Christ and passed down His teachings in the continuum of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? From Ignatius of Antioch to Justin Martyr and Ireneaus of Lyons, to St Basil the Great and his younger brother St Gregory of Nyssa. Great orators, men who knew much about philosophy, and above all loved our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I kept thinking whilst listening to Plested and Cunningham, how incredibly well-read these two lecturers are, and yet so humble in their delivery. I felt like I was listening to an abridged version of Philip Schaff, and then so much more from decades of labouring over reading deeply the Church Fathers. Plested was excellent in his delivery of describing the heresies, all the way from Ebionism, to Apollonarianism, Docetism, and Arianism, Nestorius and more. He also showed great skill in discussing the Ecumenical Councils, and presenting on groups who took the position of anthropological maximalism and anthropological minimalism but was careful to distinguish that it wasn't that clear-cut in reality to group the Fathers into "sides". Cunningham was so eloquent in conveying the fire of faith of the Apostolic Fathers. I was very moved, by the way in which Cunningham presented the fervour and faith of the Apostolic Fathers- Ignatius on his way to martyrdom, Justin Martyr believing after a conversation with an old man, and Irenaeus who spent much of his time dedicated to refuting heresy.

At last, about A.D. 130, after a conversation with an old man, his life was transformed: "A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable. That is how and why I became a philosopher. And I wish that everyone felt the same way that I do." (Saint Justin Martyr)

3. Did your course change your view of the topic, and if so, in what way?

When I was in high school, Year 10, our religious studies teacher, made us learn the Creed off by heart in English. Our test was to not only be able to recite the Prayer, but also to record it in writing during an actual examination. As a young person, I do not believe I understood the weight of this prayer, the Symbol of Faith as titled in the Divine Liturgy (Greek-English translation) I would hold at each service. It was only after studying little bits of the outcomes of the Ecumenical Councils in this session (up to the end of the 4th century) did I realise how "hugely" momentous that actually documenting the Nicene Creed was for Christians. And despite growing up, I held close to me the Our Father, and The Creed, I feel now I have a better grasp why any changes in the Creed, would affect Eastern Orthodox doctrine. The words, "...begotten not made; of one essence with the Father" are now crystal clear in my mind. 

I have really come closer to comprehending the role that our Early Church Fathers played in the formation of Eastern Orthodox doctrine. So many Fathers, when compared one against the other, almost spoke in a single united voice. I especially was moved to read about theosis, deification of man, salvation, soteriology, the theadric, the God-man, the Divine Logos, in so many different ways by so many different fathers, Saint Athanasius the Great, Saint Alexander of Alexandria, Saint Damascene I, Irenaeus of Lyons, and so many more.

4. Please use this space if you wish to comment further on the academic experience of your course

I found this course unsurprisingly demanding but so fundamental to me knowing more about the Holy Trinity and Christ the God-man. So much information was covered over time and geographic span that I had to listen to the recordings dozens of times each.

In the past, the prayers practiced in our Church have informed me of the existence of the Holy Trinity, doing the sign of the Cross has reaffirmed the Holy Trinity, reading the Scriptures and looking out for specific passages where the Son has pointed to the Father, or the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove, all of these things denoted to me the existence of the Holy Trinity.

I remember entering into a discussion with a friend who openly considered 'what if there was no Holy Trinity', that 'there was just a Holy Father and Holy Son', given there was 'no trace of it in the Scripture'. I feel that I can now confidently address a response to such a question, whereas I would have only been able to say previously, "just believe it, it is the truth".

How heresies shaped the development of Christology up to the end of the fourth century

Below is the final version of my essay for course CF103 on Christology and Trinitarian Theology. I received solid feedback after my draft submission, but also some critical additions I needed to make before this final submission. I tried my best to address these as per the suggestions of my tutor. My thanks to my tutor Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft for his guidance and time in extensive feedback provided. 

Katina Michael

This paper is about heresy that shaped the development of Christology up to the end of the fourth century. Heresy can be defined as a deviation away from established Orthodoxy (i.e., the right beliefs) into error. In Christology, the Person of Christ refers to the study of the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ as they coexist within the one person. Specifically, this raises the question of who Christ was? Christology is the meeting point between the human nature of Christ (the Son of Man), and the divine nature of Christ (the Son of God, the Word of God, the Divine Logos) represented together in the one person (Gk prosopon, πρόσωπον) without mixture. Departing from the truth of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is not only dangerous but destructive because it disrupts the transformative process of theosis that can be attained, since Christ died for our sins on the cross, for one truth not several relative truths. Diluting the truth or changing it in any way, has detrimental ripple effects for the ekklesia at large but also for the impact it would have on believers as their faith would be based on a moving target.

I hope to prove that heresy predominantly took the form of either denying Christ’s divinity (in extreme forms of anthropological maximalism), or denying Christ’s humanity (in extreme forms of anthropological minimalism), consequentially imbalancing the doctrine of the Holy Trinity formed by the consensus of the Early Church Fathers. Two well-defined heresies in the Arian strain (Christ is less than God) and the Apollinarian strain (Christ is less than man) will be compared as representative of other earlier heresies, for example, Ebionism and Docetism respectively. I will present evidence of how Christological debates between various points of view were refuted by the Apostolic Fathers who focused their attention on the God-man and the Incarnation in the Ecumenical Councils. This culminated in the formation of the doctrine of hypostatic union which recognised that Christ was fully divine and at the same time fully human. Of great significance is that heresies chiefly impacted upon soteriology (i.e., the religious doctrine of Salvation), and inexorably on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The Early Church Fathers as a result sought to document their beliefs forming Christian doctrine in the process, and eliminating erroneous points of view in the expression of the Christian faith.

The early church struggled to express the ineffable mystery of Jesus Christ. They were forced to articulate their experiences out of necessity and not for want of philosophical interest. They had to explicitly find the words to document what they believed based on a tangible experience of Christ, as opposed to what they did not believe or which deviated from Christ’s own teachings and those of the Apostles. Thus, the Apostles communicated their eyewitness experience to their disciples through oral transmission, who then communicated it down the continuum of the Church generation after generation, which we now know as Holy Tradition. But gradually, the Church had to use written formulations based on the original preaching of the Gospel to dispel certain points of view that were deemed to be inconsistent with the deposit of faith (Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition). Enter the term “heresy” (Gk hairesis, αἵρεσις), defined as “the formal denial or doubt of any defined doctrine of the Catholic faith”(Cross, 2005: 762). In antiquity the term denoted a “choice” or “thing chosen” or following a particular “philosophical school” or “school of thought”. In this way, heresy in the early church was understood as a particular “point of view” that was deemed to be wrong because it did not accord with the basic experience of the Apostles as witnessed to in their experience of Christ. So one reason why we have texts from this period regarding the Person of Christ is to eliminate points of view that were deemed to be erroneous and inconsistent with the Apostolic preaching. And the second reason was to express to the wider Graeco-Roman pagan world, concepts and language that were in some way comprehensible toward drawing unbelievers to the faith.

When we look at the early church, particularly as we see the beginning of the reflection on the Person of Christ, there is an attempt to answer the question that Christ himself posed to his disciples in Mark 8:29: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter was able to answer categorically to Him: “You are the Christ.” Yet, when Christ asked, “Who do men say that I am?” his disciples answered: “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets” (Mark 8:27, 28). Even after the witness of the single most important transhistorical event, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, still there were those who did not accept that Christ was God and formed their own elucidations, and others who believed in Christ’s deity but said a god would never take on a material body and suffer shamefully on a cross and die. Saint Paul and Saint John the Evangelist through their respective epistles warn the faithful to beware of the false teachers (2 Peter 2:1, 4, 12, 18) and the false prophets (1 John 4:1). The Apostles, were not only warning of a time far into the future, but in their Sitz im Leben, i.e. current context and setting. Thus, inconsistencies on who Christ was, even arose within the lifetime of the Apostles. Summing up the tendencies of these early heresies, without risking oversimplification of these sects, there are those who denied Christ’s divinity and those that denied Christ’s humanity, although it was seldom that “black and white”. Of course, unrelated to heresy, there were also those Early Church Fathers who emphasised the divine nature over and above the human nature of Christ (anthropological minimalism, e.g. the Alexandrian school of thought that emphasised the Logos-Sarx), and those who emphasised the human nature over and above the divine nature (anthropological maximalism, e.g. the Antiochian school of thought that emphasised the Logos-Anthropos) (Rausch, 2003: 153). An emphasis of one nature over the other did not equate to heresy, but extreme points of view that significantly unbalanced the symmetry in the God-man, such as Arianism and Apollinarianism that ensued into the 4th century, emphasised that Christ had only one nature, not two, i.e., one physis. Looking at these two heresies in some detail suggests that an express denial of the fullness of the truth was adopted by presbyters who lead the faithful astray.

Arianism: Denying Christ's Divinity

A major fourth century heresy was Arianism, named after a priest of Alexandria, Arius (256-336 A.D.) who was taught and mentored by Lucian of Antioch. Arianism in summary, denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. In 318 Arius wrote: “the Son is only a creature, made out of nothing, like all other created beings. He may be called God but only by an extension of language, as the first and greatest person chosen to be divine intermediary in the creation and redemption of the world” (Socrates, 2017). In his Thalia, Arius categorically stated: “there was [a time] when he (the Son) was not” (McDonald, 1975: 23). According to Arius, Christ might have sinned but did not, and was thus adopted by God because of his merits, by grace. Haldon (1966b: 41) writes that Arius believed that: “instead of being God he is a kind of demiurge who advanced in virtue and merit and thus came to be closely associated with the Father. But his nature is not of the same substance as the Father’s.” Most of the heretical sects that denied Christ’s divinity held boldly anti-Trinitarian beliefs. Haldon writes, that even the notion of the Incarnation (that the second Person of the Trinity became flesh and assumed a human nature) was reduced but to a figure of speech. In the Arian way of thinking “the logos was created and not divine”, Arius and his followers recognised Christ as Messiah but denied that he was “the natural Son of God” (Haldon 1966: 41).

It was Saint Athanasius the Great (296-373) who was the main obstacle to the rise of Arianism in the East, and one of the primary reasons why the First Council of Nicaea was convoked in 325. At this Council, Arianism was condemned (Schaff, 1894: 134) and the Nicene Creed formed, directly making emphasis of the words “begotten, not made”, making it clear that Christ was an eternal being and not created by God the Father: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” (The First Council of Nicaea, 325). The specific words incorporated into the Nicene Creed was "being of one substance” (Gk homooúsios, ὁμοούσιος) rather than Arius' heretical teaching “being of a similar substance” (homoioúsios, ὁμοιούσιος). Note the crucial difference, Arius’ ὅμοιος, hómoios, "similar", rather than ὁμός, homós, "same" (Erickson, 1966: 55-57). Athanasius, and others like Saint Alexander of Alexandria, upheld that man’s deification would only be possible if Christ indeed was truly God. If Christ were only a “creature”, then he could not be worshipped (Macleod, 1998: 123), and he would be unable to redeem or unite man to God (deify) (Schaff, 1910: 644-649). Athanasius charges Arius and his followers with dualism and heathenism, the worship of two separate “Gods”- an uncreated one and a created one- accusing them of polytheism (Schaff, 1910: 648f). In the final decades of the 4th century, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, and Saint Basil the Great each played a significant role in reconciling with the many semi-Arians, swaying further theological momentum toward the Nicene Creed. In the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381, outcomes of the Nicene Creed were reaffirmed and expanded upon. By the 7th century, Arianism had all but vanished. Apollinarianism which we will consider next, was not of the magnitude or threat to Christianity as Arianism. The numerous edicts against it very early on, meant that it dwindled as a movement by 420 A.D. It could be said that Apollinarianism was diametrically opposite to Arianism in every sense, save for the fact that it too presented that Christ had only one nature. Arianism and Semi-Arianism were much more dangerous a heresy to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, because in denying Christ’s divinity, it then followed that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was destabilised and open to ongoing attack.

Apolliniarianism: Denying Christ’s Humanity

Apollinarianism is a heretical doctrine of Apollinaris the younger (310-390), bishop of Laodicea in Syria. According to Schaff (1910: 708-710), Apollinaris was esteemed by many Alexandrian fathers, including Saint Athanasius the Great, for his virtue, classical culture, scholarly vindication, and commitment to the Nicene faith. Schaff (1910) notes, Apollinaris fundamentally took the crux of the Trinitarian debates and reapplied them to the Person of Christ. He reoriented the discussion to the “psychical and pneumatic side of the humanity of Christ” (Schaff, 1910: 709), claiming that “Christ had a human body and only a sensitive soul, but had no rational mind [nous] or free human will. His rational soul was replaced by the Divine Logos, or word of God” (Haldon, 1966a: 33). But in his zeal to declare Christ’s deity, he attributed to Christ a human body and soul, but negated a human spirit, overriding the reasoning mind of Christ with the Divine Logos. Apollinaris is thus known for his ‘Word-flesh Christology’ which claimed that God did not conjoin with man but merely with the sarx (Erickson, 1966: 58ff). He believed entirely that God and flesh had collocated into one nature (McDonald, 1975: 16) because anything different would have meant that one nature would strive to overcome the other. As Kenneth Paul Wesche (1984: 85) has explained furthermore, Apollinaris’ beginning point was the “prosopon” derived out of Christ’s essence (ousia). Thus it logically followed that one person could only have one nature, “one physis, one hypostasis, one energeia, one prosopon”. Now for Apollinaris, who believed that Christ the Son was of one essence (homouousia) with the Father, it was only logical that Christ’s humanity would give way to his divine nature. For him, the only possible way for Christ to have been sinless, for instance, was to declare that Christ was also not fully human, and that he did not possess free will (Thomsett, 2011: 38).

Apollinaris’ teachings were condemned by the Roman councils in 377 and 381 and also the Council of Constantinople in 381. In 377, Pope Damasus I declared Apollinaris a heretic. In the seventh anathema in the Council of Rome 381 Pope Damasus I wrote against Apollinaris: “We pronounce anathema against them who say that the Word of God is in the human flesh in lieu and place of the human rational and intellective soul. For, the Word of God is the Son Himself. Neither did He come in the flesh to replace, but rather to assume and preserve from sin and save the rational and intellective soul of man” (Thomsett, 2011: 38). Schaff writes critically, that “Athanasius, the two Gregories, Basil and Epiphanius combated the Apollinarian error… from behind and from the flank, than in front” (Schaff, 1910: 713). The fundamental issue with Apollinaris’ teachings was specifically to do with soteriology: if Christ had not assumed then He has not healed (Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101). In support of his beliefs, Apollinaris cited the following Scripture: “and the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) and also Philippians 2:7 and 1 Corinthians 15:47. The Early Church Fathers retorted, that Saint John’s usage of the word “sarx” (i.e. flesh) as in other parts of Holy Scripture, were used to mean the whole human nature. In placing the Apollinarian controversy historically, the heretical sect disappeared in the early fifth century. The short-lived controversy acted to shift the debate from the Trinity to Christology, resulting in the Chalcedonian symbol in 451 A.D. Relatively speaking, Apollinarianism did not last long, disappearing by the early fifth century.

The Formation of the Doctrine of Hypostatic Union

Deviations in explaining the Person of Christ, inevitably have led to declarations deemed to be heretical by the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as recorded in the Ecumenical Councils. In the case of Arianism it was in denying the divinity of Christ which then had direct consequences on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and in the case of Apollinarism it was in denying the humanity of Christ and subsequent salvation of man. Both of these heresies were representative of many early Christian heresies that surfaced just after the time of Christ unduly influencing their followers to stray away from the truth to varying degrees (see Figure 1). Importantly, these Christological debates led to the critical formation of the doctrine of hypostatic union (Gk ὑπόστασις) in the First Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. Simply put, hypostatic union is the union of the two natures of Christ, divine and human, in one and the same person. One nature of Christ, is not usurped and is not absorbed by the other, for instance, the human nature overtaken by the divine nature. And yet, both natures are united symmetrically in the person of Christ. We do not have two persons, or two Sons, or two Christs, but one person who is both fully God and fully man (Tyneh, 2003: 66f). They are not divided into two prosopa (Tyra, 2013: 97). And here is where two well-known Antiocheans, Theodore of Mopsuestia, followed by his disciple Nestorius, deviated from the truth in believing in a mere prosopic union of the two natures of Jesus Christ rather than the accepted doctrine of the hypostatic union. The confusion stemmed from the fact that translations of “prosopon” and “hypostasis” in the Greek equated to “person”, despite that a more correct translation of “prosopon” is “face”. It then follows, that “prosopon” is the form in which “hypostasis” appears (Grillmeier, 1975: 431).

 

Figure 1. Christological perspectives on the two natures of Christ adapted from Tyra (2013: 99).

Caption: The doctrine of the hypostatic union is shown at centre. Deviating from this centrist view, believers then fall into heresy emphasising the one nature position, declaring to varying degrees the denial of Christ’s humanity (e.g. Arianism) or the denial of Christ’s divinity (e.g. Apollinarianism).

 

In hypostatic union is the belief in a perfect and harmonious union of “two distinct but never separate natures” (Olson, 2002: 230). There is a communicatio idiomatum (characteristics) of the one nature to the other. We can say that the God-man thirsted, hungered, suffered and died and that he was all-wise, all-powerful, all-omniscient at the very same time. It is why Saint Athanasius the Great (c. 296–373) has written that the Son of God “…became man so that we might become God” (Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.34) . It is this doctrine of divinization, deification, theosis, that provides humans with divine grace (atonement) toward the possibility of everlasting life (Bartos, 1999: 174). In the second century, Saint Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 130–202) similarly said that God "became what we are in order to make us what he is himself" (Against Heresies, Book V), and then again, “If the Word became a man, It was so men may become gods” (Against Heresies, Book V). Saint Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215), similarly wrote: "Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god." (Exhortation to the Greeks, 1).

As Saint John Damascene (676-c. 754) put it so eloquently: “Whatever Christ said and did, He did so as the God-man, and all His actions and deeds were theandric… “He did not execute the human humanly for He was not only man but also God; nor did He execute the divine divinely, for He was not only God but also man” (Tyneh, 2003: 67f). No matter how hard theologians have tried to provide explanation, the hypostatic union remains a great divine mystery, “transcendent to our rational categories” (Baker, 2015). Tyra (2013: 97f) concurs that this was intentional as a “paradoxical protection of the mystery against rationalising explanations that effectively destroy the mystery”. It is clear from their contributions that the Early Church Fathers, spent considerable time concerned with refuting heresy, and in so doing articulated their position. It was in the Ecumenical Councils, one by one, that declarations became established and recognised as Christian doctrine and Dogmatic theology was formed. “The hypostatic union in Christ achieved an absolute proximity and communion of man and God, at the same time becoming the model and the power for the moral unity between man and God” (Bartos, 1999: 174). This mystery is what grants man the hope of eternal life, and cannot be scrutinised through deeper levels of logical reasoning for it would otherwise not be a mystery at all. It is also the very reason, why some Christian flocks have fallen into heresy to this day; the same errors repeating themselves over and over again in various guises throughout the centuries. When individuals take matters into their own hands, and proclaim to be above the consensus patrum, they will inevitably err, taking their followers with them. It is for this reason we must cling to the doctrines formed during the Ecumenical Councils.

 

References

Baker M. (2015) T.F. Torrance and Eastern Orthodoxy: Theology in Reconciliation, USA: WipfandStock.

Bartos E. (1999) Deification in Eastern Orthodox Theology, Milton Keyes: Paternoster Press.

Cross FL. (2005) Heresy. In: Cross FL and Livingstone EA (eds) Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Erickson MJ. (1966) The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology, New York: Baker Book House.

Grillmeier A. (1975) Christ in Christian Tradition: from the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451), Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Haldon JA. (1966a) Apollinarianism. In: Haldon JA (ed) Modern Catholic Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 33.

Haldon JA. (1966b) Arianism. In: John A. Haldon SJ (ed) Modern Catholic Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 41.

Macleod D. (1998) The Person of Christ, Nottingham: SPCK Publishing.

McDonald HD. (1975) Development and Christology. Vox Evangelica 9: 5-27.

Olson RE. (2002) The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Rausch TP. (2003) Who is Jesus?: An Introduction to Christology, Minnesota: Liturgical Press.

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.34.

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies (Book V). Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103500.htm.

Schaff P. (1894) A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, and Practical Theology, Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls.

Schaff P. (1910) History of the Christian Church (Vol. III. Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity), 124, Michigan: Eerdmans.

Socrates. (2017) Division begins in the Church from this Controversy; and Alexander Bishop of Alexandria excommunicates Arius and his Adherents. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf202.ii.iv.vi.html.

The First Council of Nicaea. (325) The Nicene Creed. Nicaea.

Thomsett MC. (2011) Heresy in the Roman Catholic Church: A History, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

Tyneh CS. (2003) Orthodox Christianity: Overview and Bibliography, New York: Nova Publishers.

Tyra G. (2013) A missional orthodoxy: theology and ministry in a post-Christian context, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Wesche KP. (1984) The Union of God and Man in Jesus Christ in the Thought of Gregory of Nazianzus. St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 28: 83-98.

 

Christian Theology (Millard Erickson, 1985)

Christological Heresies


Heresies Regarding Christ’s Deity
• Heresies which deny the genuinenss of Christ’s deity: Ebionism (1)
• Heresies which deny the completeness of Christ’s deity: Arianism (2)

Heresies Regarding Christ’s Humanity
• Heresies which deny the genuineness of Christ’s humanity: Docetism (3)
• Heresies which deny the completeness of Christ’s humanity: Apollinarianism (4)

Heresies which divide Christ’s person: Nestorianism (5)

Heresies which confuse Christ’s natures: Eutychianism (6)

Ebionism (1): An early heresy stemming from some Jewish Christian circles (Ebionite was the Hebrew word for “poor”; these may have been poor Jewish Christians). Strongly monotheistic, they denied that Jesus was God, rejected the virgin birth, and believed Jesus was born naturally. He was human but possessed of unusual gifts. They believed God’s power descended on him in a special way at his baptism.

Arianism (2): Named after Arius of Alexandria, a presbyter whose views were condemned by Athanasius and others at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Saw God as absolutely unique and transcendent (inflexible monotheism). They believed God alone possesses attributes of deity; to share these with anyone would be to render God less than divine. Everything besides God is created and temporal. The Word was a created being, though the first and highest created being. He was a demigod, an intermediate being, not God (this is the
theology of modern-day Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Docetism (3): Docetism is based on the Greek word for “seem” or “appear”--Jesus only seemed or appeared to be human; in reality he was God. An early heresy strongly influenced by Greek dualism which saw the invisible spiritual things as good, the visible, fleshly things as evil.

Apollinarianism (4): The views of Apollinarius, a close friend and associate of Athanasius, the leading champion of orthodox Christology (the one who defeated Arius at the Council of Nicea). He saw Jesus as a compound unity: some of Jesus was human, the rest was divine. Jesus was physically human, but psychologically divine (the divine Word took the place of his human soul). This view was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381.

Nestorianism (5): Named after Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople in 428. Nestorius had trouble with the idea that the divine and human natures were united in one person in Christ (he felt this obscured them both). He preferred to see them as a conjunction, operating in stages of Christ’s life, or distinctly side-by-side. This tended to divide the natures of Christ, render him somewhat schizophrenic.

Eutychianism (6): Eutyches, an elderly church leader in the 440s, apparently sought to counter Nestorius’s division of Christ by teaching the “one nature” formula. He saw Jesus’s humanity as completely absorbed into his divinity. A variant of this taught that Jesus’s nature was a hybrid of divine and human, and therefore a third, altogether new nature.

More here

CF103 Lecturers

Mary Cunningham is a lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Nottingham. She completed her MA at the Centre for Byzantine Studies at the University of Birmingham in England, where she later received her PhD, with a thesis on the eighth-century Byzantine preacher and hymnographer, Andrew of Crete. In 2002 she published her work: Faith in the Byzantine World. Further details about her research you can find here

 

 

 

 

Dr Marcus Plested is Vice-Principal and Academic Director of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. He took his doctorate from Oxford in 1999 with a thesis on the Macarian Homilies supervised by Bishop Kallistos (Ware). Dr Plested has taught, lectured, and published widely in the field of Orthodox Christian studies. His most recent book is The Macarian Legacy: The Place of Macarius-Symeon in the Eastern Christian Tradition (Oxford: OUP 2004).

The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS) has brought together some of the world's leading scholars in their respective fields of expertise. Reading the brief biographies of my instructors is humbling, in so many ways. I admire their scholarship, and feel very fortunate to be listening to their lectures via distance learning.

CF103 Lecture Summaries - Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology I

Overview

  • To introduce students to the concept and theology of the Trinity and the theology of the person of Christ and their development in the Christian Church from the apostolic period through the fifth century A.D.
  • The course will focus both on the development of doctrine and on the ways in which the Trinity was understood and experienced by Christians in this period. The course will also explore the formulation of Christian belief in the first four Ecumenical Councils and introduce selected aspects of the importance and significance of these doctrines in the later Orthodox tradition.
  • It will explore the manner in which intellectual and religious controversies forced Christian thinkers to formulate a definition of the Trinity, which was expressed formally in the creeds of Nicaea (325 A.D.) and Constantine

On completion of the module, students should be able to:

  • Understand the importance of a ‘rule of faith’, or doctrinal creed, in the early Christian Church.
  • Realize the significance of the Ecumenical Councils in formulating the doctrine.
  • Discuss some of the key differences between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox formulations of the creed in relation to the Holy Trinity.
  • Have a grasp of the development of Trinitarian doctrine in the early Church.
  • Recognize the importance of the formulation of doctrine for later Church history and for the Orthodox Church today.

Knowledge and understanding:

• knowledge of the lineaments of Orthodox Trinitarian and Christological doctrine
• understanding of the historical dimension of the articulation of Christian doctrine
• familiarity with selected key theologians of the early Church
• knowledge and understanding of the first four Ecumenical Councils

 

Lecture 1 - Christian understanding of the Trinity in the New Testament and Sub-Apostolic periods 

Key Sources

  • Dr Mary Cunningham's Lecture
  • Handout for the study of Holy Trinity in the NT
  • Fr Boris Bobrinskoy: The Holy Spirit in the Church
  • The Apostolic Fathers: Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus (pp.5-42; 116-120, 129-132, 141-149; 244-304; 508-903)

 

Lecture 2 - Further development of Trinitarian doctrine in the late Second and Third Centuries A.D.

Key Sources

  • Dr Mary Cunningham's Lecture Handout
  • St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon- The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching
  • Origen (esp. pp,422-449)
  • Audio file- Metropolitan Kallistos on Orthodox Approaches to the Trinitarian Theology before and after Nicea
  • Origen's "Philokalia" (with a schematic representation of Origen's Theory of Interpretation)
  • Karen Jo Torjesen, Hermeneutical procedure and theological method in Origen's exegesis (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1986), pp. 108-149.

 

Lecture 3 - Arius, Athanasius, and the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) 

Key Sources

 

Lecture 4 - The Cappadocian Fathers and the Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.) 

Key Sources

 

Lecture 5 - The Christology of the first four centuries

Key Sources

  • Handout for the Lecture by Dr Marcus Plested
  • Grillmeier: Christ in Christian Tradition
  • Placher: Truly Human-Truly Divine

 

Lecture 6 - The Christology of the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451)

Key Sources

  • Handout for Lecture on Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon- Dr Marcus Plested
  • Further Handout on the Lecture (Dr Marcus Plested)
  • Dr Marcus Plested- Eutychianism
  • Hall: Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church
  • Fr John Meyendorff: Christ in Eastern Christian Thought
  • Chadwick: The Early Church
  • Metropolitan John of Pergamon (Zizioulas)- Christology

 

Lecture 7 - Optional Resources

My Next Course: CF103 Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology I

I realised yesterday that it was the 1st of February- anticipating my next course in my Certificate Studies, which will be the first of two courses on Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology. My personalised email from IOCS arrived overnight given the time zone differences with the UK. As I awoke and got down the long list of emails once at my desk, the last one I got to was the welcome message for CF103. I caught myself smiling and shared with my husband later what an incredible thing it is to do something you have always wanted to! I quickly scanned the assessment questions to get a feel for where this course was headed, and also looked at the 8 lecture delivery and recommended readings. I would identify my reading level in this area as very basic. I am going to have to do so much reading- I can tell- but I am so looking forward to the learning journey once again.

The few things that come to mind in worship however, are how often as Orthodox Christians we remember Christ as fully God and fully man, and also do the sign of the Cross by saying "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit" in prayer and liturgical services. 

 

 

 

CF102 Lecture Summaries - The Gospels

The John Rylands Fragment John 18:31-33 (117-138 AD). The earliest known copy of any portion of the New Testament is from a papyrus codex (2.5 by 3.5 inches). It dates from the first half of the second century A.D. 117-138. (P.52)The papyrus is written on both sides and contains portions of five verses from the gospel of John (18:31-33,37-38). Because this fragment was found in Egypt a distance from the place of composition (Asia Minor) it demonstrates the chain of transmission. The fragment belongs to the John Rylands Library at Manchester, England.

The John Rylands Fragment John 18:31-33 (117-138 AD). The earliest known copy of any portion of the New Testament is from a papyrus codex (2.5 by 3.5 inches). It dates from the first half of the second century A.D. 117-138. (P.52)The papyrus is written on both sides and contains portions of five verses from the gospel of John (18:31-33,37-38). Because this fragment was found in Egypt a distance from the place of composition (Asia Minor) it demonstrates the chain of transmission. The fragment belongs to the John Rylands Library at Manchester, England.

Overview

This module explores the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel according to St John from an Orthodox perspective, with the intention of enabling students to develop an understanding of the historical context and theology(ies) of the Synoptic Gospels and that of St John.

The module aims to dedicate particular attention to understanding the writings of Evangelist John within the Orthodox tradition. It intends to do this by identifying and reflecting on some of the principal theological themes and questions of the Johannine writings.

Finally, the module will entertain the question how can modern biblical scholarship be useful to Christian believers wishing to grow closer to the Gospel text.

Lecture 1 - The Synoptic Gospels: Introduction

Students are introduced into the question of how Gospels should be studied. We touch on such methods as form criticism, narrative criticism. Special attention is given to the so-called “Synoptic Problem”. These methods are critically exposed in the light of an Orthodox approach.

Required Study:

Sanders and Davies: Studying the Synoptic Gospels
Stanton: The Gospels and Jesus
Fr John Florovsky: Bible Church Tradition (Chapter 1)
Fr John Breck: Orthodoxy and the Bible Today
Fr Demetrios Bathrellos: The Eastern Orthodox Tradition for Today and the Bible
Vesselin Kesich: The Gospel Image of Christ (Chapter 2)
Fr George Florovsky: The Lost Scriptural Mind
Fr George Florovsky: The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church

Key Sources:

  • Stanton Graham, The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford, 1989).
  • Sanders E.P. and Davies M., Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London, 1989).
  • Tuckett, C. M. (ed.) Synoptic Studies (Sheffield, 1984).

 

Lecture 2 - The Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of St Matthew is examined in a way that focuses on its treatment of the Jewish roots of Christianity. Students will be introduced to an Orthodox approach to Matthean theology: how does Christ “fulfil the Law and the Prophets” according to St Matthew?

Key Sources:

  • Kingsbury, J.D., Matthew: Structure, Christology, and Kingdom (London, 1976)
  • Meier J. P., The Vision of Matthew: Christ, Church and Morality in the First Gospel (New York, 1979)
  • Hill D., The Gospel of Matthew (London, 1972).
  • Beare F.W., The Gospel according to Matthew (Oxford, 1981).

 

Lecture 3 - The Gospel of Mark

The lecture studies theological traits of St Mark’s account, attempting in an Orthodox way to answer questions raised by modern scholarship, such as the so-called Messianic secret (W. Wrede) and others.

Key Sources:

  • Best E., Mark — the Gospel as Story (Edinburgh 1983).
  • Best E., Following Jesus: Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark (Sheffield, 1981)
  • Hooker M., The Message of Mark (London, 1983)
  • Nineham D. E., The Gospel of St Mark (Harmondsworth, 1963).
  • Schweizer E., The Good News according to Mark (London, 1971).

 

Lecture 4 - The Gospel of Luke

Major theological themes of St Luke’s Gospel are examined, such as St Luke’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit, his universalism, his view of history, as well as his concern for women, the poor, outcasts and sinners.

Stanton: The Gospels and Jesus

Key Sources:

  • Barrett C. K., Luke the Historian in Recent Study (London, 1961).
  • Conzelmann H., The Theology of St Luke (London, 1960).
  • Marshall I.H., Luke, Historian and Theologian (Exeter, 1970).
  • Caird G.B., Saint Luke (Harmondsworth, 1963).
  • Firzmayer J. A., The Gospel according to Luke (New York, 1981-1985).

 

Lecture 5a - The Parables

Why did Christ speak in parables? The lecture examines this main form of Christ’s teaching. We shall look for an Orthodox answer to the question of the purpose and nature of Christ’s parables.

  • Dodd C. H., The Parables of the Kingdom (London, 1935).
  • Drury J., The Parables in the Gospels (London, 1985).
  • Jeremias J., The Parables of Jesus (London, 1963).
  • Hendrickx H., The Parables of Jesus (London, 1986).
  • Breech J., The Silence of Jesus. The Authentic Voice of the Historical Man (Philadelphia 1983)
  • Jones G. V., The Art and Truth of the Parables : a Study in Their Literary Form and Modern Interpretation (London, 1964)

Lecture 5b- Miracles

We also consider the theological function of Christ’s miracles as it is understood by the Synoptic writers. 

 

Lecture 6 - The Synoptic Gospels - Eschatology

The lecture introduces students to the field of recent biblical studies on St John. It considers the methods of the historical approach such as form and redaction criticism, as well as narrative criticism, with particular attention to the theories about Johannine community developed by R. Brown and L. Martyn. The critical evaluation of these methods from the Orthodox point of view produces a set of assumptions essential for an Orthodox approach to the Gospel.

Key Sources:

  • Moore A.L., The Parousia in the New Testament (Leiden, 1966).
  • Culmann O., Salvation in History (London, 1967).
  • Conzelmann H., The Theology of St Luke (London, 1960)
  • Meier J. P., Matthew (1985)

 

Lecture 7 - The Gospel of John

This presentation briefly explores Incarnational Christology (with particular attention to the Prologue and concept of the Logos), and highlights the intensive Johannine interest in the personhood of Christ, focusing on the concept of the “Lamb of God”. It further examines the “relational” aspect of Johannine Christology and Triadology (the concept of the Paraclete receives special attention). 

Key Sources:

  • Kysar R., The Maverick Gospel (Atlanta, 1993).
  • Koester C. R., Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel (Minneapolis, 2003).
  • Lindars Barnabas, John (Sheffield, 1990).
  • Smailey S., John – Evangelist and Interpreter (Exeter, 1983).

 

Lecture 8 - The Christology of John's Gospel

Here we look at Johannine ethics with their focus on “personalistic righteousness”, thus explaining the difference of presentation when compared with the Synoptic Gospels. It focuses on St John’s language of stories and personages, which serve as hypostatic paradigms. It further examines the paradigms of righteousness and discipleship (Peter, Beloved Disciple) and the paradigmatic presentation of sin (Judas, the Jews).

Key Sources:

  • Smith D. M., The Theology of the Gospel of John (Cambridge, 1995).
  • Ashton J., Studying John: Approaches to the Fourth Gospel (Oxford, 1998)

 

Chester Beatty Papyri (250 AD). This important papyri consists of three codices and contains most of the New Testament. (P.45, P.46, P.47). The first codex(P.45) has 30 leaves (pages) of papyrus codex. 2 from Matthew, 2 from John, 6 from Mark, 7 from Luke and 13 from Acts. Originally there were 220 pages measuring 8x10 inches each. (P.46)The second codex has 86 leaves 11x6.5 inches. 104 pages of Paul’s epistles. P.47 is made of 10 leaves from Revelation measuring 9.5 by 5.5 inches.

Chester Beatty Papyri (250 AD). This important papyri consists of three codices and contains most of the New Testament. (P.45, P.46, P.47). The first codex(P.45) has 30 leaves (pages) of papyrus codex. 2 from Matthew, 2 from John, 6 from Mark, 7 from Luke and 13 from Acts. Originally there were 220 pages measuring 8x10 inches each. (P.46)The second codex has 86 leaves 11x6.5 inches. 104 pages of Paul’s epistles. P.47 is made of 10 leaves from Revelation measuring 9.5 by 5.5 inches.

Lecture 9 - Language of the Person, Hypostasis in the Gospel of John

This lecture highlights the fundamental significance of the human person and personal relationship in St John’s kerygma. From this perspective the central concepts of “πιστεύειν”, “eternal life”, “flesh and spirit” are examined . It further focuses on St John’s ethics of interpersonal relationship with particular attention to chapter 17 and the epistles. 

  • Prof. Panagiotis Nellas: Why Did God Become Man? The Archetype of Humanity is the Incarnate Word

Key Sources:

  • Brown R., The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York, 1979).
  • Martyn L., History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (Nashville, 1979).

 

Lecture 10 - St John's Gospel - The genesis of persona: Johannine anthropology

In focus here are some questions raised by modern biblical studies concerning the ecclesiological and sacramental perspectives in St John, as well as the significance and function of Christ’s symbolic actions and miracles in the 4th Gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Learning Statement - CF102 The Gospels

1. What do you think you have gained from the course?

This term I completed the unit, The Gospels (CF102). I feel like I learnt so much in such a very short space of time (circa 2 months of continuous study, several hours per day on average). I have attempted to document this end-to-end learning journey on my personal web site. These snippets include, my notes from the lectures, sources for my essay on parables, key definitions I thought I should document over time, key software and online systems to help with studying the Bible and much more.

The two main things I gained from this course are:

a. Knowledge of The Gospels and their contents, especially how the background setting of each evangelist may have affected how they wrote their gospel for their specific outreach communities (e.g. Matthew for outreach to the Jewish community, often quoting from the Old Testament). Also the difference between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John in style (Jesus teaches the crowds using parables in the Synoptic Gospels, and Saint John instead provides accounts of where Jesus meets individuals one-to-one, i.e., universal typologies), the role of miracles in the early church, and the introduction of the hypostatic paradigm, and the device of antinomy and paradox throughout the Gospels. I enjoyed the focus on each Gospel and corresponding evangelist, and then several weeks on John the evangelist, christology, the person and finally anthropological aspects. I especially appreciated understanding more about the way that modern scholars conduct biblical criticism as opposed to the way the Early Church Fathers focus more on content of the Scriptures than form.

b. Even greater faith in the Euaggelion as the inspired word of God. In studying, for instance, the Parables, I see how unique Christ's teachings are, in form, in content, in layered meaning- literal, moral and spiritual. I have found myself in continual amazement over God's gifts to us. I have wanted so much, especially in the morning and before going to sleep, to consider Christ, and to pray to Him as the living God, even more convinced of His eternal presence. I have also come to a closer more intimate awareness through the Gospel of John of Trinitarian theology and can better detect passages that signify intercommunion between the divine members of the Holy Trinity.

2. Please comment on any unanticipated outcomes of the course.

I have persistently been challenged by this course- yes, knowledge is important, but of greater importance is a stable prayer life, and acquiring the mindfulness of the Fathers. As I researched deeply into the topic I had chosen to be assessed in, I realised how much more important the acquisition of spiritual lessons embedded in our life is (e.g. the lessons of the parables) beyond creating an exhaustive library of reference citations for my essay in a worldly sense. The continual challenge for me personally will be to excel in my studies at IOC but at the same time to strive to cultivate harmony in all other aspects of my life to the best of my ability. It is perhaps why I so much appreciated the 10 lectures delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. He struck a fine balance between the content we should be introduced to given our candidature and the required knowledge to understand various approaches to the Bible WITH beautiful stories from the Fathers and Mothers of our Church. This was exactly what I looked forward to while I listened to the lectures again and again -- hardcore content of biblical studies, intermingled with learnings from stories that have been passed down from generation to generation and documented in the lives of the Saints. 

3. Did your course change your view of the topic, and if so, in what way?

I did not exactly understand the place of the "person" prior to this course as I had not really thought about it too carefully, outside a human rights context.

I also came to a better understanding on the structure of the Gospels, whereas previously I would not query for instance, why accounts differed one to the other, and why one Gospel included more detail than the other.

I thought the discussion on the formation of the Canon was also critical. In addition, the importance of interpreting Scripture using the consensus patrum and not one's own ideas.

4. Please use this space if you wish to comment further on the academic experience of your course

This course is set out so well using the online learning platform. The lectures by Rev. Dr. Nikolai are treasures. He makes such complex things so simple to understand, is so thorough, and a pleasure to listen and learn from. A lot of material is covered in a single lecture. I found the weekly meetings with Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft to be highly complementary to my learning- he was a wonderful guide and every interaction on group chat was something I looked forward to at 6am. The materials provided of required reading and recommended reading links were excellent. I found myself more comfortable with the intensive mode of delivery, going through the lectures back to back, and then re-playing them again. This experience has been such a positive start that I cannot wait for the next course to begin.

Why Did Christ Speak in Parables? An Essay by Katina Michael (Final Submission)

Below is the final version of my draft essay. I received very positive feedback after my draft submission, but also some critical changes to be made before final submission. I tried my best to address these as per the suggestions of my tutor. I gained so much from taking this final redraft process seriously. My thanks to my tutor Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft for his guidance and time in extensive feedback provided. In many ways I almost felt this was like a peer review of my paper, and I likewise responded by addressing a line by line list of corrections made.

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This paper explores why Christ spoke in parables in the context of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The word parable, means “putting things side by side”. In the Synoptic Gospels, official parables number thirty, however this number varies depending on the criteria for accepting a passage of New Testament (NT) Scripture as a standalone parable. Importantly, a parable should not be confused with mashal, which is to be found in the Old Testament, and which contained only a single message. The parables of Christ are rich in form and content in the Synoptic Gospels and lend themselves to being interpreted allegorically, as well as literally. In the Gospel of John, Christ’s parables are presented using hypostatic language. Somehow Christ is able to reach out to the crowds who have come to hear Him, using only simple stories they could grasp that were contextually set in everyday life. And yet at once the listener who stood among the masses could place himself or herself typologically within the parable; free to choose whether they would follow the Great Storyteller or would resist His message (Beavis 2001, p. 3). Christ’s parables are universal, they have traversed space and time, they are equally relevant today as they were over 2000 years ago. Plainly, Christ wished to ensure that everyone who heard him teach could comprehend his profound message and come to the realisation of the state of their personhood with a clear way forward toward salvation. I intend to prove that the parables of Christ are the basis of Christian ethical judgement, and not merely explicit didacticism. This paper is broken into five parts: definitional; biblical sources; Early Church Fathers; modern scholarship; and discussion.

Parable as Allegory in Context of the NT

The word parable (the Greek root-word παραβολή [Gk], parabole) means “comparison”, and was the manner in which the primitive Christian Church described the stories that Christ used to illustrate his teachings (Potapov 2000). According to Victor Potapov (2000), "a parable is a spiritual lesson of a story developed by comparison to everyday life. The Lord's parables draw memorable details from nature, human, social, economic, or religious life of His time." A parable is similar to an allegory, although the latter usually denotes a more detailed comparison of elements of a tale (Tasker 1962, p. 932). There is no doubt among Eastern Orthodox scholars, that the parables of the New Testament were allegories and lent themselves to allegorical interpretation demonstrated by Christ Himself and the Fathers of the Church. Christ masterfully uses vivid images from everyday life to ensure the listener has every opportunity to connect with spiritual truth in a life-long manner (Beavis 2001, p. 11).

At various times in one’s life, the parables might take on layered meaning, or dependent on the state of the penitent, he or she may find himself or herself as one or more of the characters depicted. For example, in the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Christian might find himself in the role of the forgiving father, the repentant younger son, or the older son. The ultimate language of the parables is not one of coercion but love and freedom. Somehow the listener/ reader of the parables of the New Testament is led to a place of self-confrontation (Kirkwood 1983, p. 59), awareness and logical conclusion, that the only means of salvation is through love in action.

In examining Scripture, Christ answers the question posed by the disciples: “Why do You speak to them in parables?” (Matt. 13:10) explicitly in the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:10-17; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:9-10).

10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; 15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it?

Matt. 13:10-17

 

Despite the seeming simplicity of the stories through which Christ revealed deep spiritual truths, it was those innocent at heart, whose soul was ready to accept the light shining forth, who understood what Christ taught (Orthodox Study Bible 1991, p. 37) and who were given to “know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees who were present in the large crowds, and who were highly educated, were hard of heart, so did not “see” and did not “perceive”, and could not “hear” and had not “understanding” (Matt. 13:13) (Marshall 1978, p. 321, 323).

The result of the Pharisaic blindness and deafness was that they would remain in their sin, while the faithful who repented were open to the good news of the Kingdom of God (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 93; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). Christ relies on the parabolic approach to minister to the crowds, “but to those who are outside, all things come in parables” (Matt. 13:11-12). Yet he emphasised, even to the disciples (Marshall 1978, p. 318 citing Schürmann 1976), that if they could not comprehend even this parable, then how were they to understand the rest (Matt. 13:13). It is important to note, that Christ does not deliberately make people unreceptive to His message, rather it is individual persons who must take responsibility for being insensitive to the truth (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38). It was also this form of teaching that allowed Christ to execute the divine plan without a premature arrest by the authorities. The sacred parables then, served three distinct purposes, namely: “to reveal, to conceal, and to perpetuate” (Whedon 1874, p. 163).

What is at stake here for those who have shunned the light? While the Parable of the Sower only appears in the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John adopts the language of hypostatic paradigms. While John’s style of writing differs from that of the Synoptics, the message is the same. Only, in John, the dialogue between Christ and a representative typology through a given individual (i.e. paroimiai 'figures') becomes the hypostatic parable. Consider Christ’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. After explaining to Nicodemus that he must be “born again” (John 3:3), Nicodemus is confused (John 3:4). Christ questions him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (John 3:10). And again, “if I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). Compare this passage of Scripture with “all things come in parables” (Mark 4:11). John’s form of “parables” are recorded using a different style, to emphasise one’s personal relationship with Christ, and demonstrate that the faithful need spiritual eyes and ears to comprehend the multiple layers of meaning in the parabolic method we find in the Synoptic Gospels (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38), and in this way come to know God intimately.

The Early Church Fathers on Interpreting the Parables

Certainly the Early Church Fathers interpreted the parables using the allegorical method (Stein 1981, p. 42; Papakosta 1929). And this method gained momentum over time and geographical expanse (Table 1). No doubt the Fathers were influenced by Christ’s own example. He offered a detailed explanation for the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:18-23; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 8:4-8). As Trench (1867, p. 15) noted, “as the allegory proceeds, the interpretation proceeds hand-in-hand with that, or, at least never falls far behind.” There is also strong speculation that the allegorical method, was already popularised through the heroes of Homer, making it a “ready-made tool” which could be applied to the Scriptures (Stein, 1981, p. 43). But why the form of a parable?

Table 1 Representative Early Church Fathers Who Allegorised the Parables

Caption: Descriptions are summarised and slightly adapted from Stein (1981, ch. 4) and Stavrianos (2012, pp. 29-48). For example, while the Early Church Fathers might have differed on identifying who the “robbers” were in the story of the Good Samaritan, they indeed all agreed that the Good Samaritan was none other than Christ Himself. For a comprehensive analysis of Patristic Thought with respect to The Good Samaritan, refer to Stavrianos (2012).

Parables provide an avenue for layered meanings- from the superficial experiences of every-day living (which must have come forth from Christ’s own exposure to various controversies), to the very deep spiritual layer where the believer is confronted with one’s own sin and through the parables finds a means to recalibrate his or her life to Christ. In many ways, Christ is delivering an ethical discourse using guiding principles, without well-defined direct commandments as found in the Old Testament, prevalent in Exodus 20:1-17 with the words “You shall not” and also in the exhaustive ritual, legal and moral practices described in Leviticus. Rather, Christ uses non-coercive language to bring the listener to a point in the transmission of the word of realisation, if their heart is open to the message of Christ.  As W.H. Auden has so magnificently put it: “You cannot tell people what to do, you can only tell them parables; …particular stories of particular people and experiences, from which each according to his immediate and peculiar needs may draw his own conclusions” (Bozorth 2005, p. 183). Christ’s parables are unique and allow for flexibility in allegorical interpretation throughout the ages, which is what makes them so accessible. In John’s Gospel, when the language of the “person” is instituted, and typological characters are presented to us in dialogue with Christ, every Christian is being encouraged to develop a deeper relationship with Christ the Son of God through the Parables. Yet for some, “the tradition of the early church is seen almost exclusively as something to be overcome” (Kingsbury 1972, p. 107, Sider 1983, p. 62).

Warnings Against Over-Elaborating the Parables

It should be emphasised however, that not all of the Early Church Fathers agreed with the extreme use of the allegorical method of interpretation. According to Stein (1981, p. 47): “Men like Isidore of Pelusium (360-435), Basil (ca. 329-379), Theodore of Mopsuestia (350?-428), and Chrysostom (349-407) protested against the allegorical method.” Stein quotes St. John Chrysostom who believed it was neither wise nor correct: “to inquire curiously into all things in parables word by word but when we have learnt the object for which it was composed, to read this, and not to busy oneself about anything further.” And Papadopoulos (1999, p. 108) noted that St. Chrysostom interprets the parables as “the elevation of the soul to the heavenly”. Perhaps Stein uses language that is too strong here, rather than “protest” he should have rather said, that Fathers like St. Basil and St. Chrysostom were more preoccupied with the whole message of the parable, than trying to tie back every word to a present context. For example, there were stark differences in the way that St. Augustine and Origen of Alexandria allegorised the interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (Caird 1980, p. 165). Had they gone too far? Possibly.

The interpreter should be wary of over-elaboration or over-simplification when it comes to the parables (Tasker 1962, p. 933).  But this does not mean we reject the allegorical interpretation that was always intended by Christ. For if allegory was missing, the Parables found in the New Testament would not have differed to those of the Old Testament, they would have been merely simple illustrations (e.g. 1 Sam. 24:13; Ezekiel 18:2-3). Rightly, St. Chrysostom of Constantinople who was from the Antiochian School, was resistant to “flights of fancy,” preferring to discern the scope and purpose for each parable, rather than to “find a special significance in each circumstance or incident” (Unger 1980, p. 824). This does not mean however, that St. Chrysostom shied away from interpreting the Parables himself. See, for example, Homily XLV. Matt. XIII. 10, 11, where St. Chrysostom explains why the Pharisees did the very opposite to what Christ called the crowds to do: “not only disbelieving, not only not hearkening, but even waging war, and disposed to be very bitter against all” that Christ said, all because, “They heard heavily.” St. Gregory of Nyssa considered “allegorical interpretation necessary at points where symbolism or the words covered a deeper meaning”, and he also accepted the literal interpretation (Stavrianos 2012, p. 43). Even St. Basil of Caesarea wrote in the Hexaemeron VIII.2 (PG 29:188), as quoted by Stavrianos (2012, p. 44): “to take [just] the literal sense and stop there is to have the heart covered by the veil of Jewish literalism.”

The Rise and Impact of the New Hermeneutic

In 1888 Adolf Jülicher's two volume seminal work, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu was a major influence against the centuries-old tradition of allegorical interpretation of the Parables of Christ. Jülicher was more preoccupied with the form of parables, seeking “clear-cut definitions” of differences between parables, allegories, similes, and metaphors. He simply took the parables literally and stressed they only had one point of comparison, not many (Caird 1980, p. 161). C.H. Dodd (1935) who was then followed by J. Jeremias (1947) and A.M. Hunter (1958) “rejected Jülicher's moralistic interpretations in favour of the now generally accepted thesis that the parables had a particular reference to the ministry of Jesus and the crisis it inaugurated…” (Caird 1980, p. 162). In an attempt to develop and in some cases correct Jülicher’s claims, form criticism and redaction criticism scholarship in Germany, and literary-critical studies in the United States, have proliferated in the field of “new hermeneutics” (Blomberg 1991, pp. 50-55; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). As a result, there are now definitions abounding for different types of parables (e.g. simple simile, simple metaphors, simile story, metaphor story, example story). Stein (1994) beautifully, dedicates several chapters to the form of Jesus’s writings, and the parables, describing him as an “outstanding” and “exciting” teacher; a “personality” who was “authoritative”. He continues to describe that Christ used certain devices of language to attract attention from his audience, including exaggeration, hyperbole, ‘paronomasia’ (i.e. pun), simile, metaphor, riddles, paradox, fortiori statements, synonymous parallelism, and more (Stein 1994, pp. 7-24). The whole topic has become somewhat of a minefield if the critic is drawn in to the details of labelling. Perhaps about the only light to have come forth from all of this modern scholarship, is the uniqueness of the Parables of Christ in the Gospels. No matter how hard scholars have tried to encapsulate the formula used by Christ when speaking in Parables, they have found themselves in a tangle. They could have only been written by the Son of God (Lithgow 1907, p. 538). Scripture is the living Word, the text is dynamic and ever-changing, it is universal yet personal (Hogan 2016, pp. 119-120), and couched in history, all at the same time.

Modern Scholarship versus Early Christian Teaching on the Parables

It would be all too easy to dismiss the work of the modern scholars which has gone against the grain of tradition, as being written by those ‘who had eyes but could not see’. Jeremias lays blame for the state of parabolic interpretation with the “early Christian teachers” (Tasker 1962, p. 932). But even Stein (1994, p. 37) himself had to admit: “[i]t would appear that some parables possess undeniable allegorical elements” (e.g. the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matt. 22:1-14). Dodd, in particular, takes exception with the fact that Christian preachers today deliver sermons that are far removed from the original meaning/ function of the parable, as set in the time of Christ (i.e. Sitz em Leiben). Stavrianos (2012, p. 29), in his study of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) in Patristic thought, emphasises: “…even though the central truth of the parable remains the same, Christians in every era can adapt it to their reality, thus giving it new meaning and perspective.”

There is no doubt, that outside the confines of the established church, there are so-called preachers who teach falsehoods, for example, the so-named “prosperity gospel” whose message bears no relationship to what was intended by Christ. These are contemporary secular interpretations. St. Basil of Caesarea warned against those who would take Holy Scripture, and instead of using common sense for their explanations, use “fancy wishes… to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own end” (St. Basil quoted in Stavrianos 2012, p. 44). Of course, the Fathers seemingly would agree with Jülicher, that the "parables were intended to illustrate one truth only" (Tasker 1962, p. 932) but the Fathers would deviate in their belief, emphasising that each Parable consisted of multiple layers of the “one truth”. Consider a kernel and its shell; it is one object that contains several layers, despite that scholars such as Via and Crossan prefer the onion motif of layering (Parris 2002, pp. 34-37). As devoted Christians, the more layers uncovered, the closer the relationship hypostatically proceeds to Christ the Saviour.

Discussion on Why Christ Spoke in Parables

Christ Incarnate came to deliver His message by empathically placing Himself in the shoes of humans: “Jesus comes and stands where the hearer already stands" (Craddock 2002, pp. 88-89). His parables (i.e. teachings) were inextricably linked to His Person (Blomberg 1991, p. 74). Such was His love for humankind that he set his parables in everyday life, to captivate the imagination equally of the rich and poor man, the educated and uneducated, the respected and the outcast, the healthy and the sick. Whether tax collector, fallen or adulteress, Samaritan, Publican or farmer- all people are His Creation, and He went to great lengths, even descending from on high to reach all people, and to save all people, using accessible language. “He mixes the realistic with the extraordinary and improbable” (Via 1974, p. 105). He gives the hearer the freedom to manoeuvre (Peta Sherlock private comms cited in Goldingay 1995), to find the space required to make correction. It is a daily choice one makes whether or not to follow Him. Christ’s parables were not only prophetic in depicting how He Himself would suffer (Matt. 5:1-12; Barbu 2009, pp. 262-263) but somehow simultaneously represented universal contexts in which hearers could fully relate: “[d]ifferent facets also come home to individual hearers at different times in their lives; there is no once for all hearing of a story” (Goldingay 1995, p. 78).  A sound Orthodox Christian framework that can be followed for understanding why Christ spoke in parables is presented by Potapov (2000). He has written, Christ spoke in parables for three reasons: (1) to help listeners recall vivid images from ordinary life, and to ponder on the deeper message behind the allegory; (2) parables carried a double meaning and were deliberately indirect so that Christ could carry out the divine plan in full without being prematurely accused by the Pharisees; and (3) the parable format preserved the purity of Christ’s teachings.

Christ’s parables were comprehensible, accessible, and non-coercive. Christ spoke in parables so that everyone could understand His teachings. The parables are illustrations set in-context that help people to remember to love others, despite the preconceived stereotypes. Christ was not coercive. We the hearer of the Word, can place ourselves almost with certainty in the shoes of one or more of the characters depicted in the parable itself. At times, the penitent might feel convicted, for example in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, having sown seed by the wayside (v. 4), on stony places (v. 5), among thorns (v. 7) (Marshall 1978, p. 320). Christ spoke simply to give the masses a choice to believe in Him through faith. The unbelievers would not understand his parabolic message, because they maintained their unbelief through hardness of heart. G.A. Kennedy cited by Black (2000, p. 389), concurred with Potapov’s second point noting that Christ spoke in parables to ensure the divine plan would be completed without interruption. If the Pharisees would have detected his claim to being the Son of God, Christ would have been unable to continue preaching to the crowds freely.

Christ's parables are unique, beautiful, and moving to one's soul (Rindge 2014, p. 403). They are better than the finest poetry or music; artistic and imaginative. They often began or closed with rhetorical questions that Jesus Himself went on to answer, that “transforms the audience” by imagination (Rindge 2014, p. 408). Christ's parables stand apart from any other writing of its type: they are layered in meaning but maintain one truth. This shows the connection to allegory, and multiple meanings that can be derived from the same story- literal, moral and spiritual. Christ's parables are also universal, they have withstood the test of time and continue to be relevant (Hebrews 13:8), and applicable to all. Christ pierces the conscience and personal thoughts and heart of every person through the parables, and offers him a way toward personal and inner transfiguration (Barbu 2009, p. 262). So Christ might have preached to the masses only through the parabolic device, but inwardly, every individual would reflect on their personal state of spirituality. The believer is compelled to participate in God’s mystery, being drawn in to hear His word. For example, in Matthew 21:30-32, Christ asks rhetorically: "Which of the two did the will of his father?” Each individual knows in his/ her heart, which did the will of his father, despite that the outcome is paradoxical and antinomic. In the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) the hero is the son who repented, not the second son who seemingly never sinned because he did not take his father's inheritance squandering it away in the world like the prodigal. This approach turns things upside down but does so legitimately. There is hope for even the greatest sinner. Are we willing to believe and grow in faith?

Conclusion

While modern parabolic scholarship (e.g. form criticism and literary-critical studies) has been at odds with the tradition as recorded by the Early Church Fathers, there are two main points of agreement. First, that in fact some of the Parables are truly meant as “allegories” in the technical literary sense, and second, each parable has a single truth, though the Fathers would contend there are multiple layers of the one truth to be extracted at face value, in moral value and spiritual, among other perspectives. The warnings of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great should be heeded when the Parables of Jesus are over-elaborated but at the same time Christ’s example is altogether present in the Scriptures. In this paper, the Parable of the Sower was used to illustrate “allegory in action”, and here is found Christ’s own example of explaining what He Himself meant by the story. While the Parables are easily recognisable in the Synoptic Gospels, there are numerous examples of parables present in the Gospel of John. The technique however in John’s writing, seems juxtaposed against the writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke the evangelists. In the Synoptics, Christ speaks to the crowds in Parables and then each has the choice of whether or not to apply these principles to themselves personally. In the Gospel of John, rather, we see “encounters” between Christ and typological figures (e.g. the Good Samaritan) that then can be used to represent universal principles. The Parables are the basis for Christian Ethics despite that they are never made explicit, hearers who wish to come to a closer knowledge of God and enter a deeper personal relationship with Him, are led to a place of everlasting love.

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Papakosta S. (1929) The Parables of the Lord, Athens: Zoe.

Parris DP. (2002) Imitating the Parables: Allegory, Narrative and the Role of Mimesis. Journal for the Study of the New Testament 25: 33-53.

Potapov V. (August 6, 2000) Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary. Available at: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/parables_potapov.htm.

Rindge MS. (2014) Luke’s Artistic Parables: Narratives of Subversion, Imagination, and Transformation. Interpretation: Journal of Bible and Theology 68: 403-415.

Schürmann, H. (1976) Das Evangelium Lukas, Berlin.

Sider JW. (1983) Rediscovering the Parables: the Logic of the Jeremias Tradition. Journal of Biblical Literature 102: 61-83.

Stavrianos K. (2012) The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Patristic Thought. Greek Orthodox Theological Review 57: 1-4.

Stein RH. (1981) An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Stein RH. (1994) The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

Tasker RVG. (1962) Parables. In: Bruce FF, Tasker RVG, Packer JJ, et al. (eds) The New Bible Dictionary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 932-934.

Trench RC. (1867) Notes on the Parables, New York: D. Appleton & Company.

Unger MF. (1957) Parable. Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody Press.

Via O. (1974) The Parables: Their Literary and Existential Dimension, Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Whedon DD. (1874) A Popular Commentary on the New Testament, London: Hodder & Stoughton.

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