Frequent words appearing in the Divine Liturgy include: Lord, God, Son, Amen, Holy Spirit, Christ, Master, Theotokos, holy, ages, mercy, glory, pray, life, grace, sins, peace, blessed, pure, saints, offer, people, love, precious, glorious, souls, heaven, salvation, praise.
These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.
Luke's Gospel received particular popularity in modern times. Why? The reason behind this is perhaps this is the most inward Gospel, Jesus the man is in the focus. Luke is very sensitive to our concerns, Luke speaks about the role of women, people on the fringes of society, the poor and destitute, tax collectors, sinners et cetera.
In addition exclusively we read here on the parable of the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the rich man Lazarus et cetera. So we may say that essential and the evangelists has shaped our church dogmatically, Luke has shaped Christianity in a popular and accessible way.
the uniform belief of the ancient church, is that it was Luke the physician that was the author of the Gospel of Luke. This is the same Luke the Paul mentions in Colossians, who is his companion. In 2008 a new theory appeared, that it was Luke the priest not a doctor that was the author. But then we have an early Christian writings, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, I Origen, Jerome, so we do know that he was Luke the doctor. And in fact there is a great deal of support they was Luke the doctor. There was a book by William Holbert, which analysed the medical language in the Gospel of Luke.
Luke probably wrote his gospel between 80 – 85 A.D, not far from the time that Matthew wrote his gospel. They both responded to this common situation when the vast majority of Jewish people had rejected the Gospel of Christ, and its future seems to lie with the Gentiles.
One of the reasons for the popularity of Luke's Gospel was its style. His writings are very close to poetry. If you look at our orthodox services, quite a few liturgical texts, are taken from the Gospel of Luke. For example the Magnificat "my soul does magnify the Lord", and elsewhere "let now thy servants depart in peace". We read this prayer in our Vespers.
There are other features that are endearing in this gospel. Luke brings the message of Christ down to earth as it were. He immerses the good news into the realm of history of mankind. It is because of mainly sent Luke that we cannot apply this fashionable word myth to the story of Jesus. Because to St Luke, Christ is not a myth, he is a person who worked and acted in history. And to ground this Christ event further, into history of mankind, he wrote a sequel to his gospel, the acts of the apostle. Perhaps you know, that sent Luke's Gospel and the acts of the Apostles were one and the same document and they were divided into two sections 1 the Gospel of Luke and one the acts of the apostle, by the early church. But for sent Luke, in his writing, it was one and the same event. The coming of Christ, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles and Christ disciples and their mission to the world was one and the same event.
Thematic approach to the Gospel of Luke
The very first theme is a very obvious one, this perspective in sent Luke, that moves all the acts of Christ towards the greatest event the Pentecost. The Gospel actually finishes of how the apostles remained in the temple waiting for the Holy Spirit, the outpouring. So it is no coincidence that some of the scholars describe the acts of the apostles, but the acts of the Holy Spirit. It is because of the activity of the Holy Spirit, the outpouring on the disciples. His last promise according to St Luke's Gospel, Jesus dispenses the spirit onto the disciples in chapter 24: "behold I send the promise of my father on you to sit in the seat of Jerusalem until you are clothed from power from on high".
If you look at the old Testament, you won't find many prophecies about Christ resurrection, or Christ's crucifixion. There are far more many prophecies about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is there that the heart of the Christ event lies. It is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is the result of Christ's ministry. The prophecies are the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We find in the Ezekiel chapter 36, and the prophet Jeremiah chapter 36.
For the Jews, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, meant that the final one has arrived. It was the final apocalyptic event. No wonder that, that the Gospels are classified in apocalyptic genre at times. Why is this a distress on the Holy Spirit? If we, go back to Adam, he was created, as the son of God. And where was the last reference to the "sons of God" in the Bible, before the coming of Christ? Yes it was with respect to the sons of men. So what does it mean, is that Adam who was the disciple by virtue of his position of the Holy Spirit has lost this Sonship through losing the Holy Spirit. Recollect when the Lord said, "my spirit shall no longer strive with man, given his corruptions for his flesh". So possession of the Holy Spirit meant Sonship with God. These ideas you'll find in most of the fathers, especially St Athanasius, St Cyril of Alexandria who equates possession of the Holy Spirit with divine Sonship. And what we have now in the Christ event, is that we see a human being, born of the Holy Spirit, and Adam is restored. This is so important for sent Luke, this concentration of this period bearing capacity of humankind.
Recollect how Luke opens the very first preaching of Christ. Christ says: "the spirit of the Lord is on me." If you compare how the Holy Spirit operated in the old Testament, and in the new Testament, what is the difference? Because the prophets did speak through the power of the Holy Spirit. So in the old Testament prophets, the spirit of the Lord would come and descend on the prophet, and the prophet would at a prophecy, and in the spirit would leave there was no ontological union between man and the Holy Spirit. And in fact, in some of the scholars like Conzleman (?) believe that in the first chapter of Luke, we have this recreation of this prophetic equal, as we hear about prophets like Zechariah, then Elizabeth was blessed by the Holy Spirit at the prophecy, and then St John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to preach: "behold". And also a reference to the Holy Spirit is given to us by the city of the just, the Holy Spirit was on him not in him when he prophesied. He is instructed by the Holy Spirit, the Gospel says. And now we have completely new phenomenon in the history of mankind, since the fall of Adam. Luke chapter 1 verse 35, the angel answers and says to Mary "the Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the highest will overshadow you". Additionally, "the holy one that is born of you will be called son of God". So we have the restoration of divine Sonship of Christ man is born by the Holy Spirit.
Where else to be find in the new Testament immense capacity to bear the Holy Spirit? St Paul says:" that the first man Adam became a living soul, the last Adam was a living spirit." That is why Luke is eager to emphasise that he was a new category of human being ontologically united with Holy Spirit. And that is why Luke is eager to write every detail of Christ, every detail about the Holy Spirit. "The Holy Spirit will come on you through the power of the highest". And later on throughout the narrative, Luke never loses sight of the spirit bearing capacity is in Christ. The Holy Spirit dwells in him. It just doesn't come upon him it was on him.
There are differences for instance in how sent Luke understands the function of the Holy Spirit, with how Mark in his gospel does. In Mark we find a rather old Testament perspective of the Holy Spirit. For Mark, the Holy Spirit somewhat forces someone to do something, a common understanding as it were in the old Testament. E.g. consider how the old Testament prophets were forced at a prophecy almost under coercion of the Holy Spirit. In Mark was in interesting reference, where Christ was virtually driven out by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness "ekvalis" in Greek, which means thrown out into the desert by the Holy Spirit. But in Luke, the words "full of the Holy Spirit, and was led in the spirit into the wilderness", we have a sense of union between the human and the divine spirit, there is a sense of synergy. This is a great word to express this new anthropology which we find in Saint Luke.
And the very first words of Christ: "the spirit of the Lord is on me", and we learn that the whole of his ministry proceeds from his power of the Holy Spirit. And given this, the position of the Holy Spirit, he has anointed me, to deliver the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. It is not only Christ himself the possesses the Holy Spirit, but everyone who is born of the Holy Spirit. It is the whole new Christian way. See in Luke chapter 11, we are given instruction what we should pray for, and Christ's words recorded there: "how much more should your heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit of those who ask him".
It is a great joy for us as Orthodox Christians, to hear the same words from the Saints. Remember what St Seraphim said to Motovilov: "what is the aim of the Christian life?" The aim of Christian life censor of them said is to acquire the Holy Spirit. This is the main focus of our life, to be a god bearing person, spirit bearing person. And is something about Luke's concern of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
There is another interesting theme in the Gospel that was highlighted by the German scholar Hands Conzleman (?). He says that Luke has his own way of relating to the old Testament. In Matthew Christ is the fulfilment of the law. In Luke we find a slightly different approach yet similar in essence. In Luke we find, yes, now that the time of the profits is finished, with the coming of Christ to have a new period in the history of mankind, and then with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we have yet a third period in history of mankind. We see that Luke is very eager to separate the Epoch of the prophets, from the Ministry of Christ. That is why he gives all the stories of St John the Baptist, his imprisonment and his preaching, before Christ begins his ministry. When St John the Baptist disappears from the scene, this is when Christ begins his ministry. And Conzleman's book is called the middle of time. It means that the Gospel is about this middle time, the time of Christ.
Sent Luke tries to reduce this apocalyptic agiotage, about the coming end. You will see in St Luke's Gospel there are moments where he speaks about the delay of the second coming of Christ. Because now it is about the time not of the second coming of Christ but the time of the church. When the Holy Spirit acts to bring the whole of mankind to the faith of Christ. And one of the interesting pictures of Luke's Gospel if we really divide into these periods, we see that Luke is at pains, to show that there is a time of Christ to act, and then a time for his disciples to act after Christ's resurrection. That is why in the first chapters Luke is at pains to focus attention on Jesus alone, not on his disciples but on Jesus who is in the middle, in the focus he is the main hero. By chapter 5, when Christ called his first disciples, Christ has already accomplished quite a bit of his ministry, so much so that he was almost killed after his first sermon in the synagogue see chapter 4. By the time Christ meets his disciples, his popularity, seem to have reached quite a substantial level. Crowds pressed to hear him, chapter 5.
For Luke it is important to emphasise that the Epoch of the old Testament is finished and Christ has come on now what we have is continuation of the Christ event in the life of the church. Luke is very eager to emphasise that there is a direct connection between our life in the church and the events that happened 2000 years ago of Christ's death and resurrection. Because it is to continue the work of the apostolic ministry, in the life of the church.
Luke tries to diminish somewhat this apocalyptic agiotage, this apocalyptic excitement among Christians. He speaks about delay. And he tries to focus his attention on our daily life. He tries to convey details which are important enough on a daily Christian life, which somehow for instance in the Gospel of Mark is absent. Because in Mark's Gospel we have action, and buildup of this apocalyptic discourse in Christ's death and resurrection in Jerusalem. Luke somehow tries to calm things down, and he focuses our attention, onto the details of Christ daily life.
For example Christ is said to be praying, get a sense that Christ was praying all the time, and more importantly he was praying at the most important moments of his ministry are key points of his ministry. E.g. chapter 3 Christ's baptism: "Jesus also been baptised, and praying", Jesus was praying to the evangelists before the Holy Spirit descended; another moment was in the appointment of the 12, he was praying all night before he chose his disciples; and at the moment of transfiguration, once again Christ is praying to God the Father; we get a sense that everything that happens to Christ doesn't happen automatically. But comes as a result of Christ's continuous dialogue with the father.
And the same legacy of Luke, he speaks of our need for prayer. In Luke there is great attention the Christ taught his disciples how to pray. If in Matthew's Gospel, the Lord's Gospel is given just as an example of prayer, in Luke we get a sense that Christ was trying to teach his disciples how to pray. In Chapter 11 we read, "it happened as he was praying in a certain place" and, and when he stopped one of his disciples said to him: "Lord teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples". And in other places we see how Christ speaks about perseverance in prayer, what we should ask of in prayer, it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. A good example is of the parable of the unjust judge, chapter 18. It is really all about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.
When we are speaking about the Gospels, and in fact the whole of the new Testament, we should keep in mind that we are dealing here with divinely inspired text. Sometimes perhaps even in our daily practice, God can inspire even ordinary people to say certain things.
Story of Fr Porphyri who was visited by a US citizen. US citizen was adamant he spoke in English but Fr doesn't know any English.
Peter confesses Christ is the son of the living God. And Christ actually prayed for the apostles, that God gives them understanding to reveal who he is- the son of God. This prayer again took place in Gesthemane and at the Resurrection: "Father forgive them for they do not know what they do". And again it seems Christ prayed for his disciples continuously, "Simon Simon... To sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you." It is only in Luke that we see this kind of dialogue.
it was indeed a major concern for sent Luke to prove and to show that Christ is the saviour of the whole world, not just of the Jewish nation. The consensus from the very beginning. Remember in Matthew we have genealogies, it goes back to Abraham. But in Luke the same genealogy goes to Adam himself, is Father of the whole human nation because it was important to emphasise this universalistic ring of the gospel. From the very beginning there is a universal message to the Gospel of Luke. Remember what the angel said: "give to you a tidying of great joy, it shall be to all people to all mankind." And again, "my eyes have seen the salvation, which now has prepared in the face of all the peoples". In Matthew and Mark, we see a very short quotation from Isaiah. But Luke goes further. And why does he want to give a full quotation? "And all flesh see the salvation of God." So he we have the universalistic vision of St Luke.
And for us as Orthodox Christians, it is very important to have this universalistic dimension to the message of Christ. The whole of our history of salvation of mankind is about universalism. Let us go back to the old Testament, and the human race. After the fall of Adam, which was the first covenant? He was it was with Noah. It was with a family: "you and your seed to have my blessing". After the fall of Adam everything disintegrated, there was no connection with universalism. It was rather individualism. Humankind became atomised. An atom is something which cannot be divided. So the human race disintegrated into the small atoms that were not connected. Remember the first thing that Adam said to God after his fall: "it is this wife, which you gave me, she gave me to eat". He immediately separated himself from Eve. So the first chance God created covenant with the family of Noah, so that there would be harmony love and peace within themselves and each other.
So the next covenant in history, was with Abraham. It was to create a nation. Once this level of unity was credit in the family, then God took on the nation. So God creates a nation. In fact it is a very Jewish concept, because before Israel there were no nations. Even until now if you go to the Middle East people live in clans, in families, in groups. So as a Christian nation, we inherited this concept from Israel. And today it is about achieving a larger unity, in a nation.
But what is the next level after a nation? It is the whole of mankind, and it is when Christ comes. It is the unity of the whole of mankind. Remember what we sing in Pentecost at the celebration of the Holy Spirit: "calling all man to unity". This is absolutely essential to Christian thinking. To think in these universal ways. Of course for sent Paul, but is to send Luke especially. For him it was important to emphasise this universalistic dimension of Christianity.
The history of the old Testament, the last book, which came into circulation, it was the book of Jonah. In the book of Jonah, God began to move slowly from this notion of a nation to the whole world. Prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh to preach repentance, and Nineveh was the capital of Babylon. And that is where the Israelites were held captive. God sent his prophets, to preach even to the worst enemies of Israel.
The Outcasts in Luke's Gospel
there are the anonymous masses of people who suffered, they are the suffering masses, their names are lost to history. Now in Christ, there is no more of these little ones who are forgotten. From the time on of Christianity, there are no more outcasts for Christ. Those who are excluded from the covenants, outcasts, sinners, Gentiles, women, the ill and unclean people. Now they are all incorporated to this mighty nation of the children of God.
Remember how Christ begins his first preaching in the Gospel of Luke: "the spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim the gospel to the poor, he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim to the captives to give sight to the blind.. Those who have been crushed."
Many scholars have picked up on this, and said that we are dealing in the Gospel of Luke with a political message. And in South America in particular you'll find that many theologians like to speculate about liberation Christology. A Brazilian author wrote, Christos Libertargo (?). So some scholars have taken the Christian message in the Gospel of Luke is a political message. Christ is for the poor, the underprivileged. "Christ loves everyone, he is against the rich because he loves the poor"... note this is from a liberation christology point of view. But we should be very careful not to politicise Christ's message. We should remember what Christ said:" my kingdom is not of this world".
We get a sense, in Luke's Gospel, the Christ seemed to promote poverty. If in St Matthew's Gospel we have the notion: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven ", in Luke we have a straightforward "Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". Consider also the parable of the rich man in chapter 12. Christ speaks against those who have laid up treasures for themselves in this world. And in chapter 15 he calls the poor, the lame..."
So is Christ against riches, what do you think? We must remember that poverty in itself is not a virtue. This is the same as riches in themselves they are not a sin. It is what you do with these riches that matters. Because if we notice, every gift in our church of the Holy Spirit is a service toward other people. There is nothing that it is oriented towards ourselves. Riches, if you take them as something that is given to you, and that you use for yourself, this is turning into yourself. But if you consider it as a gift of God which is gift to you which is used to minister to others, then it becomes a gift of salvation.
We can consider this, when we recollect St John of Kronstadt, who received so many gifts from people that he didn't have enough time even to distribute them at times. There is a famous story where he was once given a bundle of money in an envelope by a rich man, and as soon as he received the money, he gave it to a poor person who needed it. The response of the rich man was a tell St John of constant but do you know there was money enough in this envelope to buy all of St Petersburg, St John replied to the rich man yes I know there was a lot of money in the envelope, but this man needed it desperately. He was ready to receive this gift.
This term soteriology, is related to our salvation. Looking at material recorded by Saint Luke, we can build a very clear picture of what this is.
There was an account of Rowan Williams, the revered Archbishop in the UK in the BBC. He was visiting Cardiff, and many reporters came there to ask, is the church sexist, what is the definition of sin? And he was also asked what is hell like and who is going there? And the Archbishop replied in a wonderful way hell is being by yourself forever. Who is going there, God knows. This is a wonderful definition. When you turn your existential orientation towards yourself, then you don't see other people, then you are not human. For example let's take the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man would dress up look luxurious, and eat luxurious foods and this poor man Lazarus was lying at his gates without any help. What was wrong with this man? He simply didn't notice the other human being. He didn't notice another person who was in need of help. Certainly if he would have noticed he would have given him something, food and clothes. Notice something important, that the rich man doesn't even have a name. It is because he is not human, and Lazarus is human. In suffering, Lazarus perhaps was educated in compassion and love. But this rich man was unable to see another person.
So what is the outward dimension of our whole Christian message? What is the eschato of the gospel? What is the last theme that we shall experience in our temporal being, in the dimension of time?
In Matthew's Gospel, we have a parable about the last judgement. But there will be one simple criteria whether we pass on what do not pass. We notice these little ones, people who suffer, they give them food, they clothe them, they visit them in prisons. Then you are human, and then you are saved. Then your fits for the kingdom of heaven if you haven't there is no space for you, in the kingdom of heaven. And this is a very powerful message because Christ equates with himself little ones: "it was me who you clothed, and fed and in prison". It is the ultimate dimension of the gospel, the result of the whole history of mankind. It comes to these very simple facts of our life. If we see another person next to us there is a need many to help them.
If we look at Luke on the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector, he was praying in the temple. And the Pharisee was proud of himself and he was saying to himself to the Lord thank you that I'm not like other people. While the poor tax collector was beating his breasts, and shouting "Lord have mercy". What was wrong with the Pharisee? He didn't do anything for instance, that was against the law, he was simply praying and thanking God. What was wrong with this? In the Greek text we read that the Pharisee was standing unto himself praying. But when we have this orientation towards ourselves, our ego, we do not develop as human beings. The principle of whole creation, the logos, is toward God, facing God "pros ton Theon". Towards the other, not towards oneself.
The same went for the rich man. He said to his soul, eat and drink and be merry. I have enough goods for you for many years. And the problem with this approach, he never mentioned another human being. He always thought about himself he did not think about other people. He did not serve the others he built up his own ego.
In St Macarius of Egypt we have quite an interesting description of hell. He walk through the desert and found a human skull. His thoughts, I wonder who this man is, and where he is now? And he started to pray for this person. And this goal spoke to him and said, I used to be a pagan priest. Saint Macarius asked him: "where is your soul now"? In the sky replied, "I am burning in hell, and the joy for me, is once in a while, I can see a face of another person". This is really hell, to echo the words of the Archbishop Rowan. Hell is being by yourself forever.
And this is something we can create through our riches for ourselves, we can be shut out. A survey should communion and compassion. In Matthew we have: "be perfect just like a father in heaven is perfect", but in Saint Luke we have: "be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful". This is the key message of Saint Luke, concern for the suffering ones.
there is of course a feminist reading of Saint Luke's Gospel. Is an interesting that the church starts its commemoration of Easter with women the myrrh bearing women. It has become a landmark of Christianity. This is how Christ opened his ministry. To heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim deliverance, to set at liberty. And the first people he would have been speaking about was women. If we look old Testament, women were not even counted as human beings, were not part of the Covenant because of circumcision which was a very male thing, and women were not even a part of the covenant, they were part of possessions that man had. Men had cattle that had women and other possessions.
To Christ brought to us much. He brought the notion of marriage. There was no marriage before Christianity. Something that year from Judaism or Islam now was borrowed from Christianity, in the idea of marriage. Because it was so wonderful, splendid in its idea, no one could contest its. Even marriage has been brought to us through Christianity. It is because Christ change the perception of women. Now a woman is a person a human being, on the image of God, on par with men. Thank you to Saint Luke, this wonderful picture with from within the text, of the daughters of Jerusalem, emerged. From the very first opening chapters in Luke we see the discussion on women, the stories are numerous. We hear about Elizabeth, we hear about Mary, Anna the widow of nine, Mary Magdalene who showed great love for Christ, Joanna Susanna, and the list of women mentioned goes on and on, Martha and Mary, women in the parables, et cetera. There is the widow demanding justice, the women lamenting Christ, etc. women are allowed a prominent place. And many types of womanhood are placed before us.
If you look at the presence of women around Christ in this gospel, it is really remarkable, they are almost always there, they are among the disciples. In chapter 8: 1-3. "And also certain women..." We have this constant, silent, presence of women around Christ. And the women were the ones who were faithful to Christ to the very end. In chapter 23, it was women who were at the cross not the disciples, they were the ones who stayed until the end. It is because of women that we know where cross was buried. Luke notices that the commitment of women to Christ was much deeper at times than it was from men. In chapter 23, we hear "a great multitude of people followed him, and women also work bewailing and lamenting him. And Christ said to them, "daughters of Jerusalem do not weep for me but weep for yourselves and your children." This is the last teaching of Christ addressed to women, as men were unable to listen or to hear. The question then is, women had authority whether in fact Christ would ever have been crucified, because women were lamenting together, for the male world who condemned him. This is just a glimpse of a feminist reading.
The very first sight of Christ after his resurrection, is when Mary comes to the sepulchre. And she asked: "where is my teacher buried?" Then Christ said to the woman away you crying? And she replied I do not know when my master is, and where they buried him. And then Christ said Mary, and she immediately recognised him. Why did she recognise him when he called her by name? And of course what we have to remember is at that time nobody called women by their first names. No one even noticed them. For instance, the Pharisee is addressed Mary, who came to the house as: "that sinful woman". She wasn't even a person in the eyes of those people. But it was Christ who treated her as a person. Therefore she immediately recognised that it was him. But his appearance was different. But she recognised him from his attitude. This is a very powerful story.
Now with respect to women in Orthodox tradition. Yes there are some times hiccups concerning women in our tradition, especially in monasticism. Those who write about chastity, for example may write about women in negative ways. But God massively and kindly corrects those stories. Remember the story of St John Cassian, who was a monk who was trying to achieve the highest level of purity, and he talked himself to hate women. He was known even to have a fit for example, when he saw a woman. And it was providence of God, that the monks who served him, were nuns in disguise. So he changed his attitude ever so quickly. For instance, remember what John (H)? Used to say before he met his spiritual friend Olympiada, who became his closest friend.
So at times, the orthodox position on women has been harsh, but God corrects this. The reason why monks can be so negative about women sometimes is because I haven't learnt to see a woman as a person above all, not an object, not a perceived human being. And this is what monks learn to do, they go and hide until they can learn to treat women equally, as persons.
In the Soviet Union, churches were filled with women, all these babushkas, old women who save the church, who preserved the Orthodox faith in Russia. It was like an army of women who supported the bearded men. Their deserve the highest respect for the dedication and faith.
Q&A. We can say, for example, today we have the same pattern of attendance, is mainly women again who attend the services.
Saint Luke is very sensitive to this issue. It is very important to us as Christians. The authenticity of any religion, is likely measured by its acceptance of women.
We should consider, that the closer we get to God when we study women in the church, the greater those women were elevated. In the Orthodox church, as well is in the Catholic, we have highest image of the mother of God. She was a human being, a woman who was elevated above the cherubims and the seraphims, above any other being created in this world. She is next to God, even in our iconography. This is a very powerful message. But if you look at Islam, do you know of any woman who is mentioned in the Quran? It is Mary again. Only Mary.
So you will see in our Orthodox Church, in our Orthodox faith, women are given tremendous roles. It is often said that without women the church would not exist. It is not only their parental duties which make them so significant, but also their presence, their prayers, and their ministry. They are not servants of the church but ministers of the church.
These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.
We can credit the Gospel of John for the way in which Christianity has been shaped. We see in the very first lines of the Gospel of John the uniqueness becomes manifest read away, we're dealing here with the divine absolute who becomes a particular person who enters history and lives with us. And it was he, God himself, John says to us.
In John's Gospel we are dealing with a very different kind of Christology that we will not find in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew or Luke.
There are three types of Christology: 1. Love (?) Christology. 2. Christology of divine agency and 3. Incarnation Christology.
In Mark's Gospel we are dealing with so-called adoptionistic Christology. We don't hear for example anything about Christ's birth, and we are thrust into the later stages of his life. We know course that Christ is baptised by John in the River Jordan and the next thing we hear a voice from heaven 'you are my beloved son'. The words are addressed to Christ himself in this gospel. For the greater part we don't see anything particularly divine about Christ, only towards the end Christ is called son of God. So in Mark's Gospel you do not get a sense that Christ is pre-eternal.
In Matthew and Luke we have a very different type of Christology, known as ancient. Here we hear about the birth of Christ, how he was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and his baptism. We hear the words 'this is my beloved son'. It was a revelation of Christ not so much adoption of Christ, to the crowd of people.
John says to us Christ is before the incarnation, that is why there is not so much description of Christ birth. In John it is the Logos, God. He was in the beginning, and no single thing was created without him.
So the three other evangelists, who sent us only with economical activities, oikonomia in Greek. They speak about his earthly economy.
John tells us about Christ pre-eternal existence. In this way he breaks the confines of time, and goes into eternity.
What we find in the Epistle of Philippians written by St Paul, 2:6-11, Christ was in the form of God but he took the form of a servant.
However as a member of the Orthodox church, I would not like to stress the differences in the Gospel each individualistically. In fact, they produce a common vision of Christ.
A book titled 'the preexistence of Christ: in the Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke'. Even in the synoptic gospels we do see clear descriptions on the preexistence of Christ.
'I have come to fulfil the law, not to destroy.': This formula 'I have come' points to his pre-eternal existence. Matthew 5:17. When this formula is used here refers not to a geographical location but this idea of coming into the world. He didn't come from Galilee to Jerusalem into the world.
These things change the course of the history of mankind. The first 18 verses of the Gospel of John, are our the most significant in our scriptures in terms of having been studied the most. They present the mystery that has remained unsolved until now.
The style, the message, the ideas, are so surprisingly and so convincingly confident that there is no need for further attestation, because they encode the entire message of Christianity. No wonder these magnificent versus we read in our church.
It was important to elevate the Gospel to its authentic level.
The opening verses embrace this universal scale from the outset, both in terms of space and time. It goes even before time, presenting the universal context. Goes beyond any space, with such universal concepts as: light and darkness, the world.
The absolute became flesh. This divine absolute becomes a human person.
The prologue to the Gospel of John as it stands in Greek, reads like poetry. In many translations you will see that the prologue, the first 18 verses, but published in poetic form. There is such a hymnic rhythm, to the opening of the Gospel of John, that some propose that you was added on later. But I do not agree with this. The language may well be different but Christology are in fact completely integral to the rest of the Gospel. The rest of the Gospel sort of sets and explains out for us what is written in the prologue.
The concept of Logos
The term Logos appears here only in the new Testament. It won't appear anywhere else. Why does evangelist John use this term in the Gospel of John. We see here inferences of Stoicism, so much so, that they try to equate the Logos being Christ with historical Logos.
Logos in stoicism is a cosmic reason, the governing principle of all that is. And yet all other reasonable creatures, there have seeds of laws. And was a similar ideas in John's Gospel. Christ enlightens every man that comes into the world, Gospel of John 1.1. In stoicism of course is very flexible, it can be adapted to other religions.
I tried to see this concept of Logos not as historic images, but as all embracing concept. The definition of Logos means the word in Greek. In Greek it has many meanings for example it might mean principle, it may mean reason, it may mean thought. In this context it is used to embrace as wide a meaning as possible. In the concept of word of God can be found in Judaism.
The word of God acquires semi-personified existence.
For the Jewish people the word of God was the Torah itself. It was the law that was given to Moses. And in John, find the synthesis of all of these ideas.
Finally the word of God became a person. We have this tendency towards personification in Judaism, and John brings this tendency towards final fulfilment in his Gospel. The word of God becomes flesh, it becomes a human person.
One of the striking images of the Gospel, is that no one else would you find Christ referring to himself as "I am". You will find this in various Eastern religions and also in the Hellenic world, Bultmann makes this comparison with Hellenic ideas. For example various mythical gods are quoted as saying I am. And in the hermetic(?) corpus, X(?) reveals himself to Hermes, 'who am I the treasure of life'. In the mundene(?) literature, 'a shepherd and my who loves his sheep'. We should not really press these arguments and parallels to far. Because it is undoubtably a reference to Exodus chapter 3:14 'I am that I am', says God in his revelation. And Christ repeats the same revelation.
In chapter 18 Christ asks? "Whom do you seek?" The reply is "Jesus of Nazareth", and Christ says "I am". And as soon as he said this to them, they went backwards and fell to the ground, because they recognised the divine name.
So soon as John uses this title "I am", whatever other title that he had used like "the chosen one", the Messiah, the man spoken of by Moses and the prophets, all of them imply a divinity of Christ, and reinterpreted in the context of Christ saying "I am that I am".
Characteristic of John
Can you think of the Christological title that was in John's Gospel that was not in the synoptic gospels? Well, the various first thing that John the Baptist says about Christ: "this is the Lamb of God". Why do you think he uses this title? On the one hand, all the Jewish hearers would recall to memory the only begotten son of Abraham, the sacrificial lamb Genesis chapter 22, in Exodus, and many other associations in the old Testament. Before the coming of Christ, there was an association of Israel the nation with a lamb. If you look at the images of the suffering servant of Isaiah chapter 42 and 49, Israel is associated with suffering, and this imagery in fact, is the Lamb of God which takes upon its self the sins of others. This would have been quite understanding to Jewish hearts and minds, so when John the Baptist uses this term, the Israelites would be very much at home with this term. But the something more to this.
So what do these titles tell us? For example, "the son of God". This refers to Christ's divinity. And when we say, "the son of man", this speaks of his human nature. So these points to nature, divine or human.
If we consider other titles, like "King of Israel", they point to function, like Messiah. This is Christ's function in salvation. But they do not point to his character. For example if we say, "King of Israel", this does not point to character, a good king or about King, it does not point to what Christ is like as a person. Same as, "Lamb of God", "son of man", they point instead to Christ's nature in function. But when we speak about the Lamb of God, Christ immediately emerges as a personality, a person. And what kind of feeling does this title "Lamb of God" evoke in us? Someone that is innocent, defenceless, one who would do harm to anyone, so these labels can evoke an image of Christ. This is very specific to John who tries to present us with Christ who is not just the son of God, but also of man, as a person, so that we would know Christ, what he is like as a person.
Q&A. What about the title 'Son of David'? This label points to his lineage, his Messiah-ship. The Jewish peoples expected the Messiah to be a descendant of King David. David had received the promise.
Uniqueness of John's presentation of Christ
For John it was importance, to present Christ as a person. And perhaps you might notice, hacking you learn about someone another person? How do you go about this? How do you know if a person is good or bad for instance? How can you know another person? By talking to them. When you enter relationship, you get to know another person. When you enter a dialogue, for example you can lecture, see a professor at University in lecture hall, for 5 to 10 years, but you would not know what he's like as a person. But if he invited for a cup of tea, you can get a rough idea of what he is like as a person. And this is something unique in John's Gospel, he tries to present to us Christ through his relationship to other people. He gives us pictures, sketches of his dialogues, his relationship with other people so his person is clear to us.
And there is something unique in principle here, if you look, he does not like public scenes very much, there are of course public teachings, but all of his dialogues, where Christ actually reveals himself, who he is and where is from, come from personal contact. John tries to depict this from public, to behind closed doors. To intimate settings where Christ enters a dialogue, and enters a personal relationship, and his divinity, his Messiah-ship becomes manifest. Let us look at the first chapter 1:38-39. The very first disciples who followed Christ, he asked them, who do you seek? And they said to him, Rabbi, that is teacher, where do you live? And he says to them, come and see. And they came and saw where he lived and stayed with him that they, and it was about the 10th hour. At first where there is no personal dialogue taken place, Christ addresses as preacher someone who has a message, but this title Rabbi could be applied to anything in Judaism. But then they go to his house, far more intimate, and after one day of staying with him, after this personal communication, the confession of Christ as Messiah grows. In 1:41, we read, Simon said to him, we have found the Messiah. And this was after only a mere 24 hours of staying with Christ. There was personal contact with him. Now when you come to chapter 3, we John has meaning of these personal settings, where man can open his heart. When Nicodemus came to him, by night, again it was a very personal setting when no one can see someone, and you come face-to-face with Christ. Again this is another intimate context.
If we continue this approach in reading the Gospel of John, we can point to the Samaritan lady and her conversation with Christ at the fountain. Again Christ speaks to the Samaritan woman face to face. And John writes, and "Jesus spoke to her". And when this was happening it was important for John to emphasise that the disciples had gone away to buy food. And it was Jesus, face-to-face with the Samaritan woman. The result after this conversation? She confesses him as Messiah.
If you study all the other personal dialogues, you will see that they all have a personal setting. Even if the setting, is in the midst of a crowd. And we see that this courses, and dialogues is the main form of revelation in John's Gospel. It is through the personal contact the people have with Christ, when they confess him as Messiah. And when we study the reaction of the Pharisees for example, they are not described in this personal way, we do not hear about their names for instance.
And when the plot of the Gospel of John moves to the Last Supper, again we see an intimate setting. And in chapter 13, again we read that it was night. And he devotes three chapters to the setting of the Last Supper which is an enormous amount of space relative to the Gospels size in words. For John such settings were important, this is where God opens his heart, in the dialogue with the disciples, and John wants to convey every single detail.
That is why perhaps you will notice that there is no public appearances of Christ after his resurrection. He appears to his disciples, he appears to Peter, but never to crowds. In fact, perhaps you now understand why we believe, that public manifestation of Christ in a large crowd today would not happen. If it is not in private, then we do not believe it.
This is known as intimate Christology as it is through personal encounter.
Johannine Vision of the Godhead
When we consider John's vision of the Godhead, the Holy Trinity. We cannot say for sure that it was John that developed Triadology as we understand it now in 2000 years of Orthodoxy. But nevertheless he lays the foundation for our Trinitarian teaching.
And it is only in John's gospel that we find the title 'Son' without any predicate. He just says "son" and "father". Christ is presented, not only, in the context of belonging to simply as Son God, or Son of Man, but also he presents him as the Son of the Father. What is the difference if we present him as Son of the Father, what does this mean? Why is this word used "Son"? He uses this term deliberately to point to Christ's status in relation to his "Father". We have the Christology of Relationship. We do not invent this or weave it into the Gospel, the evangelist tries to show us that he is in relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It justifies our approach.
If we look at the Synoptic gospels, we hear very little about what Christ felt about his father. yes we have witnessed the manifestation of the spirit during baptism, but these are somewhat impersonal, we are not told much about their relationship. At the baptism of Christ, the Holy Spirit, descends on the Son as a dove, we hear the voice of the Father, but we do not hear much about the relationship. And for John it is important to show the inter-relationship.
See how the father relates to the Son- an existential attitude is revealed.
But in John, we find this relationship all over the text.
Yet, if there were no examples of this relationship in the synoptic gospels, it would be rather problematic. But certainly it is in the Gospel of John where this resonates more powerfully. Of course will see all the Gospels in unity.
Now let us see, what is this relationship? It is total commitment, total surrender, of all the fathers being to the son. John 3:35- the father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Again, throughout gospel John 13 'all things into his hands'; John 16 'all things that the father has is mine.' There is also the commission of the Father's function. 'The father shows the son' everything... he commends to the Son, all his power and source of being. The father raises up the dead. John 5 'the Father has life in himself'... whole of Father's authority is given to the Son. Everything that he has has been given to the Son. The Father judges no man, but handed all judgement to the Son.
Fr Sophrony: once when he became a monk in Mount Athos, he had an argument with God. He said, how can you judge me, you are God, and I'm a human. And he was praying to God, and he said to him I am a feeble human being and any day I can die of hunger, illness, and any number of things. How can you judge me? Because the judge should been the same condition as the one being judged. And in his heart came these words: father judges no man, and has committed or judgement to his son, because he is the son of man. So Fr Sophrony lost his argument because the son of man lived with all these conditions, and endured much more difficulties, than father Sophrony himself.
So we seem from this passages at the father seems to almost belittle himself, in favour of the son, his whole life, his honour, his power, his authority, his real kenosis (emptying) for the son.
Now briefly, we turn to the attitude of the son towards the father. So we know from the previous verses that the sun, seems to have everything handed down to him from the father. But now we can illustrate the reciprocity, how the son returns everything back to the father that was given to him. And perhaps, that the mystery of Christ can be summarised under this formula: "Not I, but the Father". John 5: "I come in my father's name". His whole consciousness is focused on the Father. Whatever the sun does, he doesn't for the father, in the father's name. "The son can do nothing of himself saved through the father." "By my own self I can do nothing." Jesus does everything by the father. In the judgement for example, he does things, only as the father would have judged. "And my judgement is just, because I do not seek my own will but that of the father." Same with glory, Jesus is quick to return the glory to his father (John ch 14). So we have this notion of "perixorisis". This word in Greek means exchange, intercommunications between the persons of the holy Trinity.
So we have a picture now, of the relationship within the Trinity. We hear about the son, we hear about the father and then we hear about another person, the Paraclete. So there is another apart from the two, and he is identified in a number of different ways. In chapter 14 his call the Paraclete, a spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit. And this theology of kenotic love which we outlined in our presentation of the father and son relationship, concerns also the Holy Spirit. The Greek word, "Parakletos", is difficult to translate. The King James version, translated as comforter, but this doesn't exhaust the meaning of this word. "Parakletos" might have a variety of meanings. For example, a common translation would be, someone who is present in the court. Someone who is called by "Para-kalw". You call someone to be by you, next to you. And in Greek courts, this meant the presence of an attorney. Like an intercessor, one who intercedes. An advocate. And, there is an element of this Court vocabulary, in chapter 15. 'The comforter is come whom I sent unto you from the Father, even the spirit of truth... He will testify of me'. The spirit will judge the world and divide the world of sin and righteousness. We can also translate this term as "proclaims". You can also translate this word as "helper". We see that John tries to combine all the meanings, in a new way to create a new concept. Just as the term "logos" is all embracing, the term "paraclete" give so much death to the meaning of the spirit. And John attaches this label, to the Holy Spirit, so is to show his activity, of his kind of service.
The doctrine of the Holy Spirit, came into our church quite late. As late as 380 a.D., Gregory Nanzianzus, wrote, "to be in error of the Holy Spirit, was to be orthodox". Because until that time, people were hesitant to call the Holy Spirit, God. And how can we discern his divinity. And the main argument of St Athanasius was "we must take our knowledge of the spirit from the son and it is appropriate to put forward proofs that derive from him." And we can discern the divinity of the Holy Spirit through activity. Because he acts in the same way as the son. Christ did not speak of himself, but only with the father would tell him. So the Holy Spirit, chapter 16, "when we hear the spirit of truth... he cannot speak of himself, but whatsoever he hears he will speak". Just as the Son came in the name of the Father so will the Paraclete come in the name of the Son (John 14). So we can discern the same language, the same kenotic activity: The father towards the son, and the Holy Spirit towards the son.
There is some interesting detail with respect to the Triadology found in John's Gospel. The father, engages the Holy Spirit, but only at the son's request. So there is a sense of coordination in the holy Trinity. Especially in the synoptic gospels, were Christ was led by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness.