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.
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.
This blogpost is a summary of key ideas that may be linked to my forthcoming essay on the parables of the synoptic gospels. The source can be found here: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/parables_potapov.htm
"Since the time of the primitive Christian Church, parable has been the term for a story told by the Lord Jesus Christ to illustrate His teaching. The Greek root-word, parabole, means comparison."
"So 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."
"Characteristically, all oral teachers of the eastern cast of mind teach by comparisons and riddles, using homely images to stir curiosity and reflection. So His parables use images from life in this world to discover spiritual truth."
"The Savior also told sacred insights in parables for three practical reasons.
First, His parables were hard for many listeners to grasp, but His listeners could recall the vivid details from ordinary life long enough to discover the wisdom behind the allegory.
Second, the Lord Jesus Christ told parables to make men expect a double meaning, and to make them want to discover the fullness of the divine plan for their conversion. Because the Church and Kingdom that our Lord founded differ so sharply from the Jewish expectation of the Messiah at that time, that the Lord's teaching had to be cautious and indirect. His parables use allegory to compare the recognizable world to the start, development, mixed character, and final triumph of Church and Kingdom. What may seem simple to us, of course, was a intriguing riddle to His contemporaries.
And third, the Lord used the parable format because His followers could not readily forget or misinterpret the commonplace images. The parable format preserves the purity of Christ's teaching in distinct but evocative images."
"Narrative parables have another advantage over oral lecturing. Parables teach how to live by divine law both in private and in public. Christ's parables have lost no clarity, immediacy, or beauty during 20 centuries across many civilizations in many translations. In all settings, His parables show the unified spiritual and physical worlds."
"Most parables try to describe the Heavenly Father or the Lord Jesus Christ in His historical mission or in His future glory. Parables with two main characters usually show the Father and the Son. The Father's love in sending His Son is the main teaching of the Lord Jesus. The parables disclose the new Kingdom that God plans for the world."
"Differing scholars may count all the parables as between 27 and 50 in number. One scholar may call a parable what another calls a metaphor. One can also count them in terms of the three periods of the Savior's earthly ministry."
"The first group has the parables told by Christ soon after the Sermon on the Mount, between the second and third Passovers of His ministry. This first group tells about conditions for spreading and strengthening the Kingdom of God: the parables of the sower, of the tares, of the seed growing secretly, of the mustard seed, of the pearl of great price, and others."
"The Lord Jesus Christ told His second group of parables toward the end of the third year of His ministry. These parables tell of God's love and kindness toward repentant people. Here belong the parables of the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the unmerciful servant, the good Samaritan, the fool-hardy rich man, the wise builder, the unrighteous judge, and others."
"He told His third group of parables not long before His Passion on the Cross. They speak of God's kindness and man's accountability before God. These parables also foretell Christ's Second Coming, the Dreaded Judgment, the punishment that will befall unbelievers, and the reward of eternal life that will befall the righteous. Here are the parables of the fruitless fig tree, the wicked husbandmen, the great supper, the talents, the ten virgins, the laborers in the vineyard, and certain others."
"One cannot love by coercion. One can love only in freedom. Therefore love is the action, sign, and fact of freedom."
"As we have seen, the Lord frequently used parables to explain the truths of his teaching. The Lord began to use parables only after the final selection of His apostles, and even the parables often amazed even them, who would ask His further explanation. The Gospel parables comprise approximately one-third of the Savior's recorded words."
"We find moral value in all of the Savior's parables, and some are remarkable too as literature, such as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. No day passes without our recalling images from Gospel parables. Often we call a compassionate man "a good Samaritan." We often cite such concepts as a "a far country" and "prodigal son." We acknowledge the importance of not hiding a "lamp under a bushel," and we grasp the necessary multiplication of "talents" given by God and not putting off our affairs until the "eleventh hour."
"This frequent recollection, however, does not mean that we have absorbed all their lessons. We must again and again turn to them to manage our spiritual lives. Despite 2000 years since their appearance, each is current and topical as part of the Good Tidings, the Gospel. The parables are filled with the mysteries "of the Kingdom of God" (Mark 4:11) that has drawn nigh, that the Sole Physician of men's souls and bodies has come, Who heals the lepers, Who takes from us the burden of the ancient curse, Who finds the lost sheep, Who opens the entry to the heavenly fatherland, Who invites the outcast and homeless to His Divine wedding banquet, Who generously recompenses those who have not earned full wages, and Who fills the hearts of the earthborn with great joy."