Sunday, 30 December 2012

St. Andrew of Crete-On the Circumcision of Christ and St. Basil the Great


Excerpt from the Homily on the Circumcision of Christ and St. Basil the Great, by St. Andrew of Crete 

 The Circumcision of Christ - Commemorated January 1


And what else does the eighth-day circumcision tell us? The eighth day is the completion of the week, and the beginning of the new. The child completes the week, and is perfected on the eighth day, being granted his name and being numbered with the perfect. The eighth day is the beginning of infancy, while through the period of the week he was a baby, now the child begins to learn. The eighth day leads on to the things of infancy: to crawl and to stand, and to speak, and to think. The week comes to completion, and the eighth day signifies perfection. Circumcision again signifies the name-giving, which the child undergoes on the eighth day.

And not without reason. For Abraham dwelt among the idols of his father, Thara, being part of his creation, until the Creator gave him a sign of a people set aside until His coming, that renewal may be granted to men. Circumcision removes a covering of flesh, and grants an eighth-day sign to the members. Circumcision declared that the presence of Christ was coming, and that He would grant rebirth through the Spirit. By the seal of circumcision, the people were granted divine correction from idolatry, and the ceasing of destruction through idol-mania.

The former things were a symbol of the new. For Christ was the eighth law-giver from Adam. Because Adam first received a law, and secondly Noah, and Abraham third, and Moses fourth, and David, regarding the Kingdom and the Tent of Glory, was the fifth law-giver. And Esthra, following the captivity of Babylon, for a second time gave the law to the nations that had transgressed it, and was the sixth. John the Baptist, who preached a baptism of repentance to the people, and purification through the water, was the seventh law-giver. Jesus Christ was the eighth.

Regarding this great Law-giver, Moses says: “The Lord God will raise a Prophet from among our bretheren like me; listen to Him. Every soul that does not hear that Prophet will be condemned.” Being the only one able to fulfill this, I perceive that he is referring to the Lord and Creator, Who worked divine and noetic works among us. And passing the Sabbath in His flesh through the law, on the eighth day of Resurrection, became the Law-giver for the whole world. I behold God, not only of the Jews, but of all nations, Who is born, anointed and perfecting all things in the Holy Spirit, and calling His own anointed people. And He cuts off our fleshly desires and passions, and turns them to a burnt sacrifice through good works, and actions of the Kingdom of the Heavens. He is truly the “Angel of Great Council of His Father, God almighty, Councilor, Prince of Peace, Father of the Age to come.”
And do you understand this well, why we rejoice at this feast, and take from this the glad tidings, and move from feast to feast, and come to know the servant of God? As if speaking of him, the scriptures say: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God”, Who is the God of all. And those who approach him to clearly see his divine icon, are able. Who is this who we praise? It is Basil: the foundation of virtue, the longing of the Cappadocians, and the prided boast of the whole world, he who taught the Church in most magnificent words and deeds, through whom the Churches of the faithful take boast. For though there are many lawful and mystagogical ones before and after him, however, under his state, all ranks are united to see a new wonder. Thus the man's feast is received with worthy honor. And if we speak regarding him, those before us, who were men of greater theology, also take part in praising words of him.
   And let us offer a word for this feast, its honor of which is among the greatest of feasts, and travel the road of the word, being strengthened by God, Who strengthens us in every good work, and say the following: “O man of God and faithful healer, and steward of the mysteries of God”, and “man of desires of the spirit.” Thus the Scriptures calls those dedicated to exalted and uplifted and lawful ways. I call you a god to Pharaoh, who overcame all the opposing power of the Egyptians, and pillar and foundation of the Church, and will of the Lord, and light shining in the world the word of life and the desire of the faith, and dwelling-place of the Spirit...
But with these divine praises, O Father Basil, you take part in the mansions of the patriarchs, and the mystagogy of the apostles of the prophets, and of the crowning of the martyrs, and of the choirs of monastics, and of the rewards of the divine hierarchs and all the righteous. Remember us, who are of like nature as you, who are in trouble; and ever intercede for us to the common Master for the salvation of all Christians.
Kings therefore bring forth righteousness and reverence of God, bearing in mind your words, that the eternal King rules above. Rulers and governors in piety become obedient, along with those who fight in war, and the rest of the people turn towards the divine faith in harmony, and are peaceful towards each other. The archpriests are anointed in theology, and govern well the Church of God that has been entrusted to them through your diving teaching. Priests keep piety, that they might live in a God-pleasing manner, and offer up hymns, and be crowned along with the whole city of the faithful, as a shepherd, by Him Who made Himself poor, though He is rich, and took on flesh in the womb [of the Theotokos], Who is seated above with the Father, and is laid in a cave and is wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger, Who is hymned by the angels, and wondered at by the shepherds, Who was circumcised on the eighth day, and is named Jesus, Who offers cleansing, and is praised by Symeon and Anna, and escorted by the Magi, Who flees to Egypt, and “rents the handiwork of Egyptians”, Who, at the human age of perfection, was baptized by a servant, and drowns the sins of the world in the waters, Who is revealed to the world but is hated by the Judeans, and works strange wonders, Who ultimately was delivered to be crucified, and was then buried, that He might grant resurrection to those in slavery in hades, Who rose on the third day, making this second eighth day truly the day of rest, and in the coming eighth day at the end of the world, will come again, Who appears to His apostles, and Who was seen to ascend into the heavens, to raise me the humble one, Who is known in two natures, and Who is worshiped with the Father and the Spirit, Who has two wills and energies, Who remains touchable and untouchable, written and unwritten, depicted in places and icons, and through them, as through flesh and spirit is worshipped, Who is the archetype of His theologians and of all the Saints, Who shares all things with us, and is the archetype of the glory that is offered to you, O most-divine Father Basil, who wrote: “For the honor of the icon ascends to the prototype”. Therefore with orthodoxy, the nations are struck with fear, and islands of redemption are opened for the Church. Through sickness of men, the other-worldly icons are left to suffer, and we are endangered by the Hagarenes. These islands of the Church were seen beforehand by Isaiah, who said: “Be renewed, O islands, towards God”. For to Him, Christ our God, belong honor and glory and worship, together with the all-good Father and the all-holy and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and to the endless ages. Amen.


Comparing Orthodox Spirituality & Other Traditions

By Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos (edited for length)

Orthodox spirituality differs distinctly from any other “spirituality” of an eastern or western type. There can be no confusion because Orthodox spirituality is God-centered, whereas all others are man-centered.
The difference appears primarily in the doctrinal teaching. For this reason we put “Orthodox” before the word “Church” so as to distinguish it from any other religion. Dogmas are the results of decisions made at the Ecumenical Councils on various matters of faith. Dogmas are referred to as such, because they draw the boundaries between truth and error, between sickness and health. Dogmas express the revealed truth. They formulate the life of the Church. Dogmatic differences reflect corresponding differences in therapy. If a person does not follow the “right way” he cannot ever reach his destination. If he does not take the proper “remedies,” he cannot ever acquire health; in other words, he will experience no therapeutic benefits. Again, if we compare Orthodox spirituality with other Christian traditions, the difference in approach and method of therapy is more evident.

A fundamental teaching of the Holy Fathers is that the Church is a “Hospital” which cures the wounded man. In many passages of Holy Scripture such language is used, for example in that of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, the Samaritan represents Christ who cured the wounded man and led him to the Inn, which is to the “Hospital” which is the Church. It is evident here that Christ is presented as the Healer, the physician who cures man’s maladies; and the Church as the true Hospital. It is very characteristic that Saint John Chrysostom, analyzing this parable, presents the truths emphasized above.

Man’s life “in Paradise” was reduced to a life governed by the devil and his wiles. “And fell among thieves,” that is in the hands of the devil and of all the hostile powers. The wounds man suffered are the various sins, as the prophet David says: “my wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness” (Psalm 37). For “every sin causes a bruise and a wound.” The Samaritan is Christ Himself who descended to earth from Heaven in order to cure the wounded man. He used oil and wine to “treat” the wounds; in other words, by “mingling His blood with the Holy Spirit, he brought man to life.” Then the Good Samaritan, i.e. Christ, took man to the grand, wondrous and spacious Inn - to the Church. He handed man over to the innkeeper, who is the Apostle Paul, and through the Apostle Paul to all bishops and priests, saying: “Take care of the Gentile people, whom I have handed over to you in the Church. They suffer illness wounded by sin, so cure them, using as remedies the words of the Prophets and the teaching of the Gospel; make them healthy through the admonitions and comforting word of the Old and New Testaments.” Thus, according to Saint Chrysostom, Paul is he who maintains the Churches of God, “curing all people by his spiritual admonitions and offering to each one of them what they really need.”

In the interpretation of this parable by Saint John Chrysostom, it is clearly shown that the Church is a Hospital which cures people wounded by sin; and the bishops and priests are the therapists of the people of God. And this precisely is the work of Orthodox theology. When referring to Orthodox theology, we do not simply mean a history of theology. In Patristic tradition, theologians are the God-seers. Saint Gregory Palamas calls Barlaam [who attempted to bring Western scholastic theology into the Orthodox Church] a “theologian,” but he clearly emphasizes that intellectual theology differs greatly from the experience of the vision of God. Theology is the fruit of man’s cure and the path which leads to the acquisition of the knowledge of God.

Western theology, however, has differentiated itself from Eastern Orthodox theology. Instead of being therapeutic, it is more intellectual and emotional in character. In the West, scholastic theology evolved and is now based on rational thought whereas Orthodoxy is hesychastic. Scholastic theology tried to understand logically the Revelation of God and conform to a philosophical methodology. The Scholastics acknowledged God at the outset and then endeavored to prove His existence by logical arguments and rational categories. In the Orthodox Church, as expressed by the Holy Fathers, faith is God revealing Himself to man. We accept faith by hearing it not so that we can understand it rationally, but so that we can cleanse our hearts, attain to faith by theoria (see note, end of article) and experience the Revelation of God.

Scholastic theology reached its culminating point in the person of Thomas Aquinas, a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. He claimed that Christian truths are divided into natural and supernatural. Natural truths can be proven philosophically, like the truth of the Existence of God. Supernatural truths - such as the Triune God, the incarnation of the Logos, the resurrection of the bodies - cannot be proven philosophically, yet they cannot be disproved. Scholasticism linked theology very closely with philosophy and with metaphysics, and is accountable for much of the tragic situation created in the West with respect to faith and faith issues.

The Holy Fathers, however, teach that natural and metaphysical categories do not exist but speak rather of the created and uncreated. Never did the Holy Fathers accept Aristotle’s metaphysics. Theologians of the West during the middle Ages considered scholastic theology to be a further development of the teaching of the Holy Fathers, and from this point on, there begins the teaching of the Franks that scholastic theology is superior to that of the Holy Fathers. Consequently, Scholastics, who are occupied with reason, consider themselves superior to the Holy Fathers of the Church. They also believe that human knowledge, an offspring of reason, is loftier than Revelation and experience.

It is within this context that the conflict between Barlaam and Saint Gregory Palamas should be viewed. Barlaam was essentially a scholastic theologian who attempted to pass on scholastic theology to the Orthodox East. Barlaam’s views -- that we cannot really know Who the Holy Spirit is exactly, that the ancient Greek philosophers are superior to the Prophets and the Apostles (since reason is above the vision of the Apostles), and that the hesychastic way of life (i.e. the purification of the heart and the unceasing noetic prayer) is not essential -- are views which express a scholastic and, subsequently, a secularized point of view of theology. Saint Gregory Palamas foresaw the danger of these views and through the power and energy of the Most Holy Spirit and the experience which he himself had acquired as a successor to the Holy Fathers, he confronted this great danger and preserved unadulterated the Orthodox Faith and Tradition.

If Orthodox spirituality is now examined in relationship to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, the differences are immediately discovered.

Protestants do not have a “therapeutic treatment” tradition. They suppose that believing in God, intellectually, constitutes salvation. Yet salvation is not a matter of intellectual acceptance of truth; rather it is a person’s transformation and divinization by grace. In the Holy Scripture it appears that faith comes by hearing the Word and by experiencing “theoria” (“The vision of God”). We accept faith at first by hearing in order to be healed, and then we attain to faith by theoria, which saves man. Protestants, because they believe that faith by hearing saves man, do not have a “therapeutic tradition.” It could be said that such a conception of salvation is very naive.

The Latins as well do not have the perfection of the therapeutic tradition which the Orthodox Church has. Their doctrine of the Filioque is a manifestation of the weakness in their theology to grasp the relationship existing between the person and society. They confuse the personal properties: the “unbegotten” of the Father, the “begotten” of the Son, and the procession of the Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause of the “generation” of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit. The three Disciples of Christ (Peter, James and John) beheld the glory of Christ on Mount Tabor; they heard at once the voice of the Father, “This is My beloved Son,” and saw the coming of the Holy Spirit in a cloud, for the cloud is the presence of the Holy Spirit, as Saint Gregory Palamas says. Thus the Disciples acquired the knowledge of the Triune God in theoria and by revelation. It was revealed to them that God is one essence in three hypostases.

A faith, thus, is a true faith inasmuch as it has therapeutic benefits. If it is able to cure, then it is a true faith. If it does not cure, it is not a true faith. The same thing can be said about medicine: a true scientist is the doctor who knows how to cure and his method has therapeutic benefits, whereas a charlatan is unable to cure. The same holds true where matters of the soul are concerned. The difference between Orthodoxy and the Latin tradition, as well as the Protestant confessions, is apparent primarily in the method of therapy. This difference is made manifest in the doctrines of each denomination. Dogmas are not philosophy, neither is theology the same as philosophy.

Since Orthodox spirituality differs distinctly from the “spiritualities” of other confessions, so much the more does it differ from the “spirituality” of eastern religions, which do not believe in the Theanthropic nature of Christ and the Holy Spirit. These traditions are unaware of the notion of personhood and thus the hypostatic principle. And love, as a fundamental teaching, is totally absent. One may find, of course, in these Eastern religions an effort on the part of their followers to divest themselves of images and rational thoughts, but this is in fact a movement towards nothingness, to non-existence. There is no path leading their “disciples” to theosis-divinization (see note below) of the whole man.

This is why a vast and chaotic gap exists between Orthodox spirituality and the eastern religions, in spite of certain external similarities in terminology. For example, eastern religions may employ terms like ecstasy, dispassion, illumination, noetic energy, etc. but they are impregnated with content different from corresponding terms in Orthodox spirituality.



Theoria is the vision of the glory of God. Theoria is identified with the vision of the Uncreated Light, the uncreated energy of God, with the union of man with God, with man’s theosis. Thus, theoria, vision and theosis are closely connected.

Theosis-Divinization is the participation in the Uncreated grace of God. Theosis is identified and connected with the theoria (vision) of the Uncreated Light (see above). It is called theosis in grace because it is attained through the energy, of the divine grace. It is a co-operation of God with man, since God is He Who operates and man is he who co-operates.
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