Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues his discussion on theology and spirituality in the seventh chapter of The Compassion of the Fatherby considering the implications of Evagrius of Pontus’ famous saying: “The one who prays is a theologian; the one who is a theologian, prays.” This means that the one who prays is a theologian in the deepest and most fundamental sense of the word. Prayer, even the desire for prayer, is always a movement, drawing us to God; it is the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit in the human heart.

If “the one who prays is a theologian,” it is because – we can say this very humbly – each one of us knows prayer in the Spirit. In moments of true prayer, the grace of the Holy Spirit in the heart of our being causes a longing, a desire, a cry for help, emotion before the beauty of the cosmos, or compassion for the suffering that surrounds us. The Holy Spirit introduces us to communion with the Son, Jesus Christ, in the mystery of the Incarnation – the debasement, humiliation, suffering, and death. He educates us to compassion, by making us suffer with the Lord. Through the way of the Cross and death, He leads us to new life and Resurrection. He opens in us a new space, in which Christ appears with His face, the face of a Man of Sorrows and the face of the Risen One. The two go together because in the body of the Risen One the stigmata of the crucifixion remain as shafts of light. The Lord, to the degree we penetrate into His mystery, raises us toward the Father in an infinite, never-ending ascent.

The saying “The one who prays is a theologian” introduces a genuine theology beyond words and concepts, theological theories, and even dogmatic formulations. These latter act as necessary barriers against danger, on the right and the left, but they themselves are based on this living experiences of the trinitarian mystery. (125-126)

However, the other half of this saying “…the one who is a theologian prays” represents a challenge, a “judgmental query” to those who consider themselves theologians.

It challenges those who feel they are vested with the charisms of theological expression, of teaching and of knowledge – for they are charisms, that is, gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every reflection on the mysteries of God and of his works represents a judgment, the outcome of which is staked on whether congruity exists between the word and deed, the speech and action, of the “theologian.” Speaking of God in the third person carries the inherent danger of cutting speech off from life, of forgetting about God in the second person and the necessary relationship between dialogue and prayer. Theology then becomes a profession, a dangerous intellectual and conceptual exercise that desiccates the inner life. (126)

Father Boris proceeds to recount the words of Patriarch Athenagoras that he used to used to utter around 1960 as he pursued his ecumenical goals: “We will gather all the theologians and put them on an island, with everything they need. And while they discuss, we will love one another.” He comments that:

This anecdotal jest borders on the tragic and reveals the real danger within certain Orthodox circles of divorcing theology and life. The theologian who does not enter the royal priesthood of the Church and priests who neglect theological formation run the same risk. This painful divorce has led to a hardening and friction between the theological world and ecclesial circles. “The one who is a theologian, prays” therefore asserts a question, a vocation, an appeal, and a judgment of the Spirit and of Christ in our lives. (127)

To be continued…

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