Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues his discussion on the relationship between theology and spirituality in the seventh chapter of The Compassion of the Fatherby proposing four basic requirements for a living theology renewed in the Spirit.
The first requirement is that of repentance and profound renewal of the self.
The entire being must turn away from a dark existence, renounce the “old Adam” and Satan, and sin – all forms, direct or insidious, of illusion and diabolical seduction. The entire being must tend toward a purification of the heart, since the heart is the center of the human mystery – but also purification of the senses by an asceticism of the body and purification of the intellect by an asceticism of the thoughts. When the intellect is severed from grace, it hardens and proudly asserts itself. With all one’s effort, the mind must pass through the mystery of baptism, not the precise moment of child’s or adult’s baptism, but everything that baptism presupposes: preliminary and lasting renunciation of an old life and a desire for a new life, the sacrament of the death and the life of Jesus Christ. …
Thus, the proud mind that counts itself as the criterion of things and of the world must be baptized. This mind must discover silence by entering into the depths of the heart and gradually must be taught by the Holy Spirit… When the intellect purifies itself by this descent and attentiveness to God, life springs up from the transfigured heart, and the mind find new words. (127-128)
The second requirement is that of being in communion with the Body of Christ, the Church. The Holy Spirit incorporates us into the totality of the Body of Christ which is inseparable from its Head and this has consequences for our theology.
This “Body” contains not only the eucharistic assembly “here and now,” but the Church of all times, of all places – the communion of saints. This point is crucial to our understanding of theology. My theology is not my theology, not even that of the group to which I belong. Rather, my theology has been formulated through living experience: the life and suffering of the saints since Pentecost – and even before Pentecost by the patriarchs and prophets – in communion. This communion of the saints implies a communion of faith. This explains why the Orthodox Church does not accept intercommunion, which would make light of this profound unity, what Fr Florovsky calls “ecumenism in time.” Communion of faith entails not only attempts to create unity with the dispersed members of churches in our world today, but also constancy in maintaining unity with our church fathers. (129)
This concept of fatherhood runs very deep in Orthodoxy and “constitutes the very framework of Tradition” which is always transmitted from heart to heart in a living and personal way, whether through books or through actual encounters.
The third requirement is that it feed on the Scriptures, and especially the Psalms “which are the basic prayers and which nourished the prayer of Christ Himself.” (130)
In growing accustomed to reading them regularly and daily, they become an extraordinary source of knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual sensitivity. Little by little, something awakens in us; we become more attentive and more sensitive. (130)
An understanding of the Old Testament is important and leads us to the Gospels which are a “genuine sacrament” and puts us “in the real presence of Christ, just as an icon does.” (130)
The fourth requirement is that of love which is related to knowledge. Father Boris writes:
When I was young, I read St Augustine, the great church father that has marked the West until now. He said that, in order to love, we should first know. That has always shocked me because I would like to say that in order to know, we first should love. Certainly the two go together. St Paul says: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all the mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith … but I have not love, I am nothing… And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:1-2,13). He completes this picture by saying: “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Rom 5:5). The Holy Spirit pours the love of God into us like an ointment of great price, like a perfumed oil, and this love makes our hearts expand to the extent that God desires. (131)
Father Boris concludes this chapter by speaking of our obligation to witness and of the need to connect what we say to what we have seen, for
The human being cannot be satisfied with parcelled truth. We search for a vision of the world carried by God, a unified spiritual vision, with all our being, and at the same time, the words we utter – our proclamation to others – always fall short. Fortunately, we have the church fathers and great theologians, and we may repeat things that were expressed and lived better…
This love of Christ in us compels us, pushes us, and forces us not only to do theology, but also to simply be in Christ. Then our silence, as well as our words, will testify to a true theology, prayed and lived. (131-132)