Boris Bobrinskoy


Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues his discussion of Tradition in the ninth chapter of The Compassion of the Father by citing Father Georges Florovsky on the need for an “ecumenism in time” in addition to the “ecumenism in space” that had come to dominate the ecumenical movement, for “the Church is not only defined in space, but also in time, with respect to our Fathers and the two millennia of Christian life in the communion of saints.” (165) While Protestantism has tended to downplay tradition, and Roman Catholicism has tended to place Tradition above Scripture and to emphasise “the fundamental and prime magisterium of the pope,”

In Orthodoxy, the Tradition is alive. It is a permanent miracle in which the Church does not pretend to possess the truth, but rather is possessed by it. The Church does not hold the truth but manifests it in fullness and in permanence, in a eucharistic relationship, an epiclesis, where it invokes the Holy Spirit so that He penetrates the gifts – the bread and the wine – the assembly, and, consequently, the very mouths of those in charge of keeping the Church and the entire people of God in the faith and in truth.

This dimension of the invocation – of the epiclesis – of the dependency of the entire Church upon the Holy Spirit, is a reality we forcefully maintain. The entire people of God are found permanently in the influential sphere of the Spirit. Thus, all dimensions of the Tradition converge in the one crucible of holiness, for the possession of the truth is inconceivable without personal and ecclesial holiness. The reality of the truth, known and preserved in the Church, must be defined as the responsibility of the entire people of God. (165-6)

While Orthodoxy does not offer a “recipe” for evaluating human traditions, Father Boris suggests certain principles that it offers us. These include the desire to be faithful to the Church, a sense of the mystery of the beyond which is aware that human concepts cannot exhaust the fullness of the apostolic faith, a process of spiritual growth leading to a maturation of the instinct for truth, a listening to the prophetic Spirit, and brotherly love, especially towards the week. This means that Orthodoxy is both profoundly the same and profoundly diverse.

It is the same in the sense that we recognize one another – without needing an external authority, a common magisterium that dictates teaching and doctrine – as identical in faith, worship, spirituality, and testimony. It is diverse in the sense that the tonalities of Orthodoxy, its language and preoccupations, may vary greatly from one place to another. (167)

However, faithfulness to the Tradition does not mean that it cannot be questioned. Indeed the Fathers sometimes had to oppose certain notions of Tradition in order to assert the mystery of the faith. Father Boris gives the examples of the use of non-traditional terminology in the struggle against Arianism, the defence of icons, and the development of hymnography and feasts. In the same way, contemporary Orthodoxy is in need of self-reflection and purification and topics for consideration include questions of married bishops, the iconostasis, the “secret” prayers during the Divine Liturgy, the frequency of the reception of Holy Communion, and the female diaconate. Such questions mean that

The Church concretely must ponder over the actualization of Tradition at the end of the second millennium of Christianity. For this, we must be listening to the Spirit, in whom Tradition and newness are allied, the permanence of the message of salvation and renewal of the ecclesial structures. Only in the Holy Spirit may the complete fidelity to the received Tradition and the most radical freedom of the children of God be realized and maintained without contradiction. (170)

Father Boris ends by quoting Saint Irenaeus who wrote:

This faith, which we have received from the Church, we preserve carefully, because through the action of the Spirit of God, like a deposit of great price enclosed in a good vessel, it rejuvenates ceaselessly, and causes the vessel containing it to renew its youth also. (170)

Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues the ninth chapter of The Compassion of the Fatherby pointing to the subtle dialectic between the direct action of the Holy Spirit and listening to our fathers in the faith. We see this in the experience of Saint Paul.

Following his “enlightenment” on the road to Damascus, and after spending three years in Arabia – a stay of which we know nothing – St Paul wanted to return to Jerusalem to meet James and Kephas (Peter), the pillars of the Church at that time. This intervention is very interesting because it reveals that, from the beginning of the Church, two basic moments co-existed: on the one hand, the direct illumination of the road to Damascus where St Paul met the living Christ and was taught by the Spirit; on the other hand, the concern to verify his teaching, his knowledge, his preaching, and his language with the apostles, with the Church.

In this way, the Church lives in the permanent breath and the permanent fire of the Pentecost of the Holy Spirit. If this fire does not set us aglow, then all the truths of the Tradition would forever remain as dead, alien externals to us.

In the Christian faith, we should never omit any dimension of the spiritual begetting, whatever the relays of transmission may be: the “father,” the “charismatics,” those who are “filled with the Holy Spirit.” For we have only one Lord: Jesus Christ; one Master: the Holy Spirit; and one Father: our heavenly Father. The more we mature in the faith, the more the apostolic and ecclesial Tradition becomes our own. Then the gospel is accomplished, when Jesus tells His disciples: “I no longer call you servants; … Instead, I have called you friends, for everything I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15). (162-3)

Thus the Tradition is not simply the transmission of the living faith, but is also the content of faith. It has an objectivity that parallels our own subjective faith.

Objective faith is basically the mystery of Christ, the revelation of this mystery in Jesus, transmitted by the apostles and evangelists: the announcement of the good news. This is what St Irenaeus calls “the deposit of the transmitted faith,” which has remained unchanged over the centuries. This deposit crystallizes in ecclesial doctrine, a doctrine which we have a tendency to call “orthodoxy” and which cannot be separated from worship, prayer, and adoration. Two dimensions are included in the word “orthodoxy”: doxa not only means thought, prayer, and opinion, but also glory and praise. Consequently, only to the extent that our praise is true does doctrine emerge from inside the language of Christian worship.

We can go even further: doxa is not only the glory given to God, but also the glory of God. Thus “orthodoxy” is above all the glory of God who communicates Himself to us in the life of the Church, that is, the living experience of God, crystallized at the same time in the language of worship and in theological thought.

Theology acquires a genuine objectivity in the dogmas, the definitions of the councils, the teaching of the magisterium, and the authority of the Church. That is very important, for it is there that we touch upon the basic mystery of the Church where the Body resembles the Head, Christ being the Head. The entire Church is divine-human or “theanthropical.” In other words, everything in the life of the Church is divine-human: worship, the sacraments, the icon, and theological language, taking into account our approximations. From this point of view, the doctrine of the faith acquires a genuine objectivity; the human word becomes capax Dei (“capable of God”), that is, capable of transmitting, carrying, and singing (rather than reciting) the truth of God, His mystery. (163-4)

Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues his discussion of Tradition in the ninth chapter of The Compassion of the Father by distinguishing between the “horizontality” of what is transmitted in the Church and the “verticality” of the work of the Holy Spirit. In the work of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons we find the explication of Tradition as something whose content is one and the same and cannot be added to nor diminished, but which is also not impoverished by human transmission “because the Holy Spirit always makes us contemporaries to the history of salvation.” (159) By expounding on the doctrine of apostolic succession, Irenaeus showed the continuity of transmission in the Church. However,

the living apostolic Tradition is, above all, a transmission. In a transmission, there is, indeed, a double movement. First, there is a reception through the ages, through the centuries: we receive, and what we receive becomes a part of ourselves, or rather, we become that which we receive; we assimilate one another, identify ourselves with the content of the Tradition. Next, there is a transmission through us, of what has been received in a chain unbroken to the end of the ages. In this respect, it is appropriate to make another distinction between Tradition as a living transmission and Tradition as the content of the faith. (160)

This living transmission is the work of the Holy Spirit and it is fundamentally relational.

the Tradition is the work of the Spirit who penetrates into the content of the deposit of the transmitted faith, and who enlightens the one who receives it. This transmission is always of the order of a relationship and of personal progress, of a dialogue from heart to heart, from mouth to ear, of an interiorization. More than a phenomenon, we are faced with a true mystery: spiritual fatherhood.

For the deposit of faith to be transmitted unchanged and unchangeable from generation to generation, to retain its integrity, fullness, and simplicity – such as it has been uttered, carried out, and realized in Jesus Christ – the Holy Spirit must act and allow those who have received it and are in agreement with this life and message faithfully to transmit it. In this sense, the concept of spiritual fatherhood, of spiritual begetting, most appropriately expresses what constitutes the nerve, axis, and spinal cord of this living reality of the Tradition – irreducible to the external transmission of a truth or a philosophy. (160)

While the concept of fatherhood is a broad one, and while various forms of fatherhood exist in the Church, it is fundamentally connected to the transmission of life itself.

Transmission becomes a genuine experience. What is transmitted is fire. As long as truths remain on the intellectual, cerebral plane, there will be no chance of transmission because they are aloof and cold. Only that which burns can illumine and kindle the core of a being. (160)

Thus,

This fatherhood is an essential act of the Holy Spirit, in which the two dimensions meet: “horizontality” and “verticality”; “horizontality” because it is uninterrupted since the first centuries until today and will remain so until the end of time; “verticality” because, beyond all human mediations and pedagogies, God is and remains our only Father, Christ our only Lord, and the Holy Spirit our only physician in the growth of the faith. (161)

The ninth and final chapter of The Compassion of the Father is an essay on “Sacred Tradition and Human Tradition,” in which Father Boris Bobrinskoy broaches the delicate subject of the relationship between Tradition as a constituent element of Orthodoxy that belongs to the very essence of Christianity, and the human traditions that are linked to religious psychology and which can lead to internal tensions within Orthodoxy and need to be considered in the light of the passions.

Memory is fundamental to the biblical narrative and also to the modern world. However, biblical memory involved an interiorization that led to a conflict between of the representatives of the law and the prophets.

For the Christian, the coming to earth of Christ represents the peak of revelation. He is the reference, at the same time first and last, of all future generations until the end of time. He appears as the one who closes the lineage of the prophets, the one who is the key and the subject of all Scriptures and of the apostolic preaching. As in the conversation with the disciples of Emmaus, He interprets in all the Scriptures what concerns Him: “These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (Jn 5:39). Starting from this, all of sacred Scripture becomes normative for church doctrine, the first link of the apostolic Tradition, inside of which it will develop. (154-155)

However,

if Jesus is the key to Scripture, the Holy Spirit appears as the one who gives us the revelation of this, who reveals “the code” to us, the use of this key. The Holy Spirit gives us the instinct, the sense of the truth. He sets our hearts aglow and makes us recognize and profess Jesus as Lord. (155)

Father Boris then proceeds to argue for a Trinitarian interpretation of Christian Tradition. This is not simply a human interpretation, for

As a constituent dimension of the Church, the Body of Christ, this trinitarian interpretation is profoundly divine-human and belongs to the very mystery of the Church: that, in many ways, to the extent that a look at the mystery of faith must correspond to faith itself. (155)

Christ is sent by the Father and so sends the apostles.

Thus, Jesus transmits to us the words of the Father. He is the living Word. He is the living Gospel that He announces to us. St Ignatius of Antioch writes, “He is the Word which proceeded from the silence of the Father.” In a remarkable study on the Tradition, resumed in In the Image and Likeness of God, Vladimir Lossky introduces an altogether unusual concept about the Tradition and the mystery of the Church: silence. From where does silence come when we speak of Tradition? To explain this, the author cites another passage from St Ignatius of Antioch: “He who possesses in truth the word of Jesus can hear even its silence.”

In the writings of St Ignatius of Antioch, the theme of silence appears, on the one hand, as a characteristic, almost as an attribute of the heavenly Father, and, on the other, as an attribute of the bishops. That may seem contradictory, to the extent that bishops are called to announce and bring the living Word to the people. Nonetheless, St Ignatius says that “a bishop is never so much a bishop as when he keeps silent.”

“The Tradition is silence,” Vladimir Lossky writes. This is not a definition, but a first element of the Tradition. We should hear “even the very silence of Jesus,” that is, understand that the words come from an unexpected depth and that they carry in themselves a reality “from beyond.” This is true of the entire sacramental life, of all language that is our own; if our language seeks to exhaust our intelligence, it becomes hollow very quickly, at the end of its resources. It is only when it seeks to suggest and to sing about depth rather than exhaust it, that language becomes truly eloquent. (156)

The words of Jesus turn us toward the Father, but they are words that do not break silence, but rather introduce us into it.

The living Word of the Father, Jesus Christ, is the permanent content, I would say, even the only content of the Tradition. The latter is the mystery of Christ, dead and risen, which the Church announces and presents as a memorial to the world. This very important point lessens the danger in Orthodoxy to forget that Christ is the subject of its preaching and to cover Him with alluvial deposits and the gilding of time. Thus, we speak of and preach the silence of the Father, the living Word, Christ, who is the living content of the Tradition, but also the Holy Spirit who performs the permanent miracle of the Tradition, the identity of the message over the centuries.

“Thus,” Vladimir Lossky says, “Tradition is not the content of Revelation, but the light that reveals it; Tradition is not the word, but the living breath which makes the word heard at the same time as the silence from which it came. Tradition is not the truth but a communication of the spirit of Truth, outside of which the truth cannot be perceived: ‘No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.’” (157)

We can therefore speak of Tradition as the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, which constitutes the breath of knowledge and the light of vision, and in which we find a reciprocal relationship between the Son and the Spirit.

To be continued…

Certainly, a theology not based on a living experience is empty, vain, and sclerotic, even if the words are true and sound, borrowed from the common experience of the Church. How can I reply? Of what value is my experience? I cannot judge this. But I can say that I want to base myself with my whole being, without dissolving myself, on the experience of the saints: in apprenticeship, in humble discovery, in partaking of this common faith that gradually becomes mine, to such an extent that I no longer know where to put the quotation marks around the words of the saints and my own words – quotation marks are a modern invention, unknown to the Fathers. There is a way of living the words of the Gospel and the words of the saints so deeply that they become my own words, spontaneously, naturally. Thus, I feel that the certainty of the saints is mine. With all my being, I desire that this be so. I live the painful alternation of the presence and the absence of God – who of us can say he or she is entirely in the presence of God? I live the oscillation between, on the one hand, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit and, on the other, dryness, inaneness, and spiritual sterility. I live in the faith, that is, in the hope of things to come, in the certainty that God has loved and saved us and that the grace of God superabounds and works through our weakness. The Lord tells St Paul that to speak of spiritual experience is not to look at oneself in a mirror or to hear oneself talk, pray, or preach. St Isaac of Syria writes, “True prayer is when one prays without even knowing one prays.” To know that one prays is already a return to self. True prayer, then, is to forget about oneself; praying is turning to God and others in the best possible way.

Father Boris Bobrinskoy, The Compassion of the Father, (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003) 147-148.

Father Boris concludes this chapter on theology and language by drawing on the incarnational and ascensional mystery of Christ which draws us into the Kingdom, enabling us to partake of the divine life.

…henceforth language and human art can be baptized in the Church; they can, in the fire of the Spirit, become able to translate for our human senses and our understanding the presence of the divine Trinity in itself and in its saints. (148)

This language is actualized in the “here and now” but is in continuity with the language of the Fathers. Recent biblical, theological, iconographic and spiritual renewals have enriched “the Orthodox eucharistic and liturgical life and, starting from there, all of theology” although there remains work to be done in recovering worship as the true source of theological knowledge. Some of this is due to ecumenical endeavour, and “We should discern and rejoice for every germ and desire for Orthodoxy with our separated brethren.” (149) Moreover, there is need for a balance between “unwavering fidelity to the tradition of the Fathers and theological research in which we are instructed directly by the Spirit.” (150)

Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues to discuss the common experience of the Church in the eighth chapter of The Compassion of the Father on language. The Church is the divine-human body of Christ and temple of the Spirit. As Saint Irenaeus wrote, while languages differ, “the content of the tradition is one and the same” (140) and we can neither add to or subtract from it. However, “the Fathers greatly reserve investigation into the mysteries;” (141) instead, as Saint Hilary of Poitiers tells us, it is the heretics attempt to speak that which is unlawful and thereby force the Fathers to respond to them and this involved them in a necessary tension and even a suffering.

Father Boris then proceeds to discuss the pitfalls of theology. The first of these involves relativising words:

When there is a break between reason and the faith, words run the risk of acquiring a mere relative value. That struck me when Fr Yves Congar – a great Dominican cardinal and one of those most involved in finding a solution to the problem of the filioque declared in 1981 (at the sixteenth centenary of the Second Ecumenical Council) that we are united in praise, adoration, doxology, and silence, but that our “dogmatic formulations are nothing but pious approximations of human language that do not affect the divinity.” Given the divine-human quality of theological language and of the Church, such a view is unacceptable to Orthodox Christians. The fear of dogmatism runs the risk of causing a rejection of dogmas. (143)

The opposite danger is that of seeing dogmatic formulations as totally adequate to the mysteries and

This theological and scholastic rationalism parches the heart; the Fathers since the fourth century, have never ceased to fight against it and insist on the ineffable mystery of God. (143)

In contrast to both of these extremes,

Christian theology has an existential, even soteriological task: to defend the faith, to shape adequate concepts, to expand the natural mind through the waters of baptism, and to lift this natural mind in the ascending movement of the entire Church to the level of revelation, making it partake of the knowledge of God. (143)

Conciliar definitions are “at once something acquired forever” and also “markers and stages of reflection that must not be closed.” (143) In this, minute details can make a world of difference. We see something of this sensitivity in Saint Basil’s search for a middle ground between rejecting heresy and “prudence with respect to words hallowed at the Council of Nicaea.” (144) Likewise, the West’s (and in particular Saint Jerome’s) opposition to the use of the word “hypostasis” rests on an inability to understand a word that would acquire a new meaning.

Theological language is ultimately language that leads to communion with God,

of eternal concelebrating in which the human being by the divine humanity of Christ and the Pentecost of the Spirit, is invited to enter. We are invited to penetrate into this mysterious and inaccessible enclosure through the Ascension and the Resurrection, which are also a resurrection and an ascent of our intelligence, of our entire being. … The mystery of Christ, true God and true man, in whom are hidden the treasures of the divinity, is the key to the trinitarian mystery, of which He is the revelation, in the breath of the Holy Spirit. The Christian language is simultaneously and pre-eminently liturgical and theological, as it expresses and formulates the common spiritual experience of the Church – always an experience of holiness and of ineffable life – and it raises us towards the silence of communion. We are then in the image of the disciples of Emmaus who first heard the Lord speak but who understood only at the breaking of the bread, when the Lord disappeared from their eyes, and they found themselves in the silence of communion. This theological language, which has numerous verbal consonances, full of imagery and of great beauty, is the silence of vision, of the union. (146-147)

In his discussion of the relationship between language and theology in the eighth chapter of The Compassion of the Father, Father Boris Bobrinskoy proceeds to discuss the relationship between the Word and the Spirit, in which the “Spirit rests on the Son from all eternity” and makes the creative word of God to germinate, enabling the disciples to hear the appeal of the incarnate Word, and making “the Lord present in the Church until the end of time.” (138) It is the Spirit who transforms the eucharistic gifts and the eucharistic assembly into the Body of Christ.

Such is the incarnational and revelatory function of the Spirit, of the one who does not become incarnate, but who incarnates, penetrates, and vivifies the Divine Word that has become human word and image. When the Word of God, Jesus Christ, becomes ours, He merges in us and we in Him. St. Nicholas Cabasilas notes: “Unlike human nourishment we assimilate to ourselves, it is Christ – bread, word, image – who assimilates us and unites us to Him, and carries us along in anticipation of His kingdom.” When “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me,” Christ quenches me with the gifts of His Holy Spirit: love, compassion, discernment, wisdom, and thus language. This is the mysterious reciprocity of “the two hands of God” that carry us to the Father. (139)

Father Boris then proceeds to discuss the tension between negative and positive theology, locating the truth of what can be said positively not in individual experience but in the common faith of the Church.

Spiritual experience does not necessitate subjectivism. By itself, my experience is not the foundation of the knowledge of God and of language. But when it is grounded in the common experience of the Church, without dissociating itself, it is valid, for the common experience of the Church always includes personal experience – that of the saints, of the Mother of God, and of the angels. Within the Church, we “drink” this experience – we receive it, we commune of it in the communion of the Word and in the communion of the consecrated bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ.

Thus, the incarnation of the eternal Word means that the eternal mystery of God can express itself forever in human words: simultaneously inadequate to this mystery and true. The redeeming Passion and Resurrection purify, purge, and free the human language from demonic pride and sinful self-sufficiency. The Ascension and seating of Christ at the right hand of the Father harmonize this word with the eternal mystery, of which we partake. Christ has recapitulated us in Himself, and he has restored human language to its first vocation. Finally, the permanent Pentecost of the Spirit in the Church makes us contemporaneous with Christ and gives the Church “the sure gift of truth”(charisma veritatis certum), as St Irenaeus of Lyons said with regard to the office of the bishop. The certainty of the truth given by God belongs to the entire Church through the episcopal magisterium. (140)

Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues this eighth chapter of The Compassion of the Father on theology and language by showing the shift that occurs in the language used for God between the Old and the New Testaments. Whereas the Old Testament had used human attributes as a way of apprehending the mystery of God,

the coming of Christ overturns all these evaluations. The Old Testament spoke of God “wearing the light as a robe” (Ps 104:2), but the New Testament speaks about God who is light. Whereas the Old Testament spoke of the paternal tenderness of God in the image of human tenderness – “As tenderly as a father treats His children, so Yahweh treats those who fear Him.” (Ps 103:13) – the divine fatherhood of God in the New Covenant becomes primary, and human fatherhood derives from it. (136)

While this reversal does not belittle the biblical anthropomorphic language, it shows that the heart of the theology of language is the divine humanity of Christ. This divine humanity is continued in the Church as the Body of Christ, and especially in the sacramental understanding of the Church.

The concept of “sacraments” surpasses the framework of seven sacraments established wrongly in the Middle Ages. In the third century, Origen envisioned two sacraments: baptism and the Word of God. I would add the icon as well (both as a sacrament and having therefore a sacramental function). The Word of God, read, commented on, meditated and preached in the Church has a sacramental function and an important liturgical and doxological character. (136-137)

Father Boris then proceeds to distinguish between the Word of God, the word to God and the words about God that he had discussed in the previous chapter. However, there is a link between these words, and we see that

certain formularies of conciliar decrees concerning the Trinitarian or Christological mystery are found literally in the liturgical praise … If praise and liturgical prayer are pre-eminently theological, theology is doxological, meaning it derives from praise and communion. Fr Sergius Bulgakov maintained that he had taken his entire theological vision from the bottom of the eucharistic chalice. Fr Cyprian Kern said that singing in the choir was the best school of theology. (137)

The eighth chapter of The Compassion of the Father is an essay entitled “The Theology of Language and the Language of Theology.” In it Father Boris Bobrinskoy begins by noting that this is not simply a play on words, but rather a serious reflection on the theological nature of language which is rooted in the speech of God, but also in the relationship between word and silence.

the theology of the Word must be founded first on the mystery – simultaneously unfathomable and revealed – of the eternal generation of the Son, the Word of God, inseparable from the Spirit. For it is not possible to think of the Son engendered by the Father without thinking, at the same time, of the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the resting of the Spirit on the Son.

St Ignatius of Antioch, in the second century, wrote, “The Word proceeded from the silence of the Father.” Likewise, his contemporary, St Irenaeus of Lyons, wrote, “The Father is the invisible of the Son and the Son is the visible of the Father.” Here we have two basic functions of human nature – and therefore divine – which are the word and the image, hearing and seeing. There is a reciprocal relationship between the visible and the invisible, between the image and the prototype, between the word and silence. This fundamental relationship penetrates into the mystery of the word. Not only does the word arise from silence, but it also contains silence and sends us back to the abyss of the mystery of God, beyond all understanding and all words. Silence constitutes the necessary transcendence of the word and its essential reference. The word is not word if it does not refer to a reality beyond itself. That is as true for the symbol as it is for the icon.

In the Prologue to his Gospel, St John writes, “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son who is close to the Father, who has made Him known” (Jn 1:18). Here we have the silence of the Father, who carries the Son in His eternal bosom and who “speaks” Him in the eternal generation, as Psalm 2 suggests, “You are my son, today have I fathered you” (Ps 2:7). He speaks an eternal word, a word of love, and a word that engenders endlessly. Beyond the word that the Father is, there is the interiority of fatherly silence in the Son Himself: “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30). The creative word of the Word wells up, too, from the silence of the Father and carries out the Trinitarian plan of creation in the Holy Spirit. Through the revealing words of the Word, God enters into a dialogue with the creature. The dialogue that is established introduces into the ineffable mystery of vision and communion, beyond all language. Thus the word of God must germinate in the silence of our hearts, in the deepest recesses of our inwardness. There is a link here between the initial and ultimate silence of the trinitarian mystery and the tomb of Christ, that is, death and resurrection. According to the words of Christ: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed, but if it dies, it produces many seeds” (Jn 12:24). (133-135)

This creative activity is not something that He does from without, but rather from within.

The creative Word keeps the creature in stable well being, not through the outside force of a dues ex machine, but from the inside. At the foundation, the indivisible core of created things, are the logoi, the reasons for beings, which are contained altogether in the Logos. Philaret of Moscow said: “All creatures are balanced upon the creative word of God, as if upon a diamond bridge: above them is the abyss of divine infinitude, below them that of their own primordial nothingness.” The word of God is active to the highest degree in a human being created in the image of God. Isaac of Syria said, “God created man through the Word; the angels He created in silence.” The word creates a bond of friendship and establishes a capacity for a common language between the human being and God, a language well beyond our awareness and our intellectual perception. Created in the image of God, the human being’s ultimate vocation is to the resemblance inscribed in the first dynamism of human life. (135)

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)

« Previous PageNext Page »