Silence


I mentioned quite a while ago that I had been listening to Father Thomas Hopko’s series on the Divine Liturgy, Worship in Spirit and Truth. It’s been a somewhat disrupted listening, but then it is a rather long – albeit worthwhile – series and it took him thirty podcasts to get to the beginning of the Liturgy! Anyway, having just listened to his podcast on the opening words of the Divine Liturgy, I was struck by what he had to say about the words that we use in worship, and in our own personal prayer. I have touched on this before, having quoted Father Florovsky’s words about the point of the prayers of the Church being to teach us to pray. And I have also noted how I have been struck that it is those religious traditions that are most insistent on the use of the right words in prayer – and theology, for that matter – that are, seemingly paradoxically, also most aware of the limitation of words.

I can’t help being aware that this goes rather against the grain of what many people in our society consider prayer to be, and what I was brought up to see it as. Yet I am also aware that, growing up in an Evangelical Protestant home, I was often profoundly uncomfortable with the expectation that prayer was primarily speaking to God in one’s own words. Without wanting to offend anyone, it somehow sounded, well, trite, projecting, and somehow banal, although that sounds like a terribly judgmental thing to say. However, listening to Father Hopko this afternoon, I was able to understand some of my discomfort more. Prayer is a training, as Saint Benedict tells us, to put our mind where our mouth is. Words train us and form us. They form the heart and the mind. And it therefore matters what words we use in prayer. This is an extract from the transcript of Father Hopko’s podcast, and the rest is found here:

The animals and the plants worship God just by their very being. The animals worship God just by their very nature, whereas the human being, who is a free being, has to open their mouth and their lips and show forth God’s praise through their speech. We have speech, and Christian worship is logike latreia, the worship of those who speak; those whose words and sounds have a content to them.

Now, it’s very interesting here to note that when we’re calling on God to open our lips and to put the words into our mouth, we have to really pay attention to the fact that we are praying in the words that are given to us by God. These are words given to us by God. Worship is not done in our own words, certainly not in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. We do not pray in our own words, so to speak. We pray in the words God gave us to say.

St. Benedict, a great monk of the Western Church; very much influenced by the Eastern Tradition, says that in liturgical prayer, in the Church’s worship, we do not put our mouth where our mind is. We put our mind where our mouth is. In other words, we don’t say what comes to our mind. The words are first put on our mouth, our lips. They are given to us by God, and then we put our mind on what we are saying, and we’re saying it because God has commanded us to say it. He has inspired us to say it.

As Saint Anthony the Great said, “In the worship of the Christian Church, God gives His own words for His own glorification.” He puts His words into our mouth. And that’s very important, because in traditional Biblical worship when the Kahal Israel, the People of God, the People of Israel, the Ekkli̱sía tou Theoú, the Church of God, the Church of the Lord gathers, the words of the Lord are provided by God. We don’t make them up. We don’t express what’s on our mind and heart when we go to Church.

Now, when we pray privately, we even then don’t begin in our own words, at least in the Eastern Orthodox Church. We begin private, personal prayers in our room; in our heart in the words God gave us. We say, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.” We say, “Holy God. Holy Immortal. Holy, Holy, Holy.” We say, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Those are words that God gives us.

We say the words of the Psalms, which are the words that are inspired in human beings by God. They are the words of God in human words. But they are ultimately God’s words. They are inspired words. They are the Holy Spirit praying within us. Now, we begin with those words that God gives, and then in our private devotion, we can move in several directions.

We can move where, taking those words that God gives, we somehow use them as a formation or a pattern for what we ourselves might personally wish to say. So sure, we can pray in our own words or fill our own content with these words, but we never do that publicly in the Eastern Orthodox Church. We always use the words together. We use the same words, and these words are primarily those inspired by God; given to us by God.

But then also, the words of prayer, both in our heart, in our room, in our closet, and the corporate worship of the Church can lead human beings into the wordless prayer; into the silence from which God’s words emerge and into which God’s words lead us. So in the Orthodox Tradition, the hesychastic prayer, the prayer of silence, is deeply connected to the prayer of words.

But you begin with words. You don’t begin with silence. You are led into the silence through the words. And the words lead us deeper into a meaning, which even the words themselves cannot really contain, limit and totally express. So there is a communion with God in silence that is beyond and above words, the wordless prayer of the heart.

St. Isaac of Syria and St. Seraphim or Sarov even say that there’s a condition beyond worship. There’s a condition beyond petitionary prayer where you are just one with God. The Holy Spirit is in you totally, so to speak, and you are in communion with Christ; in communion with God; in a love relationship; a union of love that’s beyond words.

And we know that really love is always beyond words, even the best of words. All the best of words are limited and in some sense, if taken too literally, are misguiding. St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “When it comes to words, even the words inspired by God, every man is a liar, because this reality so transcends words.” But they are words, to use the expression of St. Gregory the Theologian now, theoprepic. In other words, they are appropriate to God. They are true words, or to use the line of the Psalter, they are pure words.

This eight-part series of blog posts is based on a talk I gave earlier in the year to a group of Christians who wanted to know more about Orthodox spirituality. It is quite basic and possibly in need of further reworking, but I post it here in the hope that it may be of help to some. (Continued from here).

We have seen that prayer and the life of faith involves our bodies and all of our senses. Yet it also involves words and the Orthodox Church is insistent on the use of the right words. Sometimes people who are interested in Orthodoxy because they see it as “mystical” can get rather disillusioned when they realise how many (often rather long) verbal prayers we have. Yet this is what teaches us to pray. Father Georges Florosky writes:

It has often been suggested, by many authorities and expert masters of spiritual life, that ‘prayer books’, the fixed formularies of worship, are only intended for the beginners. This is undoubtedly true if the statement is properly understood. Fixed formulae are, of course, no more than a means towards something much greater. Yet they are an appropriate means. It is spiritually dangerous to neglect the ‘books’, to dispense with them hastily, and to indulge arbitrarily in extempore improvisations of one’s own composition. It is more than merely a question of discipline. The settled formulae not only help to fix the attention, but also feed the heart and mind of the worshippers, offering topics for meditation and reminding them of the mighty deeds of God. There is no room for psychologism or subjectivism in Christian worship.” *

There is a fundamental relationship between words and silence in our prayer. It has sometimes struck me as interesting that it is precisely those religious traditions that are most insistent on the use of the right words (and the right ritual and gesture), and who resist the idea that we should make things up as we go along, that are most aware of the limitation of words. For it is the task of words to lead us to silence, to the place where words break down and we are face to face with the One who is beyond all words. The Orthodox life of prayer uses words extensively, both in its public liturgy and in private prayer. Their use is not arbitrary, there is a lot of repetition, and we certainly don’t make them up as we go along. And yet their purpose is to lead us beyond themselves, for, as Saint Isaac the Syrian writes, “Speech is the organ of this present age. Silence is the mystery of the world to come.”

This same relationship between words and silence is seen in the use of the Jesus prayer. This short prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” – is seen as one of the treasures of Orthodox life although its use also varies. It is often thought of as a mantra but, while it may have external similarities with mantras in other religious traditions, being a short phrase that is repeated, we would see it not as a mantra but as a prayer that sums up the fundamental Christian approach to God. It is addressed to Christ, acknowledges Him as the Son of God, and is a plea for mercy on the part of those who are aware of their own sinfulness. Yet these are no mere words, but, constantly repeated, become the expression of our whole relationship to God.

For, at the centre of any life of prayer is not what we do, but rather what happens to us and what we become. It is how we encounter the reality of the world, including the reality of suffering in the world. For the early Fathers, prayer was about entering into the depths of our hearts, allowing our hearts to be broken open so that the presence of God may purify and heal us and so that we may in turn become a source of healing for others. Father Boris Bobrinskoy writes:

Living the life of Christ, letting oneself be penetrated by His Spirit, by His breath of mercy, constitutes Christianity. According to the Bible, that means acquiring the bowels of compassion and tenderness of the Father. According to the second chapter of Philippians, it presupposes having the same feelings as Jesus Christ, not in the sense of mimicry or external imitation, but a true “transfer” on a plane more important and fundamental than the psychological level. A transfer of presence, of life center, of grace and love must operate in us so that we might live in Christ, and Christ might live in us. Certainly, this transfer operates in a global, constant, and progressive manner, through the sacramental life, love, prayer, and faith. For us Christians, the Church is the place of apprenticeship of this transfer: its entire pedagogy, its sacramental and liturgical transmission, its spiritual methodology, and its ascetic experience of the inner life, what the Fathers call the unseen warfare against the passions. **

To be continued…

* “The Worshipping Church” in The Festal Menaion, 32.

** The Compassion of the Father, 87.

This is another essay that I wrote a few years ago, shortly before I became Orthodox, and never got to publishing. I thought that it may be worth publishing it here as it relates to things that I also keep coming across here and so have expanded and updated it slightly in the hope that it may be helpful.  Of course, there is more that can be said on related matters if I ever get to it…

A few years ago, while I was still in the Netherlands, I became aware of a certain media interest in monasticism. Despite their declining numbers and the secularization of society, monasteries continued to fascinate people and had even become rather fashionable destinations for those in search of some sort of inner peace.

What struck me then about this phenomenon was that it was fundamentally redefining monasticism. I read an article that managed to explain the meaning of monasticism for a broad public without once mentioning God or Christ. Instead, it told us that monastics withdraw from society in order to search for silence, for the heart of their life is concerned with what happens in this silence.

That silence is important for the monastic life is indisputable. But for a concept such as “silence” to come to define monasticism, even to the point of replacing any reference to God, is at the very least rather problematic. For Saint Benedict, the necessary condition for becoming a monk was that one truly sought God. Silence can be an important means by which we seek God, but we also need to ask ourselves what silence means. Is silence something neutral? How and with what is silence filled? What is the relationship between word and silence? Is the silence of a Christian monastery different to that of a Buddhist monastery? And what is it that actually happens in the silence?

Since coming back to South Africa, I have become aware that there is a similar dynamic at work among many people who are seeking after “spirituality” – something that I keep hoping to write more about. All too often I have seen references to retreats, courses, groups, and “inspirational” quotes (I could name names but I won’t) that originate in a Christian context but would seem to replace any specifically Christian content with a reference to silence, or solitude, or the absolute. An experience of this silence is what we are told that we need to seek, often by contrasting it to dogma which is invariably viewed in negative terms. But, once more, what is this silence? What is its relationship to Christian tradition and to dogma? (more…)

In the last section of the third chapter of  Earthen Vessels: The Practice of Personal Prayer According to the Patristic Tradition on “Manners of Praying,” Father Gabriel (Bunge) balances what he had said about praying aloud in the previous section, by pointing to the importance of silence in prayer. The Fathers warn us about vain display in prayer and point out that it is only God who knows what is in our hearts. As Saint John Cassian tells us:

We pray “in secret” when we make our petitions known to God alone in our heart and with a watchful mind, in such a manner that the hostile powers cannot even tell what sort of a petition it is. Therefore one should pray in the most profound silence, not only so as to avoid distracting the brothers around us by our whispering and calling, or disturbing the sentiments of those who are at prayer, but also so that the purpose of our petition might remain hidden from our enemies themselves, who lie in wait for us especially when we pray. In this way, then, we fulfil the commandment: “Guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom.” (132)

While the words of the psalms are intended to drive away our adversaries and should be prayed aloud, our intimate conversation with God should remain hidden from them.

Moreover, the words that we use in prayer can sometimes be a distraction to us as well as to our neighbours. Even worse are our own thoughts which can interrupt the immediacy that we desire with God, for true prayer takes place without any mediation between God and the one praying.

Standing in the way of this desired immediacy, nevertheless, are not only our voices and our words but also and above all our “mental images” (νοήματα), insofar as they represent a “mediation” between us and God. This means not only the passionate, sinful “thoughts” but all thoughts whatsoever about created things, or even about God himself, be they ever so sublime, since they hold a person bound to human concerns. In a word, man must “cast aside all mental images” if he wants to “pray in truth”. This “withdrawal” is a step-by-step process corresponding to the ascent in the spiritual life, not a “technique” to be acquired somehow, as one often encounters in many non-Christian methods of “meditation”. Man, to be sure, does his share in this, but he cannot accomplish this “transcendence” by his own power, because the destination, God, is a “Person” who inclines himself to man with absolute freedom. (133-134)

If the grace of entering this “place of prayer” is given then it is fitting that one’s prayer becomes adapted to it. In the words of Diadochos of Photike:

When the soul finds itself amidst the fullness of its natural fruits, then it recites the psalmody with an even stronger voice and desires, more than anything else, to pray aloud. When, however, the Holy Spirit works within it, the it recites the psalms very gently and lovingly and prays in the heart alone.

The first state is followed by a joy that is bound up with mental imagery; the second by spiritual tears and thereafter a certain joy in the heart that loves silence. For being mindful [of God], which maintains its warmth through the moderation of the voice, enables the heart to bring forth tearful, very gentle thoughts. (135)

Father Gabriel points out that

The masters of the spiritual life expressly warn against disturbing this “visitation of the Holy Spirit” by stubbornly clinging to one’s own activity or to any self-imposed “rule.” At this moment the only valid law is that of “the freedom of the children of God”, as the East-Syrian mystic Joseph Hazzaya teaches.

Close the doors of your cell, enter the inner room, and sit down in darkness and seclusion in a place where you do not even hear the song of a bird. Then when the hour for the Divine Office comes, beware, do not stand up, lest you be like a child that in its ignorance exchanges a talent of gold for a fig that sweetens its gums for an instant. But you, like a wise merchant, once you have discovered the “pearl of great price”, do not exchange this for contemptible things that you find before you at all times, lest you end as did that people which went forth from Egypt and which despised the food of the spiritual manna and craved the loathsome food of the Egyptians. (135-136)

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…

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)

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)

The third section of The Compassion of the Fatherby Father Boris Bobrinskoy is entitled “Toward the knowledge of God” and begins with an essay on “Theology and Spirituality.” I first came across it in French and found it important enough to want to translate, but was pleased to discover that somebody better qualified than myself had already done so!

After noting the danger involved in separating and opposing theology and spirituality, Father Boris proceeds to consider the relationship between silence and the word. Theos and logos refer to the first to persons of the Trinitarian mystery, of the mystery of God who speaks, for, in the words of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, “The Word of God wells up from the silence of the Father.”

Two basic and inseparable concepts, silence and the word, must be compared in speaking of theology. The word, as solely word, becomes chatter; it remains an externalization without depth. Silence, when not expressed, remains inaccessible, as St Paul says, “[He] lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen” (1 Tim 6:16). This inaccessible light is the same as silence. The Word of God is the foundation not only of trinitarian theology but also of the universe. God creates through His Word: “God said, ‘Let there be light!’” (Gen 1:3). (122)

Father Boris proposes a threefold approach in which we can speak of God in the first person, the second person and the third person.

To speak of God in the first person is to speak of God’s own speech.

To say that God speaks is extremely important, even if we cannot hear the words. God creates by speech and the Word of God is the essential, ontological act through which the human being and the world came into existence. God carries the world through His Word … In the presence of God who speaks, first there is listening, second obedience – the “yes,” the amen, of the human being to God. (122)

To speak of God in the second person is to address God as “You” as grow in a filial relationship, a relationship of friendship, unity and communion, that leads to deification.

A dialogue of prayer, of worship – not only ecclesial but also inner – structures and defines the true existence of the human person. (123)

Only as a consequence of this dialogue can we speak of God in the third person.

If one isolates God in the third person, one makes an object of Him, one reifies (chosifie) Him: this is the great danger of theology. Theology is then severed from its roots, from its foundation, its framework, from this living dialogue where God speaks and humanity responds. Only within a living relationship may one speak of God. (123)

Speech about God is furthermore rooted in confession, whether that be the preaching of the apostles, or the confession of faith of those about to be baptised.

Preaching was the first manifestation of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, whom He had led “to remember” and who made the words of Christ come out of their hearts where they had been engraved. (123)

To be continued…