What is Orthodoxy?
By Protopresbyter George Metallinos
Past Professor, School of Theology, University of Athens
Speaking of Orthodoxy, we must not repeat the mistake of Pilate when he asked Christ "what is the truth? (John 18:38). The proper question is: "Who is truth?" For the truth is not an idea, a theory, a system, but a person, the Most Holy Person of the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. Therefore we must ask the same about Orthodoxy, because it is identified with the Godman, Person of the Word of God. He as Godman is our Orthodoxy, our Complete Truth.
1. If we wish to conventionally define Christianity as Orthodoxy, we would say that it is the experience of the presence of the Uncreated (God) /1/ in history and the possibility of the created (man) to become God "by grace". Given the continual presence of God in Christ in the historic reality, Christianity offers to man the possibility of theosis, like the Medical Science offers the possibility of the maintenance or restoration of his health, but in both cases through a certain therapeutic process and a certain type of life.
The single and absolute goal of the in Christ life is the Theosis, namely, the union with God, so that man by participating in the uncreated energy of God becomes "by grace" that which God is, His nature (without beginning and without end). This is the Christian meaning of salvation. It is not about an ethical improvement of man, but about the in Christ recreation, reform of man and community, within the infinite and existential relationship with Christ, Who is the incarnate appearance of God in history. This is what the phrase of Paul expresses "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature...." (2 Cor. 5:17). The one united with Christ is a new creation. For this in Christian terms the incarnation of the Word of God, the salvific entry of the Eternal and Beyond time, inside the historical time, is the beginning of a new world, literally of a "New Age", which continues to beyond the ages, in the persons that have become the authentic Christians, namely the Saints. The Church is the "body of Christ" existing in the world in Christ communion, to offer salvation by incorporating man and community in this regeneration process /2/. This salvific work of the Church is done with a certain therapeutic method, so that the Church substantially operates as a global Therapeutic Institution. "Spiritual Clinic" (spiritual hospital) the Church is called by the Holy Chrysostom (+407). Below are the answers to the following questions:
- 1. What is the sickness that Christian Orthodoxy treats?
- 2. What is the therapeutic method that it practices? And
- 3. What is the identification of the authentic Christianity that radically differentiates her from the heretic deviations but also from every form of religion? /3/
2. The sickness of human nature is the fallen state of man and at the same time all the creation that co-suffers (..... the whole creation groans and labours in pain.......Rom. 8:22) with him. This diagnosis concerns every person, independent whether he is Christian or not, or whether, due to the natural union of humanity at large (Acts 17:26). Christian Orthodoxy is not bounded within the narrow boundaries of religion that is only interested in her followers, but like God "Who will have all men be saved and come to the knowledge of truth" (1Tim 2:4) since God is "Saviour of all the people" (1Tim 4:10). The sickness therefore of which Christianity talks about, is universal; Rom 5: 12; ".....and so death passed upon all men, for that they all have sinned" (=missed the goal in their march towards Theosis). Like the fall (namely the sickness) is universal, so too the salvific therapy depends directly on the interior functioning of every person.
The experience of the Saints knows one memory system, the "of the heart, or noetic" memory that operates in the heart and which is ignored by the medical science. The heart according to Orthodox tradition does not function only physically, as a pump to move the blood. For beyond the natural it has a supernatural function. Under certain preconditions it becomes the place of communion with God, namely with His uncreated energy. Of course this becomes noticed in the experience of the Saints, the true Christians and not through the logical function or intellectual theologizing.
Saint Nicodemos Agiorite (+1809) recapitulating the complete patristic tradition in his work "Advisory Manual", calls the heart the natural centre, supernatural but also para-natural, when the supernatural function is inactive because the heart is overtaken by the passions. The supernatural function of the heart is the absolute precondition for the perfection, the completion of man, namely his theosis, as his full inclusion into Christ's community.
In her supernatural function, the heart becomes the place of energizing of the mind. In the language code of Orthodoxy, the mind (nous) (in the New Testament it is called "spirit" of man and eye of the soul") is the energy (activity) of the soul, by which man knows God, coming to the vision of God, or Theoptia. Of course we must clarify that the knowledge of God, does not mean the knowledge of the unapproachable and inaccessible divine essence, but of the divine energy. The distinction between essence and energy of God is the vital difference of Orthodoxy from any other version of Christianity. The energy of mind in the heart is called "noetic function" of the heart. We again clarify that Mind (Nous) and Word (logic) are not identical because logic happens in the brain, while noetic (nous) in the heart.
The noetic function is realized as an incessant prayer (1Thess 5:17) of the Holy Spirit in the heart (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:26; 1Thess 5:19) and the Holy Fathers call it "remembrance of God". Man having within his heart the "remembrance of God" has the feeling of God's occupancy within him
Great Basil in his 2nd epistle says, that the remembrance of God remains incessant, when it is not interrupted by earthly concerns, but the "nous" "departs" for God, namely it has established communion with God. This however does not mean that the faithful acting by divine energy avoids the necessary cares of life, remaining in stagnation or in some ecstasy but the liberation of the "nous" from these cares, which are cared for by logic. Let us use an example that touches us. A scientist, who has acquired the noetic function, uses his logic to deal with his problems, while his "nous" in his heart maintains incessant the remembrance of God. He is a healthy (normal) man (holy) by Orthodox measure. That is why the therapy of Orthodoxy is connected with the march of man towards holiness.
The non functioning or sub-functioning of the noetic activity of man is the essence of the fall. The famous "sin of the forefather" is exactly the missing of the target of man even from the beginning of his historic presence, to save the remembrance of God, namely the communion with God, in his heart.
In this unhealthy condition are all the descendants of the first created, because it is not some ethical, namely personal sin, but sickness of the nature of man ("Our nature became sick due to sin" notes Saint Kyrill of Alexandria +444) and is passed from man to man, just like sickness of a certain tree is passed to those that come from it.
The stagnation of the noetic activity or of the remembrance of God and its confusion with the activity of the brain, as it happens to all of us, enslaves man to anxiety and the environment and the seeking after self pleasures within its individualism and anti-socialism. In the condition of the sickness of the fall, man uses God and his fellow man to fortify his individual security and happiness. Use of God is done through "religion" (effort to grab from the divine power) which could degenerate in the Godifying (self theosis) man ("we become our own idols" says Saint Andrew of Crete in his "Great Canon"). Use of fellowman and generally of the creation, is done through the manipulation in every possible way. This is therefore the sickness, which man wishes to treat, by submitting himself to the "spiritual treatment centre" of the Church /4/.
3. The purpose of the presence of the Church, as in Christ community, in the world is the treatment of man with the restoration of the communion of the heart with God, namely of the noetic function. According to the blessed professor Fr. I. Roumanidis, "the patristic tradition is neither a communal philosophy nor an ethical system, nor religious dogmatism but a curative regimen. At this point it resembles a lot to medicine and particularly to Psychiatry. The noetic energy of the soul, that prays noeticly and incessantly is the heart, it is the physiological organ that everyone possesses and for which therapy is essential. Neither philosophy nor any of the known natural or social sciences is able to cure this organ. For this the uncured does not even know the existence of such an organ.
The need for treatment of man according to the above is a universal human matter, concerned firstly with the restoration of every man in his natural existence with the re-activation also of the third (noetic) remembrance function. It however extends in the social existence of man. For man to be able to communicate as a brother with his fellowman, his self interest which as a result functions as egoism, must be transformed to anti-self interest (1Cor 13:8; "....love .....does not seek for itself..."). Anti-self interest is the love of Triadic God (Rom 5:8; 1 John 4:7 etc) that gives everything without seeking return. Because of this, the social ideal of Christian Orthodoxy is not the "commonwealth" but the "dispossession" as a self resignation from every expectation. For only then justice (entitlement) is possible.
The method of therapy offered by the Church is the spiritual life as a life in the Holy Spirit. The spiritual life is lived as an ascesis (exercise) and participation in the given through the mysteries uncreated Grace. The ascesis (practice) is the violation of our self independence and the deadened from sin nature that proceeds towards the spiritual or eternal death, namely the eternal separation from the Grace of God. The ascesis aspires to the victory over the passions, to overcome the internal enslavement to the sickness bearing stages of man and to transfer to the Cross of Christ and His resurrection. The ascetic Christian under the direction of his Therapist- Spiritual Confessor - becomes receptive of the Grace, who accepts through his participation in the mysteries of the ecclesiastic body. A non ascetic Christian cannot exist, like there cannot be a cured person that does not follow the therapeutic course that the physician prescribed.
4. The above lead to some firm points that indicate the authenticity of the Christian Orthodoxy:
- a) The Church as the body of Christ, functions as a therapeutic centre - hospital. Otherwise she is not a Church but religion. The Clerics are selected originally from the cured, to work as therapists of others. The therapeutic liturgy (function) of the Church, today is mainly saved in the Monasteries, who even while enduring their separation from the world, continue the Church of the apostolic times.
- b) The scientists of the ecclesiastic therapies are already cured. Whoever does not have experience of the therapeutic treatment cannot be a therapist. This is the important difference between the pastoral therapeutic science and the medical science. The scientists of the ecclesiastic therapy (Fathers and Mothers) produce other therapists, like the Professors of Medicine produce their successors.
- c) The restriction of the Church to the simple forgiveness of sins for entry to paradise after death suggests self alienation which is equivalent to the medical science forgiving the patient, so that he gets cured after death! The Church does not aim to send someone to paradise or hell. Paradise and hell, in any case are not places but a way of existence. The Church by curing man, prepares him to see Christ into eternity in His uncreated light as paradise and not as hell, namely "consuming fire" (Heb 12:29). This naturally concerns every person, for ALL the people will be seeing Christ eternally as "Judge" of the world.
- d) The validity of science is indicated by the success of her goals (for example in medicine, by the patient becoming cured). "This way the validity of the medical science is differentiated from quackery". The criterion of the pastoral therapy of the Church is the accomplishment of the spiritual therapy, with her opening of the trek towards theosis. The therapy does not transfer to the after death life but is done in the life of man in this world (in the here and now). This is confirmed from the incorrupt relics of the Saints that win over the biological corruption, like those of the Saints of the Seven Islands (The Greek Adriatic islands, Corfu etc): Spyridon, Gerasimos, Dionysios and Theodora of Augusta. The incorrupt holy relics in our tradition are the indisputable evidence of theosis, of the fulfillment of the therapeutic Church. I would however kindly ask the medical people of our land to pay special attention to the case of the intact holy relics, that they not only have not received any scientific intervention but they exhibit within them the energy of divine Grace. Because at the moment the corruption of the cellular system begins, it stops automatically, and instead of foul smell, fragrance emanates. I confine myself to the medical symptoms and do not refer to the miracles, as proof of theosis because they belong to another sphere.
- e) Finally the holy texts of the Church (bible, synodic and patristic texts) do not codify some Christian ideology, but have a therapeutic character functioning like the University texts in the medical science. This also holds for the liturgical texts, e.g. prayers. The simple reading of a Prayer, without a parallel will of involvement by the faithful in its therapeutic process, does not differ from the situation where the patient runs to the doctor with great pains and the doctor instead of drastically intervening, he limits himself to laying the patient on the surgery bed and reading him the chapter concerning his sickness!
Briefly, this is Orthodoxy. It does not matter, if one accepts her or not. For this we address everybody, including the non-Christians and the indifferent but also the "Christians" (in overture). All other interpretation of Christianity constitutes falsification and distortion of her, even if it wishes to appear as Orthodoxy!
Fr. John S. Romanidis, (Ρωμαίοι η Ρωμηοί) Fathers of the Church, Thessaloniki 1984. (by same). Religion is a neurobiological sickness, while Orthodoxy, her therapy, in the volume "Orthodoxy, Hellenism......." Issued by the Holy Monastery of Koutloumousio, 2nd Vol 1996 P67-87 (by same). Church Synods and Civilization in THEOLOGY, issue 63 (1992) 421-450 AND IN Greek issue 66 (1995) 646-680. Fr. Hierotheos Vlahos (now Metrop. Nafpaktos) Orthodox Psychotherapy, "Edessa 1986 by same. Little entrance in Orthodox Spirituality, Athens 1992 by same, Practical Psychology and Orthodox Psychotherapy. Levadia1995, by same, The Medicine in spirit science, Levadia 2009. Also the studies: G.A. Metallinos, Orthodox Consideration of Community, Athens 1986. Theological testimony of ecclesiastic worship, Athens 1996, etc.
- 1. Uncreated is only the Triadic God. Created is the creation, with at its peak being man. God is not "universal" power, as according to the "New Age" expression ("all is one, all is God) because the Creator overlies (envelops) the universe being in His essence something totally different. There is no analogous relationship between created and Uncreated. For this, the Uncreated is known through His revelation (Theophania).
- 2. A significant Christian text of the 2nd century, the "Shepherd of Erma, says that for us to become members of the Body of Christ we must become "square slabs" (building) and not "round".
- 3. According to Fr. Romanidis, to whom we particularly owe our return to "philokalic" ("therapeuticoascesis") view of our Faith, even at an academic level, "religion" is every "coincidence" of Uncreated and created as happens in idolatry. The "religious" man projects his "superstitions" (thoughts, meanings) in the area of divine, "manufacturing" himself his God. (This can happen also in the non patristic "Orthodoxy"). Its purpose is the "appeasing" and the "appeasement" of the "divine" and finally the "use" of God for his benefit (sorcerous relationship: do, utdes). In our tradition however our God has no need of "appeasement" because "He loved us first" (1 John 4:19). Our God acts as "Love" (agape) (1 John 4:16) and in fact altruistically. He gives everything and asks for nothing from His creatures. For this altruism is the essence of Christian love and transcends the transaction of a deal.
- 4. This is what the well known and often repeated liturgical phrase expresses: "For ourselves and for each other and all our life Christ our God we submit". The full conformity occurs as a rule at the Monasteries, when they function properly of course. That is why the Monasteries remain the prototypes for the parishes of the "world".
"Source: Views of Orthodox Identity - Publisher "Orthodox Kypseli".