July 2017 | Church Fathers

On Knowing God | St. Gregory Nazienzen. Oration 28.4-6

So we must begin again with this in mind. To know God is hard, to describe him impossible, as a pagan philosopher taught— subtly suggesting, I think, by the word “difficult” his own apprehension, yet avoiding our test of it by claiming it was impossible to describe. No—to tell of God is not possible, so my argument runs, but to know him is even less possible. For language may show the known if not adequately, at least faintly, to a person not totally deaf and dull of mind. But mentally to grasp so great a matter is utterly beyond real possibility even so far as the very elevated and devout are concerned, never mind slack and sinking souls. This truth applies to every creature born, to all beings whose view of reality is blocked by this gloom, this gross portion of flesh. Whether higher, incorporeal natures can grasp it, I do not know. They may, perhaps, through their proximity to God and their illumination by light in its fullness know God if not with total clarity, at least more completely, more distinctly than we do, their degree of clarity varying proportionately with their rank.

But enough of this! For our part, not only does God’s peace pass all thought and understanding with all the things stored up in promise for the righteous— things unseen by the eye, unheard by the ear, unthought, or at least but glimpsed by the mind—but so does exact knowledge of the creation as well. You can be sure that we possess but the bare outline of the creation when you hear the words: “I shall see the heavens, the works of thy fingers, the Moon and the Stars” and the fixed order they contain. He does not see them now, but there is a time when he shall see them. Yes, far more than these things does their transcendent cause, the incomprehensible and boundless nature pass understanding. I mean understanding what that nature is, not understanding that it exists. Our preaching is not vain, our faith empty; it is not that doctrine we are propounding. Do not take our frankness as ground for atheistic caviling and exalt yourselves over against us for acknowledging our ignorance. Conviction, you see, of a thing’s existence is quite different from knowledge of what it is.

That God, the creative and sustaining cause of all, exists, sight and instinctive law inform us—sight, which lights upon things seen as nobly fixed in their courses, borne along in, so to say, motionless movement; instinctive law, which infers their author through the things seen in their orderliness. How could this universe have had foundation or constitution, unless God gave all things being and sustains them? No one seeing a beautifully elaborated lyre with its harmonious, orderly arrangement, and hearing the lyre’s music will fail to form a notion of its craftsman-player, to recur to him in thought though ignorant of him by sight. In this way the creative power, which moves and safeguards its objects, is clear to us, though it be not grasped by the understanding. Anyone who refuses to progress this far in following instinctive proofs must be very wanting in judgment. But still, whatever we imagined or figured to ourselves or reason delineated is not the reality of God. If anyone ever did compass this in any degree of thought, where is the proof? Who was it who reached this ultimate in wisdom? Who was it who was sometime counted worthy of so great a gift? Who was it who thus opened his mind’s mouth and drew in the Spirit, that by the Spirit which searches out and knows God’s depths he might comprehend God, might stand in no need of further progress as owning already the ultimate object of desire towards which speeds all a lofty soul’s thought and conduct?

July 2017 | Book Review

41zmzl0dznl-_sx308_bo1204203200_A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 | W. Phillip Keller

In A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, the author, W. Phillip Keller, provides in depth verse-by-verse meditative commentary and insights on Psalm 23 (22 in the Septuagint). A shepherd by trade, comparable to King David, Keller uses his own personal experiences and knowledge regarding the intricacies of caring for sheep to shed light on the depth and hidden beauty of each verse in the Psalm. Albeit likely one of the more popular and memorized Psalms, not enough emphasis is placed on the shepherding significances behind the words and their parallels to the Christian life. Because of Keller’s work as a shepherd, he exposes much of what King David must have had in mind as he prayed this Psalm and the deeper truths revealed by Christ’s analogy of being the Good Shepherd.

Each chapter in the book is dedicated to one line of the Psalm in which Keller discusses the background information pertaining to the job of a shepherd and the behavior and needs of sheep, personal anecdotes of his experiences as a shepherd, and the parallel to Christ’s relationship with us, His sheep. Although the book as a whole is a very simple and easy read, each chapter exposes beautiful meditations on the depth, precision, and sweetness of the analogy Christ offers in reference to His relationship to us. By exploring the magnificent, endless, meticulous, and loving care a good shepherd provides for his flock, the reader cannot help but be romanced by Christ, the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. This book will provide a new lens to analyze the Psalm and the symbolisms of the good shepherd analogy, as well as renew, strengthen, and deepen the knowledge and understanding of Christ’s infinite, everlasting, and perfect love.

Book Review by Roudina Georgy

July 2017 | Extra Works

What is Theology? | By Kallistos Ware

An Excerpt from “What is Theology?” Kallistos Ware. The Cambridge Orthodox Forum. March 2012.

Now when I am working at my desk, I have always two books within easy reach. The first is the Holy Bible. The second is The Concise Oxford Dictionary, which I usually have in two editions – the fourth and the sixth edition. So I looked to these volumes for help in answer to the question “What is theology?” I got no help at all from the Bible, because the word theology never occurs in Holy Scripture. It is not a Biblical term.

However, The Concise Oxford Dictionary was more helpful. The fourth edition defines theology curtly as, “science of religion.” The sixth edition is more expansive. It says, “study of all system of religion; rational analysis of a religious faith.” I wasn’t very satisfied with these two rather dry definitions.

And so I turned to a contemporary Greek theologian and religious philosopher, Christos Yannaras. He provides a rather more exciting definition of theology. He says:

In the Orthodox Church and Tradition, Theology has a very different meaning from the one we give it today. It is a gift from God, a fruit of the interior purity of the Christian’s spiritual life. Theology is identified with the vision of God; with the immediate vision of the personal God; with the personal experience of the Transfiguration of creation by uncreated grace. In this way, Theology is not a theory of the world, a metaphysical system, but an expression of the formulation of the Church’s experience; not an intellectual discipline, but an experiential participation; a communion.

So let us contrast these two definitions. The Concise Oxford Dictionary uses as its keywords: science, system, and rational analysis. On the other hand, Yannaras has as his key terms: gift, grace, personal experience, participation, communion, interior purity, transfiguration, and vision of God. These are two very different approaches.

In the first case, if we follow The Concise Oxford Dictionary, we will see theology as an academic discipline; something taught in universities; something examined; something which will award people first, second, and third class degrees; something taught in the lecture hall of a university faculty; scholastic, if we would like to use that word.

Yannaras disputes this approach to theology, which he calls, “the approach of academic scientism.” And he wishes to see an essential link between theology and prayer; between doctrine and the spiritual life. And he sees theology not as a matter of detached study, but as involving personal experience.

Perhaps, there is truth in both approaches. Perhaps, we should combine them. God has given us a reasoning brain. Muddled thinking is not one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so we should be systematic and rational in our work. We should try to express our ideas with the utmost clarity. I think it was Wittgenstein who said, “Everything can be said at all can be said clearly.”

On the other hand, surely Yannaras is right. Theology is not a science exactly on a level with say geology or zoology. I will come back to that later. Theology involves a personal involvement, such as you might not need in other disciplines. So yes, systematic rational analysis, but something much more than that – personal experience.

Developing Yannaras’ approach, let me call to mind a famous aphorism by the Desert Father Evagrius of Pontus or Evagrius Ponticus he might be called. …“If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” That is a very different definition from The Concise Oxford Dictionary.

Now in this connection, St. Gregory Palamas of the 14th Century distinguishes three kinds of theologians. First he says, there are the saints. They are those who possess personal experience; who have themselves beheld the divine light, and these are the true theologians. Secondly, there are those who lack such personal experience but who trust the saints and learn from them. And they too may be good theologians, albeit on a lower level. Thirdly, there are those who lack personal experience and who do not trust the saints, and they are bad theologians.

I find this threefold distinction reassuring. But while I make no claim to be in the first category of theologians, I hope that by the Divine Mercy, I may find a place in the second category among those who trust the saints. Now, let’s think a little more about what Evagrius and Palamas are asserting here. Let me quote a few other statements from modern Orthodox theologians, which develop Yannaras’ approach.

Here for example is what is said by another Greek theologian, Constantine Scouteris who died recently. And he’s describing what it is to be a theologian. “The whole person, living out the mystery of the new creation – educated, that is to say, ‘through healthy dogmas’ and ‘purified’ – becomes an unceasing hymn and continual praise of God.”

So there you see, theology involves living out the mystery of the new creation; being purified; becoming a hymn in praise of God. Theology is not just something that we do, but on this approach, it’s something that we are. You may recall the words said shortly before his death by the composer Vaughn Williams. He was asked what he thought it would be like in Heaven. And he replied, “Music. Music. Only in Heaven we shan’t write and perform music, we are ourselves will be the music.” Well, you could apply that to theology.

Here is testimony of someone I shall have a lot to say about today, Archpriest George Florovsky who died in 1979. … “One cannot separate spirituality and theology. Theology can never be separated from the life of prayer and from the exercise of virtue.” So it is a question of how you pray and how you live. And he goes on to quote St. John Climacus from the 7th Century. “The climax of purity is the beginning of theology.”

For more on this topic, you can find the complete lecture at: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/cambridge/what_is_theology