Florovsky’s “The Challenge of Our Time”

The Challenge of Our Time

600px_55-2_Karpatorossi_Georgy-Florovsky The great Russian bishop of the last century, Theophanes “The Recluse” (d. 1894), in one of his pastoral letters makes a startling statement. What the Russian Church most needed, he said, was “a band of firebrands,” which would set the world on fire. The incendiaries must be themselves burning and go around to inflame human minds and hearts. Theophanes did not trust a “residual Christianity.” Customs could be perpetuated by inertia, he said, but convictions and beliefs could be kept only by spiritual vigilance and continuous effort by the spirit. Theophanes felt that there was too much routine and convention in the life of Russian Christians. He anticipated a crisis and even a collapse. He resigned his diocese and retired to a monastery, because he felt that he could do much more service to the Church by writing books than by administering a bishopric. Theophanes was a man of wide learning and experience. For some time he was Rector of the Theological Academy (in St. Petersburg). He traveled extensively in the Christian East and was intimately linked with Mount Athos. He was a good Greek scholar, … Continue Reading ››

The Spiritual Attributes of God: notes on mind-bending chapter nine

Watersplash The attributes discussed last chapter -- infinity, eternity, supraspatiality, omnipotence -- were formal “structural” attributes that could be experienced “externally.” They could be observed in what is commonly called “general revelation.” But the attributes discussed in this chapter (omniscience, justice and mercy, holiness and love) are experienced “internally,” through the spirit of man. They are the manifestations of what God is in His essence, in which the “self-sacrifice” of the Three Persons is absolutely complete, so that there is no movement to cover any interval, but there is, instead, a “stability.” Frequently, Staniloae is not at all shy about saying that God “cannot” do something. When he says that God “cannot” do something -- like “he cannot make them to be as he himself is, that is uncreated and sources of existence” (p216) -- we misinterpret “cannot” as a limitation, and as a contradictory constraint upon God’s infinity. Actually, however, the “cannot” refers to the infinitely transcendent gulf between the created and the Creator, and so the “cannot” -- far from being a contradiction of the infinite -- is actually an enlarging indicator of the infinite. The spiritual attributes which “bridge” this gulf between … Continue Reading ››

Infinity, Eternity, Supraspatiality and Omnipotence: Staniloae on the Super-Essential Attributes of God

Neagoe_basarab

Neagoe Basarab and his wife, Milica Despina; Below (from the left to the right): Petru, Ioan, Teodosie, Angelina, Ruxandra and Stana, their children. The worthy Voivode Neagoe will be, toward the end, cited with less than unbridled  enthusiasm.

(reflections on the 8th chapter of Staniloae's The Experience of God) Salvation is the only reason for theological thinking. Theology cannot be an activity without this being the ultimate concern. If theology were only a series of facts, or even propositions, then it would be information, but not theology. On the other hand, theology is, in its widest sense, salvation itself. Knowing God -- that is, detaching our attention from lesser things, recognizing His beauty in all creation and finally entering into complete communion with the Holy Trinity -- comprises spirituality. In turn, spirituality is the experience of, and is aimed at, nothing less than the deification of the the soul, and with it the body: only in this sense can we say, with confidence, that salvation is deification, and deification is salvation through the Cross. Fr Dumitru Staniloae, mainly following St Maximos the Confessor, puts salvation at the very center of his dogmatic theology. But salvation is presented here in … Continue Reading ››

Memory Eternal!

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 5.11.51 PMThere is a group that I chat with frequently.  It consists of several priests and a layperson, three intellectuals and one wannabe (that would be me).  We talk about topics far-ranging and fascinating, from patristics to theology to musical tastes to some of the best poetry known to man (I admit, they lose me there...).  Last Friday, after the rest of the gang went off to bed, a discussion was continued between two of us about the need to revisit the Orthodox funeral service.  I'm not going to get into details, but the main point was that there should be less emphasis on being food for worms and a greater emphasis on resurrection, and the new heaven and the new earth - the major points of emphasis found in the New Testament, but not so clear in the Orthodox funeral service. My partner in conversation was Fr. Matthew Baker.  How sadly ironic that eight days after our discussion that service will be said for him. I had only known Fr. Matthew for half a year.  He and I were introduced through mutual friends and through a mutual interest in … Continue Reading ››

Memory Eternal Fr. Matthew Baker

1622546_10151898735997957_1427090618_o The loss of Fr Matthew Baker to our small Fellowship is inestimable. He was for me, personally, one of the great hopes for articulating the theological vision that we try to articulate here at the Fellowship. He was also one of my closest friends. His scholarship, priesthood, and friendship will be missed by us. More importantly he will be missed by his wonderful widow and his incredible children. Our Church has suffered greatly in losing this incredible man. Please join us in mourning him and praying for the repose of his soul. Please if you can help his family with a monetary donation. Who Fr Matthew was has been captured very well in Fr. Andrew's post here, "We need more Spiritual Brothers" and by Heirodeacon Herman here, "The Life of Fr. Matthew Baker is a Triumph of Orthodoxy". We have an incredible inheritance to live up to in the work that Fr. Matthew left for us. Let us be found worthy of this calling.

The Operations of God (chapter 7 of Staniloae’s “Experience of God”)

creation_icon The next few chapters of The Experience of God are Staniloae’s extended commentary and refining of the essential points made in the sixth chapter. In chapter seven Staniloae addresses the particular claims of the Orthodox tradition’s insistence upon the distinction between the essence and energies of God. Thankfully the English translator employs the word “operation” instead of “energy” (this may just be a peculiarity of Staniloae’s own Romanian?). I have found it difficult expressing the gist of this infamous doctrine when using the word “energy”. The word alone seems to imply powers residing within the infinite Godhead, or to be somewhat cartoonish, to imply that God is enveloped by some sort of “energy field”. I believe in employing the word “operation” there is an allowance for an English speaker to understand the dynamic nature of the energies of God and their specific relationship to the created world. God’s operations are God’s dynamic and unceasing work of sustaining and guiding His creation towards union with Himself. This cosmological and eschatological point of view seems to me to be the difference between Staniloae and other modern Orthodox interpreter’s of the operations of God. Staniloae … Continue Reading ››

The Body of the Living Christ: Ecclesiology in the Thought of Father Georges Florovsky

g_florovskyAn excellent essay by Father Matthew Baker, presented at Princeton Theological Seminary in February, 2012: The Body of the Living Christ: Ecclesiology in the Thought of Father Georges Florovsky   As one recent commentator has remarked, “attempting to remain firmly within the Orthodox tradition, Florovsky, in facing new situations of the early twentieth century, came to a novel and creative formulation of the Church.” And yet, “understanding Florovsky's ecclesiology is not easy.” This is so, not only because his exposition was so sketch-like and occasional, but also, I might add, for Orthodox, because so many of his creative formulations have now become – albeit sometimes in vulgarized form – standard expressions. My aim here, therefore, is to draw out some of the unique context and accents of Florovsky's creative formulation of the doctrine of the Church, in hope of encouraging your own fresh reading. First, some little-known background in Russian cultural debates of the early 1920's. Second, some key ecclesiological themes as they are developed in Florovsky's essays from the late 20's through the 1960's. Finally, in closing, I comment briefly on Florovsky's contribution to Orthodox and ecumenical ecclesiology today. Ecclesiology Emerging: Church, Politics and Culture … Continue Reading ››

Surefire Defense

nietzsche1 Surefire defense vs "semi-ism" (my neologism -- blame me): kind of a heaving mass of semi-arianism churned up with semi-gnosticism, along with a practical* belief in being-as-power: "... if the beauty of material existence is not merely the overflow of a self-enclosed, strictly unitary, and entirely spiritual beauty into the confining channels of material deformity, but is the unnecessary, untrammeled, and contingent expression of a divine delight that is always already 'differential,' created difference is loosed, as univocally good in its creatureliness, though it is analogically imparted; and when Christian thought replaced the identist and substantial analogy Platonism presumed between the world and 'God' with a genuinely ontological analogy between creatures who own no substantial claim on being at all and a God who is the utterly transcendent and absolutely immediate actuality of any being's existence, every form of metaphysical reasoning had to be recast." -- DBH, Beauty of the Infinite, pp104-5 Please forgive the tentative nature of these propositions, but they are thoughts that have percolated through various "strata of consciousness" over time. What a context we have to deal with. On one side, we have a population who is allergic to non-material concepts … Continue Reading ››

The Knowledge of God (chapter 6 of Staniloae’s “Experience of God”)

dionysios converting the pagan philosophers   “… it is not the same to say something about God as it is to gain and see God.” So St Gregory Palamas said to Barlaam (The Experience of God, p115). Here is Fr Staniloae’s central note about the Knowledge of God — that at its highest point and most essential depth, it is beyond experience and inexpressible, that it is a “trans-apophaticism” that extends even beyond via negativa, and finally and climactically, it is the ineffable experience of God as Person (only, of course, in the extent of God’s energy, never His essence). In the most valuable accessible survey of the patristic tradition of the Knowledge of God, Fr Staniloae moves from Gregory the Theologian to Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysios the Areopagite, Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory Palamas (referring to Maximus the Confessor along the way). His discussion of the Areopagite in particular, if for no other part of this chapter, is a most helpful corrective to the contemporary Orthodox discussion of knowledge (especially in the shadow of a “Western captivity” of Orthodox academia). As in any other Orthodox discussion of the Knowledge of God, Fr Staniloae contrasts the two … Continue Reading ››

Chapter 5 – Theology as Ecclesial Service

Dogmas, the truths of the faith necessary for salvation (p. 59), must have their endless content continually disclosed. This process of disclosure is the task of theology (p. 79). Theological inquiry informs all aspects of church life, from preaching to pastoral care, to sanctification (ibid). It is shaped and inspired by the Holy Scriptures and the Apostolic Tradition of the Church. Theology is tasked with the mission of taking dogmatic truths and conveying them in a way that aids the faithful in understanding the various aspects of the Christian faith. Therefore, it cannot remain stagnant or inflexible. While the dogmas themselves are true, timeless and unchanging, the theological interpretations of these truths need to be able to communicate with the time and place in which the interpretation occurs. This is not to say that theology, thus understood, deviates from the dogmatic truths to which they point. Fr. Staniloae makes this clear in his discussion of the relationship between dogma and theologoumena. If theologoumena is to be understood as theological examinations which have not been adopted as official ecclesiastical formulations, then implied in this is an assertion that there are root-level agreements between theologoumena and the dogmas to which they refer. Otherwise, they … Continue Reading ››

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