Faith of our Fathers Lutheran Colloquium

Trinitarian Theology

September 11, 2007 Length: 57:08

A talk by The Rev. Dr. Hiermonk Calinic Berger, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, NY and Holy Cross Orthodox Church, Hermitage, PA
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Transcript Transcript

Fr. Reardon: On the presumption that I can have my Archbishop to leave the country, I am going to give a paper in Bergen, Norway to a group of Lutherans. The thesis of which is that ours is the first era in which science was not done by poets. There is a great divide between the literary and humane on one side, and the scientific on the other. Our commencement speaker told me a few minutes ago leaving science to scientists. This divide is not recognizable in Orthodoxy. We do not have a division between scientists and poets. In fact some of our best thinkers started out what we call scientists. Even pure scientists have always been impressed by this since I first knew it twenty years ago. St. Ignatius Brianchininov in the 19th century started out as a physicist and a military engineer.

This morning’s first speaker is an electrical engineer by early profession, though he tells me he has given it up and I said I really regretted that. But in fact I supposed omnes omnia non possimus “We can’t be all things.” At least not semper. We cannot live all the time. Fr. Calinic Berger is the only cradle Orthodox speaker at this conference. He is a graduate of Holy Cross Seminary. He has his PhD from Catholic University last year. He is a specialist in Patristics, in contemporary Romanian Theology since he just be an expert in that latter field would be difficult. I don’t really believe anybody is an expert in patristic. He is pastor Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Hermitage, Pennsylvania and visiting professor at St. Vladimir Seminary. He is going to talk about the only thing that really is theology, and that is Trinitarian Theology. Would you please welcome Fr. Calinic Berger.

Fr. Calinic Berger: Thank you Fr. Patrick. Your Eminence Reverend clergy, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is an honor and privilege to speak here today. I wanted to tell you that as I was driving here last night I had planned a quite technical talk about the Holy Trinity from the patristic point of view. I have decided to change it in the beginning, because it occurred to me that my talk might be well appreciated by perhaps seminary students or graduate students. But if I lost anybody on the terminology, which we’ll touch upon, then maybe the points I am trying to make would not come home.

So I asked myself a question as to what was essential about what I wanted to convey this morning. Not only about the Trinity but about the role of the Trinity in the life of the Orthodox Church. And so I asked myself a question that I am going to ask all of you. Maybe we can think about this for just a split second: “What does the Trinity mean to you? What does it mean to your personal spiritual life? To your experience of the church? And to the Church? Where do you see the Trinity situated in those three circles which overlie?”

In answering this, I thought about an analogy, if you could call that, of a Western mystic, Joachim of Fiore, which a Romanian theologian, Fr. Dimiti Staniloe comments on at length. And Joachim asks a question “What if God was not three persons? What if God is only one person? What difference would that make?” The interesting answer is, he said (well Staniloe comments on this) “Well, Aristotole had a sort of an answer to this because he thought that God was a thinking.” He asked them, “Oh, Aristole, what is he thinking about?” He says, “He is thinking about the most perfect thing which is thinking.” God is in eternal thinking about thinking. Sounds kind of boring to me. But in Aristotle’s mind the highest faculty of man is reason, thought, analytical reasoning.

But in Christianity, we believe that God is even above reason. He is not irrational. He is supra-rational. That is why we said that God is not, in his highest faculty, reason but love. So if God was a single person before creating the world, who did he loved? He loved Himself. And we were created in God’s image. That means the principle in human life is would be love of self – egotism, looking out for number one; me, me, me, now, now, now.  It is all about me and you don’t count. Well, that is ugly. It is intrinsically ugly. We don’t need someone to teach us that that is ugly. We inherently know in our nature that is ugly.

He extends this analogy—e says “What if God was two persons? Could you have perfect love? Father and Son. The Son is beloved of the Father. The Father loves the Son. ” And his answer is “No.” Even with two persons you cannot have perfect love because two persons can be engrossed in themselves. They can have an exclusive love. A love which puts away the third. A love which creates a “we” versus a “he”. Instead of an I—Thou with everyone.

So the third person in the Holy Trinity ensures an objective, unselfish love in which there is no “we” versus “he,” but there is only I—Thou in the mix of the three. And that is a model for human life because, ultimately, the meaning of life, the meaning of the world is always found in another person. Persons motivate our actions. We’re not created for things. We become bored with things. If we concentrate with things not only will be become bored with things, we become suicidal.

How many examples of that we have in modern life? People have all this money and we can’t figure our why are they depressed? What is the problem here? Because things can’t satisfy them. We are created for other persons. And what we believe about God is the perfect example about that because Father, Son and Holy Spirit—three persons in perfect unity. A perfect love. A love which when offered from Father to the Son has no delay and no diminution in return.

In explicating this doctrine, the Fathers of the Church—and I’ll say something about what the Trinity meant for them—they used certain technical words like homoousius (of one essence) or perichoresis (mutual indwelling.) But in all cases, their goal was to show that these three persons were perfectly one on a level that is beyond our comprehension, but in some mysterious way is the model for our existence as well. So the Father does not know the Son from outside Himself. The Father knows the Son from within Himself ,as a Father. And the Son knows the Father within Himself as a Son, etc.

The Fathers of the fourth century, when they were explicating the doctrine of the Trinity, they were not engaged in a theoretical-philosophical exercise. Their concern was about soteriology.  What they were laboring to preserve was that Biblical Christian message of salvation as expressed in the Scriptures and in the Creeds. Therefore, homoousius prosopon hypostasis – all these things have became very technical very quickly— ultimately they are always involved in a scriptural debate, an experience that they had in the Church, in the Eucharist and in Baptism. That is why this is an interesting point in this controversies. After Athanasius posted all these verses in the Holy Scripture in Ad Serapion or Basil the Great in De Spiritu Sancto or Gregory theologian in his orations. They all come back to one argument—If the Holy Spirit is not God how can He deify me by baptism? If He is not God how can he unite me to the Godhead? Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each of them had to be perfectly divine, but in a Biblical sense.

Now, in comparing this to Lutheranism, and I am not an expert in Lutheranism, I came across a kind of an interesting insight. And that is reading about Lutheranism, listening to Lutheran professors lecture, you come to the knowledge very quickly, and John Calvin said as much explicitly, that the whole Gospel and even the whole Church, he said, hangs around the doctrine of imputation of righteousness and justification by faith. That is the center of the gospel in this theology.

But in Orthodoxy, the center of the Gospel, the center of our salvation, the center of our liturgical life, the center of our Church is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The Orthodox Church is a Trinitarian Church par excellence. We’re going to trace this out a little bit.

Even a casual attender in an Orthodox service will very quickly realize that the litany of the priest and every prayer ends in the doxology of the Trinity. The same is true for our devotions at home, in the prayer books that we use for morning and evening prayers. The Trinity is central in our prayer life. It is also the center of all of our dogmatic life. And these two poles cannot be separated in Orthodoxy.

And so, the mystery of salvation is that one of the members of the Holy Trinity became a man, and he fulfilled this economy of salvation. He fulfilled the will of the Father. He died. He rose from the dead. He left his body, he sent his Spirit. But what he did was more than just justify man or justify Adam.

He did something that man could not do even had he not fallen. He brought human existence into the center of divine life, into the center of the Holy Trinity. And He wishes to share that life with us. And that is the message of salvation.

That is why Christ said “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Not just I am in the Father but the Father is also in me. There is a perichoresis.  And He extends this and he prays “That we may be one as He is one with the Father.” And further He says that “if a man loves me, he will keep my word and the Father will love him and we will come and make our abode in Him. ” In other words, this Trinitarian inter-dwelling will be extended to us.

Now here is the point. In Orthodoxy, as in early patristic thought, the Holy Trinity is this absolute center of our spiritual and theological life. Our redemption, sanctification, our liturgy, our theology, our ecclesiology, our spiritual life can only be understood in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But this needs to be qualified because the Trinity that we are included into is always the Biblical Trinity. It is not an abstract communion of persons in relation. It is always the One God who is the Father, His only begotten Son and the Holy Spirit. And when we are included into this Trinitarian life, we are included into a specific relationship with each of the divine persons.

From this perspective, salvation in Orthodoxy, which is deification, is much more than justification, although it includes that. It is nothing other than an extension to created persons of this life of the Holy Trinity.

I noticed in the binder a printout of an agreed statement between the Lutheran and Orthodox churches on the Holy Trinity. And one will notice that there is some broad agreement about major points of this dogma, the exception being the filioque.

Even though the Lutheran bodies acknowledge that the filioque should perhaps not be in the creed, they’re reticent to renounce the theology behind it. I’m not going to talk about that today. But I am going to talk about what specific in Orthodoxy as to the other end of the filioque, that is “What do we believe about the relationship between the Son and Spirit?” I believe that is foundational for Orthodoxy’s thought and life. So here it is in a nutshell.

The Son and the Spirit are totally inseparable, and they have a unique eternal relationship between them. The early Fathers saw this very clearly. Irenaeus, for example, said “The Son and the Spirit are the two hands of the Father.” In other words the Trinity is the creator and the author of salvation. And in the New Testament, we see this. The Holy Spirit incarnates the Son by overshadowing the Virgin Mary; leads the child Jesus to the Temple to go about His Father’s business; is upon Him in the synagogue as He reads Isaiah; descends upon Him and rests upon Him as a dove at His baptism; leads Him into the wilderness to be tempted; casts out devils; and raises Jesus from the dead according to Romans 8:11.

So by the Spirit the Son comes into the world, and by the Spirit the Son of God incarnate completes His ministry. Conversely, the Spirit is sent into the world by the Son. Jesus prays to the Father that the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, will be sent. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father but in some mysterious way is sent in Jesus’ name, conveyed also in the presence of the Son. The Spirit will continue Christ’s work, bringing His words into remembrance as He Himself testifies in John 14. He is given directly by the resurrected Christ (John 20:22). When He said this, He breathed on them and said “Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” Which some patristic commentators, by the way, said was synonymous with the day of the Pentecost.

The Spirit continues to work in synergy with the Son and that He constitutes the Church’s body with all its gifts, ministries and hierarchical structure. All these are fruits of the Spirit. That is why Ireneus said “Where the Church is there is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit is there is the Church and all grace.” This continues through the book of Acts, which as we know is also called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit constitutes the body of Christ. He establishes it in an exclusively divine act on the day of Pentecost. He then leads the Council in Acts 15. He Himself witnesses to Christ’s resurrection and divinity, as the Apostles preached: “And we are witnesses of these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit who God has given them who obey Him”—the Holy Spirit is given based on an obedience.

He instructs the Apostles such as Philip telling him to overtake the Ethiopian. And Paul—who was forbidden to preach the Gospel in Asia by the Holy Spirit. And as a result he went to Philipi, and as a result the Gospel was preached in Europe. It is the Spirit who led him there.

He inspires New Testament prophets. Agabus takes Paul’s girdle, or Philip’s four virgin daughters who prophesied. And he is the basis of ordination, such as when the Apostles pray in the community and lay their hands on someone, they are given these gifts of the Holy Spirit. He Himself is the source of all ministries, gifts, spiritual powers—all called the fruit of the Spirit.

He gives this gift for one specific reason and that is to strengthen and unify the body of Christ. Most importantly, He dwells in the faithful—the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in the faithful. He is the Spirit of adoption. In other words, we become sons through the Spirit. And in a special way He is in those who were ordained such that they forgive sins. How? Why? Because they have the same Spirit that is in Jesus.

So we see in the Scriptures an inseparability of the Son and the Spirit—a combination of the fact that the Spirit brings the Son into the world, affects His ministry, raises Him from the dead. And then in turn is sent by the Son into the world from the Father and continues His work, not in lieu of the Son but with the Son.

The Spirit forms the Church and simultaneously forms with it the Apostolic tradition, because the Apostolic tradition is nothing but the reception of the Spirit and the living out of His gifts. It is not an added element. This consciousness and experience of the Spirit’s presence and activity in the Church and the inseparability of the Son and the Spirit is not only formative in the mind of St. Paul, but is actually extremely well developed by him.

The Spirit testifies to the Son. He is called the Spirit of Christ, and the Spirit of the Son ,and the Spirit of God. St. Augustine notes that he is never said the “Son of the Spirit.” There is an order in the Trinity but not one of subordinationism.

In Romans 1:4, Paul says “He was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of Holiness and by the resurrection of the dead.” It is interesting that Paul first mentions the Spirit and then the resurrection. 1 Cor. 4:3 says “No man can say Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Ghost.” So the Son and the Spirit together establish the Church. The Church is the body of Christ because the Spirit dwells in it. And through both we are brought into a relationship with the Father.

All of these is beautifully expressed in Romans 8 where Paul says, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God for you have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry Abba, Father.” 

Not only does Christ gives us the Spirit but the Spirit makes us sons. That is a key point. So that we enter into a filial relationship with the Father, and are able to say “Abba.” And He Himself makes “supplications in us with groanings which cannot be uttered. ” The point here is that we enter into the Holy Trinity, into relationship with the persons of the Holy Trinity, specifically in the same position of Christ, the incarnate Son.

It is the Spirit that conforms us to Christ when Paul says “All we are changed by the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord.” The Spirit rests on us as He rested on Christ in His baptism. St. Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:14, “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you for the Spirit and glory of God rests upon you.” Suffering the Cross, suffering persecution is a sign that the Spirit is resting on you as it did on Christ.

Finally, as with Christ the Spirit brings our love and our prayers back to the Father, as St. Paul says, “He makes supplications within us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” So in biblical thought the Spirit is a personal bond between the Father and the Son. And in uniting us to Christ, He, the Holy Spirit, becomes our bond us to the Father as well. So the key here is that the communion that is given to us by God is not an abstract communion. It is a personal communion. It is a face to face communion. It is a Trinitarian communion.

This was not neglected in Patristic thought. St John of Damascus who summarized the tradition before him, he say in several places in his precise Eexposition of the Orthodox Faith that, “The Spirit proceeds from the Father, rests on the Word and shines forth from the Word.” So in the Trinitarian perichoresis there is a movement. Of course, when we think about God there is no anterior-posterior before-after. The communion in the Holy Trinity is perfect and eternal. But nevertheless, this eternal communion has this movement.

And again, he uses the same expression in chapter 8 of the same work, where he says that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and rests from the Son.” This specific relationship was the Orthodox answer to the filioque in the 13th and 14th centuries when certain Greek-born and Greek-speaking Latin theologians were in Constantinople and were debating the people that did not accept the filioque. This specific relationship of the Spirit proceeding from the Father to the Son, resting in the Son, and manifesting back from the Son to the Father was the Orthodox explication of the relationship between those two persons in the Holy Trinity. This was canonized in the Council of 1215 with the famous work of Prieri II of Cyrprus [?]. There are several other Byzantine theologians that play this out.

But in a nutshell here is what is important. When we say that the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds, the Spirit does not proceed alongside the Son. The begetting of the Son and the precession of the Holy Spirit are simultaneous and internal to one another. They are not two separate motions of God.

Where does he proceed to? Does he just proceed out, outside of God? No, He proceeds to the Son. There He finds His fulfillment. He proceeds no further than the Son. The Spirit in turn is manifested or shines out from the Son specifically towards the Father. It is always a personal communion, simultaneous and inseparable.

This union between the Son and the Spirit determines the liturgical phronema and the ecclesiastical structure and the emphasis on salvation as deification in the Orthodox Church. Because what it essentially says is that between the Cross and Pentecost, there is a union. We’re used to thinking of the Cross in terms of the resurrection—the inseparability of the Cross and the resurrection. The Cross is the sign, the fulfillment of our redemption. When Christ dies on the Cross specifically according to the Scriptures, that unlocks the Scriptures in the mindof the Fathers. But the resurrection is the confirmation of His unique relationship with the Father and of the nature of His death.

We could take this one step further and say that before the day of Pentecost, even though the disciples and apostles had seen the resurrected Lord, they did not preach it. In other words, the Gospel cannot be preached without the Spirit. The Spirit completes the gospel. And where there is no Spirit, there is no Gospel.

It is not an added sanctification to the Gospel. The Spirit is intrinsic to the Gospel because the full effect of our salvation in Christ is to be brought into the communion of the Holy Trinity. This is also the reason why the early Fathers went beyond the Cross in their explication of salvation. All aspects of human life are sanctified in Christ. St. Athanasius said, “he has passed all stages of life in order to restore them all to communion with God. ” Gregory the theologian says, “Perhaps he might go to sleep that he might bless sleep, he is tired that he may hallow our weariness, perhaps he weeps that he might make tears blessed.” In his famous dictum in Epistle 101, Gregory says, “That which is not assumed is not healed, but that which is united to the Godhead is also saved.”

In Oration 30 Gregory says, “He continues to wear this body which he assumed to make me god by the power of his incarnation.” That is why he has a mind and a soul—he was a complete man; that is also a very important dictum or facet of Christology— he was perfect God, but he was also perfect man.

And Gregory synthesizes all of this in one of my favorite sayings from his First Oration: “May He who rose from the dead, may he recreate me by the Spirit.” So our redemption is brought about by the Cross and by Pentecost.


Now, I have been asked to show how this extends into the Orthodox doctrine of the Church. I am only going to touch upon a few facets:

  1. The Church’s Sacramental Life and what it means
  2. Hierarchy in the Orthodox Church. How do we understand hierarchy because it really is something totally different than the Roman Catholic and Western Protestant conception. It is almost another category in and of itself, and it is based on this relationship between the Son and the Spirit.
  3. Apostolic Succession. What do we mean about Apostolic Succession in Orthodoxy? —also something in a category by itself.

So to being with, Baptism – which figured so prominently in this 4th century debate, baptism because it deified. Very early on, baptism in the East had a much broader significance than remission of sins. It did have that. It had an element of purification, undoubtedly. In baptism, “We die”, said St. Paul, “so that we might live.” “We have died,” is what he said, “so that we might live.” In other words, baptism is something that is lived out. It is a beginning that has a continuation.

And St. Mark the Ascetic, whose writings are in the Philikolia, wrote of very interesting treatise on baptism. One of the key components of baptism that he elucidates is indwelling – that we may come and make our abode in Him. And he says that when a person is baptized Christ and the Holy Spirit come to dwell in his heart. Not just in his heart, but in the innermost depth of the heart. In the place behind the iconostasis. Actually he says in the place behind the veil, in the Holy of Holies. And he closes the door and He dwells there. That is why He says “The Kingdom of heaven is within you.” And the purpose of our life is not only to live out the gospel but to find God within us.

This is a very important point because baptism as the indwelling of Christ and the Holy Spirit—meaning it is Christological and pneumatological at once—is bestowed in the Church. This means it has an ecclesial simultaneously, and is the basis of the rest of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

So the Holy Spirit abides in the Church through baptism. But at the same time He is not a possession. He is always above the Church.

Christ has not left His position as head of the Church. The Church always has a humility towards Christ. The Church is taught by Christ and participates in His teaching. And He is present not only just through His Spirit, but also Himself through baptism.

This is another reason why, in Orthodoxy, baptism is united to chrismation and these form one sacrament. That is why when the Lutheran theologians wrote patriarch Jeremiah II, one of the disputes (that he did not really want to bring up) was that they only acknowledged two sacraments. They had some biblical justifications for this— Baptism and Eucharist. And he was adamant that Chrismation was also a part of sacramental life. Why? Because the Spirit baptizes us according to St. Paul and immediately Christ gives us the Spirit through chrismation. And that is one movement of initiation. The Spirit makes us one in Christ and Christ in turn gives us His Spirit. We are immediately brought into this Trinitarian relationship.

This plays out very strongly in the Orthodox liturgy, in which the Eucharistic prayer is addressed to the Father and “Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. ” It is addressed specifically to the Father.

When the Gifts are consecrated there is an invocation of the Spirit, because Christ cannot be present without the Spirit. So there never was a problem in Orthodoxy about whether or not the Words of Institution, which are said in a quotation, are said in persona Christi or in persona ecclesiae. It did not matter because the Gifts were explicitly consecrated with an invocation of the Holy Spirit while the Sign of the Cross was made over the Gifts—once again demonstrating this unity between the cross and Pentecost. That is another reason why when the priest blesses in the Orthodox Church, he creates with his fingers the first and last letters of the name Jesus Christ in Greek. And when he says “Peace be unto all,” that means it is not his peace. It is the peace of the Spirit, it is the peace of Christ, which is always given in conjunction with the Sign of the Cross—once again demonstrating the unity between the cross and Pentecost.

Now, therefore, also in the liturgy we ask for the Father to send down the Holy Spirit—not just to consecrate the gifts—but upon us and upon these gifts,  meaning that having the Spirit presupposes the ability to call for it, but it also presupposes that there is a tension in the Church. And this tension cannot be transcended, between having the Spirit and needing the call for the Spirit, because we are created sons, we are adopted sons. We do not receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit in His divine hypostasis like the Son of God does. We receive Him as we are worthy of receiving Him, and we need to constantly invoke Him.

That is why in the Orthodox Church, every service begins with an invocation of the Holy Spirit, both in the Church community and at home. The first thing a believer says when he gets out of bed is “O Heavenly King, come and abide in us.” That is an epiclesis. All of life is one unceasing epiclesis that continually forms us into the Body of Christ. It is not something that just happens at the Eucharist, although it might be most accentuated there.

So all of these themes, this interrelatedness, this inseparability of the Son and the Spirit is very deep in the psyche of the Orthodox Church, and that is what I am trying to impress upon you.

Now, I might note something very general about the liturgical ethos of the Orthodox Church. That is, scholars, visitors from every confessional background have observed that Orthodox Christianity places a great emphasis on the Holy Spirit and pneumatology in general, and this prominent in her spiritual life. This had led to people characterizing Orthodoxy as a mystical form of Christianity. When they come to the Churches often they say that they feel something extraordinary, something transcendent, something holy, something which cannot be articulated, which is the presence of God.

All of this may be true but it needs to be qualified. The important qualification that needs to be made is that in no way is this experience of the Spirit and His transcendence divorced from Christ. It is always a Spirit that reveals to us Christ. He expresses the deep things of God, and therefore we might not be able to articulate what we experience. But being brought in unity with the Spirit is simultaneously being brought into unity with Christ, because the Spirit does not reveal Himself. The Son reveals the Father. He is the express image. He alone is the express image. And the Spirit reveals the Son, but He doesn’t reveal Himself.

This integral aspect of Orthodox spirituality, this transfiguration of man and the world, therefore, has the goal of bringing all things into unity with Christ, which happens through the Spirit. As St. Paul says “That He may be all in all.” By the way, that is a very interesting Bible study for anybody interested: look at the different contexts in which Paul says “He may be all in all.” This is the theme in man’s mind. He really had a cosmic theory of redemption, it is undoubted in my opinion. 

Hierarchy. How does this play out in hierarchy? We said that the Spirit rests in the Son and manifests back to the Father. His procession from the Father does not happen alongside of the begetting of the Son but simultaneously and within it. Meaning the interrelatedness of the Son and the Spirit in the economy is something that reflects an internal relationship in God.

Therefore, in Orthodoxy, you cannot make a sharp distinction between institutional priesthood,—saying that it is exclusively Christological—and the charismata or the non-institutional gifts of the Church, as exclusively from the Spirit.

The Spirit is the one who institutes the hierarchy of the Church through ordination. The charismata that He gives always build up the Church. And they are always meant to increase the unity of believers. In other words, God gives me a gift and I don’t exercise that gift in isolation from others. And by using my gift for others, I develop myself. Because in the Holy Trinity one “I” is not obliterated by the other. The deeper the union between “I"s, the stronger the characteristics of each. It is that type of communion which is also extended in the Church.

So the true church is Christological and pneumatological, institutional and spontaneous, simultaneously. Or rather we could say that it is Christological because it is pneumatological and vice-versa, and these two moments cannot be separated. The Spirit does not come into a pre-existing Church. He Himself creates the Church, and He fulfills and creates all its grace-filled structures. Here is the key: not one of these offices, not one of these members, is exercised above the others. I am going to clarify that in a minute because I know it is open to misinterpretation. But it is not exercised independently. There is great mutual interrelatedness. Let’s go on to what I mean by that.

St. Ignatius, an Apostolic father, writes in his letter to Smyrnaeans “Wheresoever the bishop appears, there let the people gather. Just as wherever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” The reason why I cite this is because this is a very popular phrase to cite nowadays, and I want to show its more patristic interpretation. Ignatius says, “Not that the Church is found where the bishop is. The Church is found where Christ is.” But simultaneously, he reaffirms the good order of the Church (as Paul says “Let everything be done in good order”) by saying, “When you gather as a community, you do so with the hierarch.” The bishop is not the principle of unity, but the focus of unity. The principle of unity is Christ and the Spirit. Here is how we are going to play this out in Orthodoxy.

1. A priest in Orthodoxy cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy in isolation from His bishop. We have a cloth that is actually our altar which has sewed into it the relics of martyrs. (The church is built on the blood of its martyrs.) That cloth is signed by the bishop. You cannot serve liturgy without it.

St. Paul says “Be mindful first of those ruling.” So we say in liturgy “Be mindful, O Lord,” and we lift up the name of our hierarch. Meaning, the liturgy of the priest is the extension of the liturgy of the bishop. He cannot celebrate, on the one hand, a liturgy alone without a congregation according to Canon Law, without an Amen. On the other hand, he cannot celebrate in isolation from his bishop.

Let’s move forward one step—a bishop cannot exercise his liturgy in isolation from his synod. You cannot have a bishop that is completely independent in the Orthodox Church. A bishop must be a member of a synod. So he exercises his ministry in union with his council of presbyters and in union with his synod.

Let’s go one step forward. You cannot be an isolated synod in the Orthodox Church. It must be in union with other local churches. It exercises its ministry in relationship to its diocesen hierarchs and in relation to other local churches.

My point is there is a great interrelatedness, which is both Christological and pneumatological; nothing is self-sufficient. Nothing is isolated from the rest of the body. No one is over the body except Christ Himself. He is the one head of the Church. And He continues to teach the Church and the Church is continually taught by Him. That, by the way, is the importance of tradition—that we are in communion of the Church’s past, that we are not even un-interrelated from the hierarchs of the past, our fathers of the past.

There is a perichoresis of ministry, the interweaving of the Son and the Spirit. This is another reason why in Canon Law if an auxiliary bishop does not have a diocese, he cannot make vote in a synod over dogmatic issue. Because the whole body of believers participates in their respective roles in the charisma of truth. That is why, in the Orthodox Church, an ecumenical synod must be received. Very famous Robber’s Synod in Ephesus 449 had all the makings of an ecumenical council but it wasn’t received.

2.. Apostolic Succession. You will notice that in the New Testament the prophets who had the gift of the Spirit had convicted Paul himself, the Apostle of the Gentiles. These prophets were not ordained by the laying on of hands, but it was undeniable that they had the Spirit. The Spirit fell on Cornelius before his ordination, before his baptism. In other words, God rules the Church.

But at the same time, these prophets and these ministries, which are essential for the life of the Church and stand outside of the ordained ministry and convict it, at the same time don’t oppose it. They build it up. That is because the Spirit is the source of all the ministries and gifts of the Church. They haven’t all been subsumed under the ordained priesthood in Orthodoxy. This plays through in our concept of Apostolic Succession. Becuase Apostolic Succession, on the one hand, comes through ordained ministry, and on the other hand it doesn’t. Let me explain.

Florovsky, an Orthodox theologian, says that wWhen we talk about Apostolic Succession on the hierarchy, we are actually talking about apostolic succession of community because other bishops participate in the consecration of one bishop showing the unity of local church. Therefore, what succedes from generation to generation is actually the community. In other words, it is not a one-on-one passing on.

But on the other hand, here I am going to underline a very interesting book which is actually a doctoral dissertation in parosis St. George Academy written by Ivan Kontzevitch published in English under the title “The acquisition of Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia.” The thesis which he tries to elucidate and does quite well, is that the ministry of the New Testament prophet continued in the historical church through the office of the monastic elder.

In other words, the ministry of the New Testament prophet—when Constantine converted and there was a great influx of Christians went out to the dessert. And there were men who saw into people’s souls, who guided them, who were healers. Great healers. Healers of the Spirit. And this unordained succession, which St Symeon, the New Theologian calls a “Golden Chain” from generation to generation continues to this day, and doesn’t contradict or coexist with the ordained ministry.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Mount Athos, it ss a monastic republic in Greece. It has 20 monasteries. It is the only monastic republic in the world. There is a very good book published by Holy Cross Press, called “Recollection of Mt. Athos by Archimandrite Cherubim. He wrote basically a book about his first six years in the monastic life on the Holy Mountain in the 1920’s. It is a fascinating book because he confesses everyday to an unordained elder, and yet is sent before each feast day to a priest to confess again. It is a wonderful interweaving of this two Apostolic Successions. This interweaving was exactly one of the reasons why they attacked Symeon the New Theologian—because his elder was unordained.

I will end this by saying the Holy Spirit and Christ, being inseparable, are together the cause of the good order and inspiration of the Church. What they create is an order and a hierarchy that is sobornic and symphonic. It is a hierarchy which is simultaneously unimposed. This is no magisterium, and yet there is a wonderful harmony of belief and mind in the Orthodox world.

It is an order of liberty and love and of brotherhood. And it is maintained, each in its proper order—the Church’s authority, that is, and each office—is limited from one fact and that is Christ that is still the head of the Church. He has never relinquished that, as we see in the Church’s liturgy when we say that He is invisibly present with us—“You who sit at the right hand of the Father and are invisibly present with us.” And being present with us, he is inseparable from the Spirit. That is why the Church inhales and exhales perpetually the same Spirit that dwell in Him.

* * *

Question 1: Father, when you were speaking on the matter of the filioque, I have read or heard somewhere—it might have been from Vladimir Lossky, I don’t remember—that (I might be overly simplistic here and I apologize if I am) in baptism, it is the Holy Spirit who presents us to Christ (and you were talking about this being a two-way thing that in chrismation Christ presents us to the Holy Spirit). And that the prototype for this actually touches on the problem of the filioque, that Christ in effect has accomplished the salvation of humankind in general, and that the Holy Spirit brings the salvation of Christ to the individual Christian in particular. What I am describing roughly, would you say that this is accurate?

Fr. Berger: Vladimir Lossky’s theory, that Christ has redeemed our nature and that is the element of Christology and that the Holy Spirit helps us appropriate this as individuals. In other words, He particularizes or personalizes the general salvation brought by Christ. Actually Lossky has been criticized within the Orthodox circles for making this distinction in their ministries. I would tend to agree with the criticism of him on that point even though I have nothing against Lossky, he is brilliant. 

The general issue with the filioque, as he would say, or as some of the more recent “neo-patristic” Orthodox authors would say, is that it does two things. One is it obscures the monarchy of the Father as the one principle of the Godhead. Secondly, if, as Catholic dogma states, the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son from one principle. Then de facto what we receive the Holy Spirit, He is separate from Christ. The whole point is that when we receive from the Holy Spirit we are together with Christ. The Holy Spirit is not something that proceeds outside of God in the manifestation. So, when the Eastern Church says He proceeds through the Son, it doesn’t mean that he is coming from the Son and the Father is from one principle.

That is a difficult situation, and I might add, that in the history of Trinitarian thought there are general schemata made. For example, Theodore de Regnon, the great French scholar, said that the East starts with the persons and goes towards the essence, and Augustine starts with the essence and goes to the persons. These are just models and they are not 100% accurate at all times. East and West, you find Fathers that do just the opposite. Same with the Antiochian and Alexandrian schools of theology. And it is likewise in the question of the filioque. Some of the Eastern Fathers, for example Cyril of Alexandria, say some things that to this day the West interprets as affirming their dogma of the filioque. It was not so cut and dry. This is a question that it is obvious it is not resolved because it is not that easy.

Question 2: When I was in seminary the Systematics professor used the communication theory of the Holy Spirit, which seems to be popular in the West. It seemed to make very clear the propensity toward at least subordination of the Holy Spirit. In his theology, if you would just listen to the language, it would seem that the Holy Spirit was no longer a person. It no longer had any real substance.

Fr. Berger: I am woefully ignorant of communication theory as regards to the Holy Spirit. One of the emphases of the Holy Spirit as a bond between the Father and the Son, which, by the way, is a theme found in both Western and Eastern patristic thought—Augustine’s notion of nexus amoris—this bond between the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit of love. On a superficial reading you would say that he depersonalizes the Holy Spirit. Does he really do that? I am not Augustine basher. But I will say this: that when He is the personal bond between the Father and the Son in the East, He is also, always as a person. Gregory Palmas makes that very explicit. So what is perhaps a difference in emphasis doesn’t have to be a division in actual teaching. I think it is quite incredible that both East and West have the same view of the Holy Spirit as a bond between the Father and the Son. I am sorry I cannot answer more than that because I do not know anything about communication theory.


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