Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Church of Spirit and Truth.

“Now anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ,
he is not His (i.e. he is not for Christ).
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God,
these are the sons of God”.(Rm 8:9-14)

   Father Youssef Daros, from Egypt, sent us the following question: “Does the Holy Spirit act in the sacraments of the non-Chalcedonian Churches? (Copts, Syrians, Armenians and Ethiopians), and in the Catholic Church?”.
   Often our questions are incorrect due to our erroneous approach. It is however important, when considering these questions, that we try to explain the correct traditional perspective of “the Church”. Hence, in this correct framework, we can discern the correct question from the incorrect one!
   Firstly, we would like to express our reservation towards the way, the enquirer uses the terms “Church” and “Churches”. To know the cause of our reservation, I refer the reader to one of my previous articles, in the section “Dots on Letters”, titled “Seeking the Church”, written on 13 November 2016.
   We should be speaking about One Church, which is, in our belief, the Orthodox Church. I am not saying this out of pretension. The Orthodox Church is the only Church, for one main reason, that is, it was the one which preserved, in the words of father Georges Florovsky, the apostolic consiousness.
   Speaking about “churches”, traditionally, is to speak about local   churches, where the uniqueness of the Church is revealed in its fullness, in a land and in a community, with its distinguishing character, which means that   churches (the local ones) are, at depth, the confirmation of the unity of the Church. Therefore, it is not acceptable to speak about divided churches that need to be reunited! However, the Church cannot be limited neither by the number of the faithful of the Roum Orthodox Church in the Orthodox world, nor by its administration, but only by its living consciousness! And as we expressed in our article mentioned previously, “the living consciousness” is the traditional, faithful, spiritual, doctrinal, eschatological  consciousness of the church.
   No doubt, the expression “consciousness” has its characteristics, but the character “living”, attributed to it, derives from being itself the Spirit of God dwelling in us. We are facing a new consciousness of life, that of the Life of God Itself. The things of the Spirit of God… are only spiritually discerned.”(1Co) Thus, any authority in the Church, I mean the Orthodox Church, is for the one in whom dwells the Spirit of God. Only he who has the mind of Christ, is he who is able to teach it [the mind of Christ] (1Co 2:16). In this sense, and in this sense only, the Roum Orthodox Church has the right to teach, i.e. the authority of exchanging through osmoses the ecclesiastical consciousness with those who are outside of it. It possesses the mind of Christ, or, more clearly, the mind of God’s Spirit. Only when those who teach have this mind, their teaching is in Spirit and in Truth, and then, with authority, just as Jesus taught with authority!
   We are mistaken in thinking that God can be limited by human beings. God grants man to be His icon, only if man was after God’s own heart. Therefore, human beings are limited by what is pleasing to God. Even the laws that men set to be followed, God is able to overpass, in His providence, for man’s salvation, when He considers it appropriate. Consequently, the man of God rejoices in accomplishing the work of God, as God has assigned him, and he rejoices also in God’s work when it overpasses its limits, for the work of God is always glorious and accomplished for the sake of salvation!. And as angels in Heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents, those who belong to God rejoice in the work of God, which is unfathomable, for God’s will, with the participation of people or without it, is that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth…
   The clearest example about how God overpasses the laws of men, is found in Peter’s vision in Joppa.  God showed Peter, with respect to Cornelius, the gentile centurion, a kind of sheet descending from Heaven, containing all kinds of  four-footed  animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air, which are forbidden for Jews to eat, and he heard a voice saying to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.!” And Peter answered: “Not so, Lord, for nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth. But the voice answered him again from Heaven, “what God has cleansed, you must not call common”, and this was done three times (Ac 11). Finally Peter submitted!.
   Thus, not everyone who can be counted in the Orthodox Church is Orthodox, and consequently belongs to the Church, whilst not everyone who is outside the Roum Orthodox Church, is a stranger to the Church.  The One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church, which is, once again, the Orthodox Church, is for everyone, and everyone who is Orthodox in Christ’s mind, in the Spirit, belongs to the Church and is a member of it!.
   Hence, the issue is related to consciousness, and includes dogma and sacraments without being limited by them. The standard is spiritual, and the framework is eschatological: the kingdom of heaven is lived here and now, and is opened out on to eternity!. This is the reality of the mystery of the Church, and the mystery of the Incarnation, and the mystery of the presence of Christ by the Holy Spirit within us!. I am with you always, even to the end of the ages, and also for me to live is Christ.
   Orthodoxy is a privilege and a responsability. It isn’t necessarily known in those who were born in it from their mothers’ wombs, but rather in those who make it true in themselves. And they don’t only come to it, but also carry it, always, to those who don’t know it and haven’t so much as heard about it (Acts). In the unceasing salvific movement towards the world, Orthodoxy is perfected! These are those who are made by the Church, and the Church dwells in them.
   In this context, it is not appropriate to ask whether the Holy Spirit acts in the sacraments of the “Catholic Church” and the “non-Chalcedonian Churches”, because there are no sacraments that exist per se, but they are related to the “One Church”, and there are no sacraments outside the “One Church”, in the sense    we have explained above. We find the sacraments in the local living Churches, by the Holy Spirit. In these Churches, the One Church is revealed and the sacraments are practiced in Spirit and truth.
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar).
   The idea of union among different Christian parties, which derives from union on dogmatic perspective, and communion in rituals, is not the guarantee for the work of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments. The real guarantee is in the local Churches living in the Holy Spirit, which express their union in the communion of sacraments, and grow in them! Theoretically, this should suggest a gathering of people who are part of the historical Christian divisions, after the scatterings and gatherings that took place after the Schism, or the schisms, till our day, and even the non-Christians who are known by God, and are designated by the Spirit, as He designated Cornelius who was not a Jew (Acts 10).
   But this seems to be impossible in the current atmosphere of “spiritual calcification”, where an intellectual fundamentalistic approach prevails over the traditional spiritual consciousness-linked one!  Thus, the possibility of communion in the Holy Spirit, on a concrete level, in the current spheres, among those who live in the truth of the Gospel, here and there, is neither possible nor   conceivable!
   Everyone in the context of current reality, wants to “monopolize” the Holy Spirit, and the legitimacy of His sacraments, or tries, out of non-ecclesiastical reasons, in depth, to assemble the multiple Christian parties, in their different consciousnesses, into an ideological administrative structure, claiming, thus, the unity of the Church, on the one hand, and the legitimacy of  communion in the Sacraments among the different parties, on the other hand, as if once such an ideological, administrative, and ritual agreement takes place, among the scattered parties, the action of the Holy Spirit goes into operation automatically!
   This means that communion in the Sacraments among those who live in the Holy Spirit, in reality, cannot be expressed in the current times, in a concrete manner. This suggests that those who live in Spirit and Truth, today, are forced to accept that communion among them be present, but, in Spirit, in an invisible manner, not in “Holy things”, as we participate in them presently, in a visible manner!.
   Undoubtedly, the hardness of hearts, accompanied with a refractive psychological and rational disposition, have significantly created, among Christians, a state of insensitivity, in  relation to the Spirit of God, to such an extent that we talk, nowadays, in the name of God, rationally, about the Spirit of God, as if the Spirit of God is indisputably present, or a kind of mechanism, linked to our claims and perceptions about God, in the Church, regardless of how much these claims and perceptions can be deviated or distorted!.
   If we were truly speaking in the Spirit of God, no matter even if  there had been much disputing among us (Ac15:7), the result would always be the same, in the image of the decree of the apostles and elders, and all the Church, in Jerusalem, to the gentiles with regard to circumcision and keeping Moses’ law : “It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord”, and “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden”(Ac15). But to remain in this confusion, division and indistinctness, with everyone claiming his correctness, and the possession of the Holy Spirit, together with the tendency for a fictitious unity, based on grouping the various rational perceptions, creating thus a common administrative structure, and initiating the agreement of the different parties on the ritualistic level, cannot be but a strong sign of great estrangement and deviation from the Spirit of God in the Church!.

Archimandrite Touma Bitar
Abbot of Saint Silouan’s monastery
Sunday 11 December 2016